Vets Describe D-Day

D-Day. June 6, 1944.

Possibly only a handful of dates in our nation’s military history are more well- known other than Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941).

D-Day was a top secret event that had been planned for months. Every branch was involved in storming the beaches of Normandy France to overcome Hitler’s forces.

Here are a few comments from veterans of various branches whom I’ve interviewed about their involvement with D-Day:

Despite months of training, nothing went according to plan.

As Leo Scheer’s boat neared the shore of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, it hit two mines, igniting it. “We were told to strip our gear and abandon ship,” he said.

The weight of life vests, layers of clothing and combat boots dragged many soldiers into the frigid waters. “Drowned bodies floated in those waters for weeks,” said Scheer. “Many washed up against the sea wall with not a scratch on them.”

Those who made it to shore were ordered to the west end. Scheer was almost killed twice from gunfire. Finally he arrived, only to find the squadron doctor missing.

Wearing the Red Cross arm band and helmet, Leo worked on injured soldiers, removing medical supplies from bodies of dead soldiers to treat the wounded. “Bandages were packaged in waterproof tins which also contained morphine shots,” he said. “It was all we had.”

The first course of action was to stop the bleeding. “We tried to prevent shock and used morphine when necessary,” he added. Artillery fire continued non-stop for days. Soldiers were treated on the sand. “We eventually got a spot in front of a house and put the casualties there,” said Scheer.

A barrage of artillery file forced Scheer to administer medical attention while lying on the ground. “Even getting on your knees was risky,” he said.

“You slept fully clothed with your helmet on,” said Scheer. “Shells came in close. I buried myself under the sand and in the morning crawled out, glad to be alive.”

Note: The photo depicts the web belt Scheer used at D-Day, now a donated item on display at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.

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Wolfe Don-FW-Air Corps

After flying from the US to an Allied air base outside the town of Muching Green in England in spring 1944, Donald Wolfe had only two weeks of training before he flew his first combat mission, called a ‘sortie’. “During the next several weeks, I flew missions over France, Holland, Belgium, and Germany,” he said.

His 44th mission occurred on D-Day as he flew over Normandy lending support to the Allies.

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Anderson James -Indy-Army

At Omaha Beach Andy Anderson carried penicillin, bandages, iodine and sulpha packets in his supply packet. As a medic on the battlefield he wore an arm band with a Red Cross, signifying his status. Although he didn’t carry a weapon, Anderson felt safe. “I depended on our American infantry to protect me,” he said.

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Edwards Al-FW-Navy.JPG

Alfred Edwards of Fort Wayne, IN, was operating a rhino barge on June 6, 1944. Such vessels carried tanks and troops as part of the first wave of troops to approach the shore of Omaha Beach in France. “We had no protection from enemy fire as we guided it in,” he said.

When boats and troops reached the shore and put ramps down, the site was grim. “Dead GIs lay everywhere on the beach,” said Edwards. “We dodged shooting from German soldiers while searching for mines embedded in the sand that could blow us up as we neared the shore.”

Despite incredible odds, Allied forces continued to arrive at the beach for weeks, slowly pushing German forces back into France. Code name of the secret invasion: Operation Overlord, though it was more commonly known as D-Day.

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These are excerpts of stories in my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans (available for purchase on this site) and in my soon-to-be-released book, They Did It for Honor: Stories of American WWII Veterans.

It will be released in Summer 2017. Stay tuned for more details on how to obtain a copy!

Honor a veteran today by thanking him/ her for their service to our country.

We’re Headed to Europe for WWII Tour

meyer-heavy-seas

Hopefully our trip to Europe will be easier than for these troops on the USS Wakefield!

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My husband and I have decided to complete a huge item on our combined Bucket List of Things to do Together– Take a tour of Europe, based on World War II events.

Yes, there are actual groups who go to Europe just to learn more about what happened during WWII. We’re going with World War II Tours of Europe (worldwar2toursofeurope.com). Our itinerary includes visiting four countries—Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France. We’ll visit Dachau, Paris, Munich, Eagles’ Nest (Hitler’s retreat), Normandy and others.

