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Local WWII Vets Remember D-Day

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MADISONVILLE, Ky. (6/6/14) — The Oakridge Retirement Home WWII veteran residents sat down with SurfKY News this week to share their memories of Allied invasion in Normandy - D-Day June 6, 1944.

Bob Gillapsie graduated from high school and went off to Western Kentucky University on a basketball scholarship for Coach Ed Diddle. A year into his college career, he left to join the service.

“I was in the Navy at the time, when the war was winding down.” said Gillapsie. “I had gone through the Little Creek, Va., training program … they called us ‘alligators,’ because we were the swamp eaters.”

When Gillapsie heard of the invasion, he was aboard his transport ship.

“I was aboard the LSM, which was one of the smallest ships in the Navy,” said Gillapsie. “It was a transport type of ship. It had the bowed doors that swung open. We were taking supplies up to the beaches. Things like jeeps, trucks and personnel.”

Gillapsie said he remembered something particular about that day.

“Even though I wasn’t actually there that day, I do remember something specific,” said Gallapsie. “One of my favorite players that I knew back at Western, Dero Downing, was in charge of the landing craft. He took troops that were wounded off the beach… but he came through it just fine, and then later became president of Western University.”

Gillapsie said that after the fighting was over, he took pontoons to help build bridges on the high-lands.

Herman Stewart graduated from high school in 1941, and then went off to take the correspondence course in mining. Shortly after he began mine surveying and organizing, he was drafted.

“I was drafted and went into service November of 1942,” said Stewart. “I landed in Oran and worked my way across North Africa. From there went to Italy, Germany and France.”

Stewart said while he was in the service, he set up balloons and tracked different wind speeds, altitudes and heights.

“At first, we used kites to track everything,” said Stewart. “Then we got radars.”

Stewart remembers sitting on the coast of France waiting for orders, when they got the news about D-Day.

“I had more than enough points by this time to get out of the service,” said Stewart. “I sat on the coast of France and waited to be taken to Japan, but while I was waiting … we heard about the war being over, then I got on a ship and went back home.”

Ira Johnston was coming off a 24-hour duty when he found out about D-Day.

“On June 6, I was out on a very important task,” said Johnston. “I walked around the water tower where I was stationed at in Alabama for 24 hours. I got off at 1800 hours the next day, and we heard more about D-Day.”

Johnston said after they heard more about what happened during D-Day, they were sent on a 25-mile hike.

“That was a rough 25 miles, especially after coming off a 24-hour duty from the night before,” said Johnston. “We got back to the company area, and I took off my leggings, we were called to go to breakfast, but when I stood up, my legs went loose and I caught the next bunk and pulled myself up. Needless to say, I didn’t eat breakfast that day.”

Three months after D-Day, Johnston was to report to POE.

“In September, I got the news that I was to report to Port of Embarkation,” said Johnston. “When we landed on Omaha Beach, the only thing that had been cleaned up were the bodies. We saw all the wreckage — ships, tanks, guns and all kind of weapons.”

Johnston then joined the 104th infantry division in Germany.

“My division during the European campaign, became the spearhead division for the 1st Army. The 3rd Armored Division and the 104th Infantry, worked together,” said Johnston. “From the time we crossed the Rhine River, we moved as quickly as we could to catch up with the armor.”

Johnston remembers reaching a small town in Germany that was used as a rest camp for the Germans for a while, where they stayed for 10 days.

“We were told to trap the Germans, but we were not to go in there and get them, nor were we to let them out,” said Johnston. “For those 10 days, we didn’t know what was going on, we didn’t even get the newspaper, ‘Stars and Stripes,' which was unusual, because we normally would get that on the front line.”

Johnston said that the day they were finally able to move out, the ‘Stars and Stripes’ mysteriously appeared, and what he read on the headline put him in awe.

“I opened one headline,” said Johnston. “330,000 Germans troops entrapped. Later, what we learned about that time was the Germans had run out of gas and diesel fuel. The Air Force had taken care of their supply. So, all they had were horse-drawn equipment.”

Not long after, the Germans gave up; and, the next day, Johnston got word they would be going back to the states for training and then head to the Pacific.

“We got back to the states,” said Johnston. “They gave us a temporary 30-day duty at home, and then during those 30 days, the Japanese gave up.”

Marvin Peyton was working for Chrysler making ammunition when he heard about D-Day.

“I was working at Chrysler at the time.” said Peyton. “We made enough ammo, so we were sent to the shipyard. If you go to the shipyard, you wouldn’t lose your seniority. So, I went down there and worked a while, then before I knew it, I received a card to report to Fort Benjamin Harrison immediately.”

Peyton said after Fort Benjamin Harrison, he was sent to Fort Riley and then to New York to get on the Queen Mary to set sail to Europe.

“After we landed, we took a night train and rode it in the freezing cold,” said Peyton. “We ended up in an old shoe factory, about 65 miles away from Paris.”

Peyton said that he also had twin brothers and an older brother who were also oversees during the same time.

“When we were getting ready to go back home, this time we ended up on a hospital ship,” said Peyton. “I just so happened to be one of the lucky ones, all four of us were lucky and didn’t get a scratch on us. It was sure nice to finally get home.”

Morris Fredrick was in the Marshall Islands when D-day happened.

“My story will sound like I didn’t do anything,” said Fredrick. “During WWII, I was in the Marshall Islands, then I ended up in the Philippines, then on to New Guinea when the war was over.”

Fredrick said it was like any other day when D-Day took place.

“I wasn’t really doing much of anything, then the alarms went off and we were to report to our duty stations,” said Fredrick. “It happened, then it was over and I went about my business.”

After Fredrick got out of the service, he stayed out for two and half years, then re-enlisted.

“After I reenlisted, from there on, it was the plain ole Navy,” said Fredrick. “There wasn’t too much to do, but work yourself to death.”

Fredrick said he enjoyed his 24 years in the service.

“I had a lot of fun doing it,” said Fredrick. “Most of the time, it was just regular duty. I was just a sailor, nothing fancy.”

Seventy years ago, June 6, 1944, 160,000 allied troops crossed the English Channel and landed on the French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.     

General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a war in which, “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion.

By the end of the day on June 6, allies gained a foot hold on Normandy, where more than 9,000 were wounded or killed.

Amber Averitt
SurfKY News Reporter
Photo by Amber Averitt

© Copyright 2014 SurfKY News Group, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, or rewritten without permission. SurfKY News encourages you to share this story by using one of the social media links below.

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