Pascagoula D-Day vet recounts Normandy invasion
PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) – Seventy-five years ago, thousands of soldiers descended on Normandy, France to help free Europe from Nazi control. It’s known as D-Day.
June 6 marks the anniversary of one of the most significant battles in U.S. history. June 13, 1944, seven days after Allied troops invaded western Europe, is a day Pascagoula native James Dewey Smith will never forget.
“I just still can’t get over some of it,” he said.
Less than a year before D-Day, Smith received draft orders for the Army. He was just 19 years old and worked as a welder at Ingalls.
“You get so scared, you don’t get scared no more,” he recalled.
First, Smith did combat training in California, then to Arizona. The final stop was in New Jersey before boarding a ship for an 18-day trip to Europe.
“It wasn’t bad going over there,” he said. “The only thing, it was a British ship and they believed in eating mutton sandwiches, mutton stew.”
By the time Smith’s company arrived, the Germans had moved back into a little town about 15 miles from the beach.
“It was only one road there and two deep ravines on each side,” Smith said. “We had a wrecker pulling us out of the water, and you’d get started up that slant and it was so sandy. The sandbar was football (field) length and probably 200 feet deep. Straight up cliff, 110 foot.”
The soldiers unloaded the ship until dark. Smith said he had a dig a hole to sleep in.
“I didn’t dig mine no deeper. I was still sitting up,” he said laughing.
The next morning, soldiers moved in.
“We was all lined up,” Smith said. “Then all at once, you never heard that noise in your life. Sun was just coming up. It was them B-19 bombers with four propellers on each engine. It sounded like the world was coming to an end, and when we saw them. Boy, we were joyful.”
Smith said the journey home following his weeks-long stay in Europe was a little rough. Propellers went out and tug boats couldn’t pull them in. He said the day his ship pulled into New York and he spotted the Statue of Liberty, he could have cried from happiness.
Smith’s company had 189 men and officers. Only one suffered injuries.