With the D-Day anniversary approaching, McMinnville's Noon Rotary Club brought three veterans to the podium on Thursday to tell their recollections of a war that forever changed history.
“It sounded like everything had broken loose,” recalled Magness Jordan of witnessing the opening of the D-Day invasion of France on June 6, 1944.
Jordan was on a landing craft heading toward Omaha Beach at the young age of 19.
“There were bullets whizzing overhead,” he recalled, noting he saw many men fall that day on the bloody beach. “We were pinned down most of the day under fire.”
Jordan said he felt lucky to have survived the landing, especially after accidentally jumping into a fox hole with a couple of German snipers. However, less than a week later, as his unit pushed off the beach, he again had a brush with death.
“A shell burst overhead and knocked me out,” Jordan said, noting he was unconscious and stunned for four hours even as his unit was forced to retreat. He then fell into German hands and was taken to a field hospital.
“I laid outside for hours and they took a German soldier in and he was yelling and moaning the whole time,” Jordan recalled. “I was thinking if they would do him like that, what would they do to me?”
Jordan was eventually treated by German doctors and showed his appreciation by escaping a short time later.
“There were members of the French Resistance who posed as hospital workers,” Jordan said, noting that he spent his 20th birthday as a prisoner of war. “As soon I got out a battle ensued.”
While Jordan was on the ground, local resident Howard Locke was flying above. Locke was instrumental in dropping paratroopers behind enemy lines the evening before D-Day.
“We were flying about 600 feet,” Locke said of the low entry behind enemy lines. Locke was 21 then and left being a student at the University of Tennessee to enter the service when the war began.
Locke recalled finding the drop zone for his paratroopers by watching for a bonfire the earlier troopers had set to tell him where to let off his men. The operation was flown in pitch darkness to avoid being shot down by the Germans. However, Locke said they still took a lot of incoming fire as they headed toward the drop zone.
“There were machine gun bullets going everywhere,” Locke recalled of the fire they took. “There were holes all in the wings. I’m just glad they weren’t in the cabin.”
Charles L. Smith saw action everywhere during World War II including stints in Italy, France and then in the Pacific.
Smith said his final assignment was something he feared might be his bloodiest, even bloodier than the beaches of Normandy.
“Word got out that we were going to invade Japan,” Smith told his fellow Rotarians. “They estimated about a million of our men would be lost.”
Smith said he was relieved when Japan surrendered after being hit with the second of two atomic bombs, thereby saving many American and likely Japanese lives.
“I sure was glad to hear about the atomic bomb,” Smith admitted, knowing how bloody an invasion could be after Normandy.
As part of public radio 91.3 WCPI’s D-Day commemoration, these three guests will appear on a special "Focus" program. It will air this Tuesday at 5 p.m., Wednesday at 5:05 a.m., and Thursday at 1 p.m.