D-Day: Remembering the battle to liberate Europe

·4 min read

Jun. 6—VALDOSTA — Sunday marks the 77th anniversary of D-Day, which began the invasion of Normandy in the western Allied forces' efforts to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany's control.

Originally Operation Overlord's D-Day was set for June 5, but bad weather delayed D-Day until June 6, 1944.

It was the largest invasion by sea in history, involving more than 850,000 troops crossing the English Channel to the Normandy shores of France.

"On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy," according to the D-Day Museum. "The American forces landed numbered 73,000: 23,250 on Utah Beach, 34,250 on Omaha Beach, and 15,500 airborne troops. In the British and Canadian sector, 83,115 troops were landed (61,715 of them British): 24,970 on Gold Beach, 21,400 on Juno Beach, 28,845 on Sword Beach, and 7,900 airborne troops.

"By the end of 11 June, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches."

Estimated Allied casualties for D-Day were 10,000 with 2,500 dead.

On this anniversary, we share a few of the area D-Day stories that surfaced several years ago during Honor Flight South Georgia. Many of the veterans have since passed but their D-Day memories remain.

Bert Powell of Valdosta was an Army logistician. During the buildup to D-Day, Powell said for a 2007 newspaper article, "I went outside and there were probably 100 C-47s in the air pulling gliders. Those were the paratroopers. The paratroopers landed first, you know. That was all I needed to see to know that it was on."

A 1999 article recalled Earl Blocker of Valdosta facing choppy seas and a hazy sky with 88-millimeter artillery fire raging from German pillboxes.

"These were the conditions facing an 18-year-old Earl Blocker as the huge doors of the U.S.S. LST 522 dropped open around 6 a.m. (77) years ago, and the young man stepped onto the sandy beaches of Normandy."

Blocker said, "It reminded me of the Fourth of July here in the States. The sky was all lit up with bombs, rockets, deafening gunfire from ships and shore batteries. ... Brother, this was hell. The (Germans) were throwing everything they had at us and, believe me, we were blowing them apart. ... A lot of people tend to forget about what happened, but if we wouldn't have stormed that beach, everyone would be speaking German and bowing to the (Japanese)."

Though thousands were killed or injured, Blocker was relatively unharmed.

"I was one of the lucky ones," he said. "On one of the trips back to the beach, I got some shrapnel in my eye, but considering what happened, it was nothing. If you were able to walk, you were able to fight."

Harold E. Keen of Lake Park was a 20-year Navy man, who ferried men and materials across the English Channel from Britain to Normandy. The assignment started D-Day, June 6, 1944, and "we shuttled back and forth, back and forth, until the end of the war" in 1945.

His ferry duty started prior to the build-up for the Normandy invasion. He ferried materials as part of the Mediterranean campaign before being ordered to the English Channel for D-Day preparations.

As Claude W. Pass served as a sonar man on a Navy destroyer during D-Day, John J. Bero was making his way across the beaches of Normandy.

"He was on a destroyer trying to shell me, but I ran too fast for him," Bero said joking about his friendship with Pass.

During the war, Bero served with the 327th Glider Infantry of the 101st Airborne. He was part of the D-Day invasion. He was part of the Battle of the Bulge. In some cases, a shortage of gliders would lead to improvised ways of getting to the front.

During the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge, Bero said, American soldiers had to fight the Germans and frostbite as they were quickly rushed from time-off in France to what was Germany's massive, last-ditch counter-offensive six months after the Allied invasion of D-Day.

Meanwhile, Pass served on a destroyer during Normandy, but he also served in the waters off of North Africa, and he was part of a Pacific Theatre mine-sweeping mission off Okinawa.

Neither man knew each other during the war, but they became good friends decades after the war.