With my research and writing about World War II in recent as the result of 160+ interviews with World War II vets, combined with my husband’s lifelong interest in the subject (he knows 10 times more than I do!), we should find it all pretty interesting.

We’re months away and yet it is now all we talk about!

I plan to take thousands of photos and put many of them into a PowerPoint presentation for talks after the tour in June (not all of them of course!).

If you’d like me to talk with your group about our 12-day tour, please contact me. I’m already booking for Veteran’s Day so plan early.

It should be a great presentation with shots of re-enactors on Omaha Beach on D-Day, Paris, a concentration camp, and more!

I’ll post more about the trip in upcoming weeks AND as a bonus, I’ll include snippets of stories from my book, WWII Legacies: Stories of Northeast IN Veterans, that pertain to places we’ll visit.

This is from Gene Dettmer who fought with the US Army at Utah Beach on D-Day:

 

Dettmer uni head

“I saw men who had been blown up,” said Fort Wayne native Eugene Dettmer. “If I had been on the first wave that landed on Utah Beach, I would have been killed.”

Dettmer was part of the landing of Allied soldiers on the three-mile stretch of French land that comprised the westernmost flank of Normandy on June 6, 1944. The invasion’s code name was Operation Overlord. The battle was more commonly known as D-Day.

Dettmer was attached to the Third Army with the 468th AAA Battery C. He was assigned to drive jeeps for officers and half-track 468s, armored anti-aircraft vehicles used heavily by U.S. troops during the war. “Dad had taught me basic auto mechanics so that gave me skills in that area,” he said.

In March 1944 Dettmer and thousands of other young American soldiers had disembarked ships from the US to Scotland, then France. Only told they should prepare for battle, little could they imagine they would be involved in one of the deadliest battles in the history of the world.

Dettmer was one of 20,000 soldiers who landed on Utah Beach on June 18, 1944. An estimated 1,700 motorized vehicles, including half-tracks, were used to fight that day. P51 and P47 aircraft seized beach exits, captured key transportation and communication points and blocked German counterattacks. C47 planes carried wounded soldiers to safety.

American troops were not the only soldiers at Normandy. “British forces shot their cannons and their pilots helped with the airborne assault,” said Dettmer.

Although surrounded by violence and destruction, Allied casualties numbered fewer there (300) than those on nearby Omaha Beach (5,000). “Our timing was off by a day due to weather,” said Dettmer. “That may have confused the Germans, but they still put up a good fight.”

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Please consider purchasing a copy of my book for $15.00. It contains 28 stories of men/women who served at home and abroad from 1941-1945 in American military forces. It’s easy to understand and full of quotes during interviews I did with vets in their homes. You can purchase it at this site or at Amazon for $20.00 (we dropped the price here to thank you for visiting this site!).

Remember to thank a vet today for his/her military service!

Au revoir!

Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge

Vernon 'Bun' Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge.

Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder served at D-Day and Battle of the Bulge.

My Vet of the Week is Vernon W. ‘Bun’ William Affolder of Decatur, IN. Mr. Affolder died on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. His birthday would have been tomorrow.

 

I interviewed him in his home three years ago. He became emotional about several parts of the war that were still very real to him. That taught me decades of time doesn’t erase memories of the horrors of war.

We need to support our vets with patience and understanding.

Thanks, Mr. Affolder, for your service. Rest in peace.

Note: This story is similar to those found in my book, World War II Legacies: Stories of Northeast Indiana Veterans.

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

World War II: Legacies of Northeast Indiana Veterans

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As part of the first group of soldiers who left Decatur, Indiana, to serve as soldiers in WWII, Vernon ‘Bun’ Affolder never dreamed his military career would be so eventful.

 

Affolder was born in Van Wert, Ohio. He moved with his family to Decatur in 1927, graduating from Decatur High School in 1937. He worked at a local hardware store until 1941 when he got a notice from the United States Army. “They drafted me, then told me to go home,” he said. The Army did not forget Affolder. In January 1942 he and other young men from Adams County were sworn in as American soldiers.

 

Assigned to the infantry, Affolder completed basic training at Camp Shelby in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He and thousands of other troops learned to shoot and hike through miles of poison ivy-infested weeds carrying heavy packs. Affolder was so sunburned by the time his parents visited him in 1942, they didn’t recognize him.

