Excerpts from the War Era Story Project
On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day's end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high; more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler. Among them were brave Ohioans. Their stories of that fateful day and the battles that followed are captured in the latest installment of the War Era Story Project.
Charlotte Blake's husband Jim recorded his D-Day experience before he passed away several years ago.
"We went onto the beaches of Normandy with the first wave, June 6, 1944, about 6:30 a.m. Our position was on Omaha Beach. There were so many ships, barrage balloons and aircraft, it looked as if we could walk back to England. In fact there were 5,000 ships, 11,000 planes and 150,000 servicemen. Fortunately, our landing craft got up quite close to the beach. Others dropped their soldiers off too soon and they were in the water over their heads, so with 60# packs on their backs, they drowned. Many of the tanks also sank to the bottom. There were 6- to 7-foot waves, so the small crafts were tossed about. The huge guns on the battleships were so powerful bombarding the shore that they caused the large ships to rock, almost capsizing the smaller boats.
"One of the men I met a year or so ago was a coxswain on one of the landing craft. He stated after viewing "Saving Private Ryan" that the first 30 minutes of that movie was just as he remembered it. The only thing he said was not right in the opening scene was that the logs in the sand were facing the beach instead of the sea. Until I saw the movie I didn't realize what I had gone through because I was so focused on getting off the beach.
"We were expected to be off the beach within a couple of hours, but we were still there 2 to 3 hours later, attempting to work our way above the cliffs. Eventually, we realized so many men and officers of our unit never made it, so we just joined up with whoever was moving on. We fought our way along the roads for miles inland, past hedgerows so thick tanks could not penetrate them. My 19th birthday , four days after D Day occurred, was on the way."
Donald McKillop, age 91, of Oxford, worked as a clerk in the 338th Harbor Craft Company due to his typing training in high school. Nonetheless, he was there on D-Day.
"In late May, 1944, we were shipped out to Liverpool, England. I went out on a French liner without submarine protection because the liner was fast enough that it would outrun any German Sub. I arrived on June 6, 1044, D-Day. On August 14, 1944, I went over the side of a British Freighter onto Omaha Beach at St. Vaast, LA Hague. With my clerk's title, I became the harbor master, scheduling barges and awaiting ships for unloading."
Robert Newell, age 90, of Washington Court House, served aboard the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa.
"In late May of 1944, we left the states for England. We could feel it in the air that something was up as we trained for action aboard the U.S.S. Tuscaloosa. All guns aboard ship were ready for action as the men had trained for what was ahead of us. The Invasion of Normandy was about to begin. As we were waiting to do our part, we were visited by General Eisenhower. Our Captain introduced him over the loud speaker. There was a moment of silence. Then, General Eisenhower said, 'Let's have prayer.' He then led the men in a word of prayer."
During the battle, Mr. Newell's ship drew heavy fire. But for the heroic sacrifice of an Air Force pilot, his ship and her crew might have been lost.
"All at once some German 88s near the beach, under some landing dock, opened fire on us. Shell splashes were coming closer with each salvo. We quickly loaded our small boats aboard, raised the anchor and moved farther out to sea. A small Air Force plane was dispatched to our unit. The pilot provided a smoke screen in front of our vessel. The shelling stopped immediately. The pilot was then shot down by the Germans. The Captain sent a crew out to rescue the pilot. One of our doctors with a boat crew brought the pilot on board. He was dead. He was unable to parachute out of the plane because he was flying low at about 500 feet above the beach. The ship commander ordered that his parachute line be cut in small pieces and distributed to each crew member as a remembrance of the life given during this battle."
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