Locals remember D-Day 60 years after invasion
D-Day isn’t just a date in the history book for Clovis resident Chuck Haas.
Sixty years ago, on June 6, 1944, the sailor was making the treacherous passage between troop ships anchored off Normandy and the stretch of shoreline code-named “Omaha Beach.” On that beachhead and others like it, tens of thousands of American soldiers were being ferried by Haas and men like him into a hail of German gunfire as they began an invasion of Nazi-controlled France that proved to be the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler’s domination of Europe.
Haas’ cargo of troops was among the second wave assaulting the beachhead, one of the locations where victory by the Allies was by no means certain. The initial assault on Omaha Beach wasn’t going well, and commanders needed every available person to back up troops who in many cases were pinned down on the beach under withering German fire.
“I’m 80 years old now and it’s hard for me to remember everything,” Haas said. “I was a 20-year-old kid then, and what I do remember was we came in about 30 minutes after everything started. We went ashore as far as we could go with our men, and if I remember right we made three trips with 25 to 30 men each time.”
Being part of an assault on the enemies of America was just what Haas had wanted less than three years before when he and a group of friends enlisted shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
“My dad was in the Army and we planned to go into the Army but the recruiter for the Army was out to lunch,” Haas said. “A Navy recruiter saw us waiting outside, said, ‘Hey, come join the Navy, so we signed up.’ It was all God, country, and all that. We figured we’re at war, let’s get it over with and enlist.”
That decision marked the beginning of more than 27 years of military service for Haas, first in the Navy and later in the Army Air Corps and finally the Air Force that brought the man from Pennsylvania to Clovis.
For another D-Day veteran, Roy Bauer, the most important memories are of those who didn’t get to come home.
“I’m no hero, the heroes are still over in Normandy buried six feet underground,” Bauer said.
Bauer also saw action on Omaha Beach as a combat engineer attached to the 29th Infantry, and remembers the extensive training American forces underwent in England before setting out for Normandy.
That almost didn’t happen, however, as Bauer remembered it.
“We took off on the fourth (of June), but we had to come back due to choppy seas,” Bauer said. “We took off again on the fifth and hit the beaches on the morning of the sixth.”
Eastern New Mexico University professor Dale Davis, a retired Marine Corps lieutenant colonel, said he remembers hearing the stories of men like Bauer and Haas on radio when his high school principal brought a radio into his classrooms. Davis was too young to enlist, but he ran away from home, joined the Merchant Marine in time for the end of World War II, and later served in the 1948 war that marked the birth of the modern nation of Israel, the Korean War, and two tours of duty in Vietnam.
“(British Prime Minister Winston) Churchill said it was the beginning of the end of fascism in Europe,” Davis said. “Its success was not guaranteed. Amphibious warfare was a tough thing and a lot of men died, but the sacrifices these men made ensured that democracy would be the predominant form of government in the world.”
While generals and admirals often get the credit for victories in warfare, Davis credited American military doctrine of enabling small units to fight on their own with bringing about the victory at D-Day. Trouble with airborne parachute and glider drops had spread assault troops all over locations behind the lines and the frontal assault on the beachheads ran into problems, but those troops figured out how to overcome obstacles once on the ground rather than being paralyzed if they couldn’t communicate with their commanders.
“The individual heroics of the common soldier, the privates who took over when their officers were killed, was a wonderful thing,” Davis said. “It was the initiative of the privates, PFCs and junior noncommissioned officers who didn’t even know where they were going but they knew their objective and went to work.”