 

Affolder transferred to Camp Beauregard in Pineville, Louisiana, where he worked in the supply room. Thanks to his proficiency at typing due to a course in high school, he was sent to the Army surgeon’s office. “Because I worked for the Army surgeon, I wore a red band on my arm and a red cross on my helmet,” he said. “But I did not administer medical aid. My only job was to distribute supplies from the Surgeon’s office.”

 

Within months Affolder was aboard the Queen Elizabeth, along with thousands of other American soldiers, bound for Europe. “At the back of the boat were 52-gallon drums,” he said. “They hid depth bombs which were designed to go underwater and sink German submarines.”

 

Staff Sergeant Affolder spent 13 months in Bristol, England, working in the 5th Corps Headquarters. His commander was in charge of all field hospitals and aide stations. Affolder liked record keeping and working with the four officers and six enlisted men assigned to his office.

 

Living among the British was educational. “A bulletin board in the city park listed announcements about the war,” he said. “Despite the ‘loose lips sink ships’ saying, we knew if you wanted to know something about the war, ask a Brit!”

 

In June 1944, Affolder’s unit traveled to a place in France called Omaha Beach. At 0900 hours on June 6 (a day later than originally planned, due to inclement weather), thousands of Allied landing crafts dropped American and British soldiers into the waters near the edge of the shore. The intent of the Allies was to storm the beach and run off the firing Germans.

 

The Germans had placed big logs on the shore close to the edge to prevent Allied landings. “They shot big 88 shells at us,” said Affolder. Chaos reigned for hours as the Allies struggled to take the beach. Affolder and thousands of other American soldiers were thrust into a battle they had been ill-prepared for, but they fought valiantly.

 

When a shell blew off the leg of an American soldier, Affolder, standing nearby, was placed in a dilemma. As an aide to the Army surgeon, he wore an arm band indicating his connection with the medical office, but he had no authorization or training to administer aid.

 

“The other soldiers standing there thought I should try to help the wounded soldier,” he said, “but I was only a supply clerk. I had not even been issued a gun.”

 

Affolder helped load fallen soldiers to the safety of the landing crafts. “They were mostly young guys around age 21,” he said. “They lay with their eyes open and arms outspread. I still have flashbacks of that time.”

 

By the following day, the Americans had gained a foothold of Omaha Beach. After the Germans retreated, Affolder resumed his work in the surgeon’s office. There he met General and future United States president Ike Eisenhower. “He was a wonderful guy,” said Affolder. “He talked to us about our work at Omaha Beach.”

 

For Affolder the tragedies of war were not over. In December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge, he and other American soldiers nearly lost their lives as part of what became known as the Malmedy Massacre. “We pulled out of Malmedy, France, on December 16, the night before a German combat unit captured 84 American soldiers and shot them,” he said. “I think that was the scariest part of the war for me.”

 

Later that spring, Affolder saw the atrocities of Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany, just weeks after its liberation in April 1945. “We saw the butcher block where German dentists had removed gold from prisoners’ teeth,” he said. “We also saw a guy with a wheelbarrow carrying the body of a dead soldier.”

 

By summer 1945, the Japanese had surrendered and the war was over. Due to the number of battles he had fought and length of time of service, Affolder was one of the first to be discharged. American soldiers were flown back to the States in C47’s planes. “There were no seats inside, but that left room for more of us GIs to get home,” he said. (Note: GI is abbreviation for ‘Government Issue’ and was a common nickname for American soldiers.)

 

Back in Decatur, Affolder resumed working at the hardware store before choosing to sell life insurance, a career he continued until age 85. He and his wife Phyllis met in 1941 while Bun was on furlough. Phyllis died in 1992. Affolder remarried Alice in 1995.

 

For his contribution to the war Affolder was issued a Bronze Star for bravery and acts of  meritorious service. It is the fourth-highest combat award of the United States Armed Forces.

 

Arrangements by Zwick & Jahn Funeral Home, Decatur, Ind. – See more at: http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/fortwayne/obituary.aspx?pid=169212673#sthash.CW2SFZSQ.dpuf

The End