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D-Day in their own words

Today is the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the massive invasion of Normandy, France by allied forces. West Virginians were among the soldiers who were part of that force, and some of their personal accounts are archived in the West Virginia and Regional History Center at WVU.

WVU Ex Libris Magazine has published the stories of several of those soldiers.  Here are a few excerpts:

Franklin Watkins from Morgantown was in Europe before D-Day. He parachuted behind enemy lines in France five days prior to the invasion. He was wounded while setting up signals for the invasion force to follow.

Watkins was evacuated to England where he recovered. He was sent back into action and was wounded twice more. “I received the Bronze Star, Purple Heart and the Silver Star for not much of anything,” he said.

Those of us who have benefited from his courage and sacrifice would disagree.

Chester native Jack Allison said he was trained in England “how to kill the quickest and quietest way possible and how to blow up with demolition the various obstacles the Germans would have on the beach.”

Allison was among the first to hit the beach that day. He said, “My job the rest of the time in France was as an engineer building bridges and taking up mines.”

Chief Petty Officer James Newcome was aboard the USS Texas on D-Day. The Keyser native recalled, “We were shelling the French coast. The skies were nearly black with wave after wave of our bombers and those of the English. At times we were so close to the beach that we could see the Germans on the beach.”

Verda Clifford Frankhouser from Wetzel County was trained as a medic, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw when reached the beach the day after the initial assault. “We passed the dead littering the beach, many of the soldiers were somewhat awe stricken,” he said. “It was not long until we were all hardened to such scenes.”

Over the next 19 days, Frankhouser had to account for those dead soldiers. “My task was to examine the bodies, filling out a tag for each one, the name, serial number, type of wound or cause of death and possible weapon which inflicted the wound were important details,” he said.

John Poulos from Weirton was among the first soldiers to land at Omaha Beach. He survived and returned to West Virginia, where he enrolled at WVU. He wrote an essay in a history class describing the World War II soldier.

“He is pretty young, between 17 and 25. As a fighter, he is a cross between Geronimo, Buck Rogers, Sergeant York and a clumsy heartsick boy. He had an understanding of the war that it will take most Americans a long time to get. For one thing he has lost several friends. He knows plenty about fear, about huddling up in a foxhole when a big one is coming in with its ghastly, spiral noise.”

These are just a few of the accounts in the West Virginia University Ex Libris Magazine chosen from the personal accounts of West Virginia veterans now stored at the West Virginia and Regional History Center.

Nearly all those men who survived that day 80 years ago are now gone. Fortunately, their stories live on to remind us of their bravery and sacrifice.


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