D-Day will hit its 75th anniversary next Thursday.
It was on June 6, 1944, that American, British and Canadian troops stormed ashore on the Normandy beaches of France to launch the Allied forces campaign that ended in the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Because the Normandy landings generated so much excitement throughout the world, Tracyites who were among those at the Omaha and Utah beaches that overcast, bloody June morning have always received a special level of attention as D-Day anniversaries rolled around.
I can recall interviewing nearly all of them over the years.
There was Lee Lovelady, legendary Southern Pacific conductor, who as a pathfinder with the 82nd Airborne Division landed in Normandy near Sainte-Mere-Eglise just after midnight June 6.
A few hours later, John Gomes, first president of the Tracy War Memorial Association, and Heinz accountant Wally Anderson went ashore at Utah Beach with the 4th Infantry Division. John almost didn’t make it. The landing craft in which he was riding was hit by enemy fire, and he had to swim and wade the last 50 yards to shore. Wally was wounded just a few days later.
Onetime Tracy cop Bob Foley piloted a Navy landing craft onto the Normandy beaches.
Above the beaches, Tracyite Martin Sasser Jr. was a belly-gunner aboard a B-17 bomber that made two bombing raids over Normandy on D-Day.
Later in the day, on the second wave, another Tracyite, Wink Rounds, went ashore with an artillery battery that was part of the 26th Infantry Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Infantry Division.
Over the years he lived here, Wink would fly a line of flags on D-Day in front of his Centre Court Drive home — and would be sure to call me to provide a D-Day reminder.
In fact, it was 10 years ago this week that Wink reported that it was the 65th anniversary of D-Day. I quickly realized that of the six D-Day veterans from Tracy I had recalled, only he and Martin Sasser were still alive.
This Thursday, all are gone — as is the case with nearly all veterans of World War II.
I have my own memories of D-Day. Although I served seven months with the 1st Infantry Division while I was in the Army in Germany, that was 11 years later, in 1955.
No, on June 6, 1944, I was an 11-year-old paper boy with the Stockton Record. It was just before 7 o’clock in the morning when Bill Taylor, the Record manager in Tracy, called to tell me and my brother, Tom, that we had to get down to the Record office on 10th Street — and fast.
Bill told us Allied forces had landed on the coast of France, and we had an “extra” to deliver. In those days, the Record was an afternoon paper, so this was really something special.
I still hold the images of riding on my bike down Berverdor and Highland avenues (Route 12 territory) tossing the thin “extra” edition toward the homes, all the time yelling, “Extra, extra, Allies land in France.” And I especially remember seeing people rush out of their front doors in pajamas and bathrobes to retrieve the D-Day “extra.”
This coming Thursday — three-quarters of a century later — D-Day memories will be with us again, and we can once more read (more likely watch) all about it, as those excited pajama-and-bathrobe-clad Tracyites on Route 12 did 75 years ago.