Residents treasure ties to D-Day invasion
MARIETTA – It was 70 years ago Friday that more than 160,000 Allied troops, from the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, stormed a 60-mile stretch of the French coast near Normandy during the World War II invasion known as D-Day.
“It was a very significant operation. The timing and scope had to be just right, and every branch of our military was involved,” said Roy Ash, veterans services officer for Washington County.
Ash was unable to locate records indicating how many local residents were involved in the operation.
According to estimates in military archives, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded during the invasion, but another 100,000 were able to start marching across Europe, spelling the beginning of the end for Hitler and his Nazi forces.
“There had been a lot of planning for the invasion, but nobody was really prepared for what they would have to face at the actual landing,” Ash said. “A lot of men were killed before they left their LST (Landing Ship, Tank). Some of those ships opened their gates too early and water poured in, and some men probably drowned.”
Dick Sabol, 89, of Williamstown moved into Europe with the 16th Armored Division just after the D-Day invasion. His tank units were able to cross southern Germany and liberate Czechoslovakia once the D-Day assault was completed.
“My God, the Germans had guns planted in the hills all along the shores at Normandy,” he said. “A lot of our guys were shot up, like ducks sitting on a pond. I was really fortunate to have missed being part of that invasion.”
Marietta resident Carol O’Grady’s father, the late Robert Doan, was among the U.S. Army troops who fought their way across the beaches and onto the French mainland.
“He really didn’t talk much about the D-Day invasion on the beach at Normandy,” she said. “But here was a man who came from the little village of New Matamoras who was there for his country.”
O’Grady said her father, who died in 2012, often said he was still pretty “wet behind the ears” when he took part in the invasion.
“But they gave their all for our freedom, and they were more than willing to do it,” she said. “And we need to remember what they did so the world doesn’t repeat mistakes of the past. We need to keep these memories alive.”
Charles Seaman of Barlow said his late father, Lester Seaman, also didn’t share much with his family about his part in the D-Day invasion.
Lester served as a medic with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Armored Division during the war. In a Marietta Times article on the 60th D-Day anniversary in 2004 Lester said his unit missed the first wave of the Normandy invasion by more than 72 hours.
“The boat my outfit was scheduled to go out on hit a mine and sank in the channel during the invasion,” he said. “When we finally did get over to Normandy the company clerk was typing up our missing-in-action papers… They thought we were in the boat that went down.”
Charles said his father traveled back to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
“He wanted to take photos of locations where he had been to see what they looked like after 50 years,” he said. “When he died in 2010, there was only one other veteran remaining from this area who had been part of the invasion.”
Lester bequeathed his photos and memoir of those war years to his grandson, Bryan Waller of Marietta.
“He left the U.S. from New York City in December 1942, and landed in Casablanca on Christmas Eve, then went through the war, all the way to Berlin,” Waller said. “He landed on Omaha Beach three days after the Normandy invasion and was also in the Battle of the Bulge.”
Waller said his grandfather traveled across Europe in a medic’s jeep that he named “Miss Clara,” after his wife, Clara Seaman, waiting back home in the states.
“After crossing Europe his unit took occupation of Berlin in July 1945, a couple of months after V-E Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8,” Waller said. “Then he just returned home and went to work building his feed store business.”
One of Lester Seaman’s boyhood friends from the Barlow area was Andrew Brackenridge, who also served in Europe, with the Army’s 3053rd combat battalion in Normandy. The two met only once during the war, at the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Andrew’s son, Sid Brackenridge, said his father was assigned to a weapons carrier vehicle.
“He wasn’t part of the initial invasion, but arrived at Normandy a couple of months later,” Sid said. “He told us that the German minefields were still active when his unit arrived.”
He said after arriving in Normandy, Andrew and some other soldiers noticed smoke coming out of one of the buildings.
“A sailor knocked on the door and when the door opened there were German soldiers inside, but they shut the door,” Sid said. “So the sailor obtained two sticks of dynamite and lit them at the door. Then the Germans came out – 15 of them.”
He said the soldiers surrendered to members of his father’s unit, claiming they didn’t want to surrender to a U.S. sailor.
“D-Day and the Allied soldiers should be remembered. People often talk about how many men have died in wars since World War II, but at least 9,000 died in just one day at Normandy,” Sid Brackenridge added. “And the thing that impresses me is the reason we fought WWII – because WWI didn’t solve the problem with Germany.”