Fewer than half-a-million of the 16 million Americans who fought to liberate Europe in World War II are still alive today, and on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion an even smaller number are still around to share their stories.
June 6, 1944, which came to be known as D-Day, was the largest amphibious invasion in history. It is often referred to as the turning point of World War II and is said to have paved the way for the end of the conflict.
There is no accurate estimate of just how many D-Day veterans are still alive today. But, at least four living veterans from the Dayton region served a role in the invasion.
Army Pfc. Albert L. Carr, Navy Radioman 1st Class Marion Adams, Army Airborne Pfc. James H. “Pee Wee” Martin and Army Pfc. Lawson Adkins are some of the 19,618 World War II veterans that call Ohio home today, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census and the National World War II Museum.
Each of the local D-Day veterans risked their lives but have remained humble about the role they played in the successful invasion 75 years ago. None consider themselves to be heroes and they all said they would have served their country again if called on.
“If necessary, I’d start tomorrow,” said Carr. “I’d actually start today but it would take a little while to get ready.”
Together, the D-Day vets will be inducted into the Ford Oval of Honor during a ceremony and reception at the National Museum of the Air Force on June 20. At the ceremony, each will have the chance to meet and hear from David Eisenhower, the grandson of World War II general Dwight D. Eisenhower who went on to become president.
Each vet reflected on his service and shared stories of D-Day and the war with the Dayton Daily News as today’s 75th anniversary of the invasion approached.
The ship Adams was on, Landing Ship Transport for Tanks 491, landed at Utah Beach on D-Day.
His ship was tasked with delivering parts for the 101st Airborne Division, Adams said. Adams described the feeling he had in one word as his ship approached the beaches of Normandy: scared.
“I thought it was my last day on Earth,” Adams said. “In training, they said these ships would make only one invasion, that they would never get off the beach. After awhile you come to believe that. You accept it.”
On Adams’ 21st birthday June 11, his ship transported part of the British, Canadian, French and Polish forces onto Gold Beach in Normandy. After each landing, the ship transported wounded and prisoners back to England.
Throughout the D-Day invasion, Adams, 95, of Covington said he was on four of the five beaches of Normandy.
Following D-Day, Adams participated in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France and later he served in the invasion of Okinawa.
Though Adams said he was happy to come home in February 1946, he said he would do it all over again if he had to.
“If I had to, I would like to have the job I had before,” Adams said. “I don’t know how lucky I was. But, I feel like I really lucked out.”
Albert L. Carr
Carr, 94, was in the Army’s 29th Division and 116th Regiment and he was part of the second wave of the invasion on Omaha Beach in Normandy.
“We had gone through a lot of training but there’s a big difference in being in training and having an artillery shooting over your head,” Carr said.
But, it was a “necessary thing,” Carr said. If the Nazis had stayed in power, Carr said he’d “hate to know what could have happened.”
Just 11 days after landing in Normandy, Carr was shot in the neck.
After being sent to the hospital and healing, he returned to his company and late in July. Then, he was shot for a second time in the shoulder.
The Springfield resident received two purple hearts for his injuries in the line of duty. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge and the Presidential Citation Medal.
“I thought my whole jaw was gone,” Carr said about the first time he was shot. “The way it was bleeding, I thought: my blood is going to run out real quick…It was a rude awakening.”
James H. “Pee Wee” Martin
Martin, 98, joined the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment at Camp Toccoa, Ga., in July 1942. He parachuted into Normandy near Saint-Come-du-Mont behind Utah Beach at 12:30 a.m. on D-Day.
“Everybody was all gung-ho, we’re going to kill all the damn Germans. Of course we had never been any place. We had no frame of reference,” Martin said. “People said: ‘Were you afraid?’ We were too stupid to be afraid.”
Martin earned the nickname “Pee Wee” by being the lightest paratrooper in his regiment.
After landing in France, his mission was to delay Nazis from responding to the invasion on the coast and to disrupt communications. Martin fought in the Normandy campaign for 33 days until the 101st Airborne was relieved in July, allowing him to return to England.
He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and received a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and European African Middle Eastern Service Medal for his service.
Despite his awards, Martin of Greene County said it wasn’t a sacrifice but a privilege to have had the chance to serve in World War II. He insists he is not a hero.
“That word is terribly overused. When you volunteer for something dangerous, you train for it and you get paid for it. You’re not a hero… Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.”
When he landed on the beaches of Normandy in the early morning of June 6, 1944, Adkins drove his truck ashore across a temporary bridge between his ship and land.
“When I landed on Utah Beach about 3 a.m. of course the truck bogged down in the sand,” Adkins of Wilmington said. “That kind of worried me.”
Loaded with ammunition and machine guns, his truck was a target for German snipers. He not only carried critical supplies to the front, but transported wounded soldiers and enemy prisoners with him on his return trips.
As he drove onto the beach that day, Adkins said he wasn’t scared or nervous because “he didn’t know what was going on, hardly.”
Adkins received a Bronze Star for his actions. On April 6, he received the French Legion of Honor, a recognition established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 that is awarded to foreign nationals who served France.
While Adkins, 97, was serving in World War II, his oldest son was born. He desperately wanted to get home to his family.
But, despite all the hardship that came with serving during the invasion and the months afterward, he said he would do it all over again if his country needed him to.
“That was kind of rough going, it was for me,” Adkins said. “I’ll never forget that.”
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