Monday, June 9, 2014

D Day and My Dad's worst birthday

June 5th 1944 was my Dad's worst birthday. I know this because he spent that birthday with 160,000 other seasick, anxious and probably scared soldiers off the beach at Normandy. They were awaiting the order to land on the beaches and begin liberating Normandy from the iron grip of Adolph Hitler.

My Dad , Hersell T. Wilson, (who I will often refer to as Hersell: just remember Hersell is my Dad)was born in Corsicana Texas on June 5th 1915. Like many of his generation, he had to drop out of school and was working as sharecropper on a farm when he met and married my Mother, Aileen, in 1936. 

The winds of war blew into Texas in the early 1940's and Hersell was drafted into the army in October 1942, leaving alone his pregnant wife Aileen . This writer was the not yet born child.

 Hersell was assigned to the 90TH Infantry Division. The division was called the TO Division because they were primarily from Texas and Oklahoma, but later the TO was said to stand for Tough Hombre . Allegedly the tough hombre tag was given to them by General George Patton himself, as they were assigned to his Third Army. 

My Dad and others in his division spent 1942 training in Death Valley California because they were ostensibly going to fight in North Africa.  This being the Army though, after training for North Africa, they were sent to England to take part in the Normandy invasion. After training in England my Dad's unit was assigned to take part in the D Day assault and that was how he would up off the coast of Normandy on his birthday of June 5th.

Actually  General Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of Allied forces for D DAY , had planned for the attack  to take place on June 5th, my dad's birthday; however  a storm front with heavy rains and winds struck the English channel and the province of Normandy on June 5TH and the assault had to be cancelled. Most weather forecasters were predicting the storm would last for  several days  which meant the invasion would have had to be postponed indefinitely because the tides would have prevented the invasion after June 8th. 

The meteorologist  assigned to the allied forces told General Eisenhower that he believed there would be a break in the storm on June 6th. General Eisenhower trusted his weather forecaster enough to give the order to attack on June 6th. Had the German weather forecasters been right and General Eisenhower's forecaster been wrong the invasion would probably have failed, thousands of Allied soldiers including my Dad would have died, and Western Europe would have remained under Hitler's control. That Allied forecaster may have made the most important weather forecaster in history.

My Dad , like most of those who were there never talked much about the horrors of that June 6th on Omaha Beach. Those of us who saw the opening scene of the movies. Saving Private Ryan  or The Longest Day probably have some small idea of what those men went through. My Dad only mentioned that he nearly drowned climbing from the troop ship to the landing craft( lSI landing ship infantry), that was to take them to the beach. Apparently to save himself, he dumped the tripods for the machine gun in the channel. When they reached the beach and an officer asked about the tripod my Dad informed him the tripod was back in the water and he was welcome to go get it if he wished. The tripod stayed in the ocean. 

Hersell and the other survivors of that Longest Day( ten thousand died) moved inland after securing the beach. General Patton's third Army led the Allied forces in the  liberation of France and became the first Allied unit to cross into Germany. Hersell's war, however, ended in October 1944, when he was seriously wounded at St' Lo France, losing a finger and suffering other wounds from a mortar shell. After several months in a hospital in London he returned to the United States In 1945.

My Mother has told me that Hersell would often wake up at night during the middle of the night, shouting, as the memories of the carnage and cruelty he had seemed invaded his sleep. One memory that stands out to me is a conversation between Hersell and an acquaintance when I was a teenager. 

Acquaintance: How much disability payments do you draw from your World War II wounds

Hersell: About $ 50

Acquaintance: Why that's a shame :only $50!

Hersell: Fingers were going very cheaply in those days.

Hersell lived to celebrate many more birthdays after that terrible 1944 birthday. He spent most of his working life with Seven Up company in Waco Texas and even managed to survive the youth and teenage years of my brother and I which hopefully weren't quits as traumatic as that day in Normandy. I know he particularly enjoyed his retirement years with my Mother and the time he was able to spend with his two lovely granddaughters. 

My Dad has been gone for seventeen years now  and it has been 70 years since his worst birthday, but not a June 5th or 6th goes by that I don't think of him and those other wonderful World War 11  veterans I had the privilege of knowing. They were my heroes when I was seven and they are still my heroes at the age of 70. 

Your turn: I would be most pleased to have you comment on the article or tell about your own relatives or friends who may have been veterans.
Just scroll down and click on comments  


Cheryl A said...

Nice story and gives me perspective of being 1 degree of separation from someone who was there. You are still an excellent teacher sir!

rich said...


Thanks for visiting the blog. I'm always especially happy when a fellow student visits the blog. IO hope you are doing well and will visit my blog again.