This June marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day — the day British and American forces landed on the beaches of Normandy, France in an effort to retake the area from Nazi forces.
One Henry County soldier who would rise through the ranks to colonel landed and fought on those beaches so the Allies could make a big push to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
In the bloody battle, more than 1,400 American soldiers lost their lives, but the waves of soldiers eventually broke through the German lines.
It remains one of the most ambitious attacks in American history and it gave the Allied Forces the positioning they needed to drive into Europe and beat the Germans back.
Colonel William F. Pollard, as a member of the 481st Artillery Division, landed with the other troops that day at Omaha Beach, one of five sectors along the Normandy coast.
Pollard hails from Lockport and currently resides in Pleasureville.
He spent 23 years in the military, fighting in World War II and Korea before entering civil service with Texas Instruments during the Vietnam War.
In addition to D-Day, he saw action at The Battle of the Bulge and served under Generals Omar Bradley and George Patton.
Pollard, like so many others, lost friends and comrades during the war. He saw the horrors of war and marched through the muck to help secure the freedom of not only the United States, but people around the world.
Now 96, Pollard sat at a kitchen table strewn with albums, letters, medals and papers. Each artifact told a story and, as he turned them over in his hands and carefully unfolded each slip of fragile paper, those stories came to life.
If only for a moment, the men in those pictures lived again, the ships sailed and the wind tossed the sands of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
“That’s me before the war,” Pollard said, pointing to a picture of a much younger version of himself.
Stocky, well-built and carefree, he leaned back with his hands in his pockets and a sly smile on his lips.
The photo from a year later paints a different picture. Much thinner and stiffer, the man in this photo had seen year of the war.
There was no smile, no hands in his pockets — just straight posture and a baggy uniform.
Pollard doesn’t deny how difficult the war was. “I don’t discuss it,” he said. “Not with my wife or my son. My sons probably learned more in the last year than ever before.”
He went on to say that there’s no need to talk about the things that happened during the war, even saying that fellow soldiers didn’t discuss it. “You didn’t ask [another soldier] what he’d done.”
The military is often referred to as a brotherhood. People who serve are a part of that community forever and there’s a certain level of respect that comes with having served. Pollard said that his service shaped him as a person.
“You trust [your fellow soldiers],” he said. “Those boys, the soldiers we had in those days would do anything in the world for the military. I saw them give their lives for it.”
In all likelihood, Pollard’s life would’ve turned out very differently, had it not been for the war.
Before being drafted, he had plans to go to college and work. Living in Detroit and working for A&P Company at the time, Pollard decided to go with his brother to look at the local draft board and see if they’d been selected.
His brother was told that he probably had over a year before he had to worry about being drafted.
But when Pollard handed over his draft card, he received a very different message. “She took my card and came back and said, ‘I hope you brought your toothbrush,’” he recalled. “So they got me that quick. A year before my brother.”
Putting his life on hold, Pollard entered the military expecting to be back in a year. He retired 23 years later.
And now the upcoming celebration of our Independence Day is an interesting time for people like Pollard.
Many soldiers fought and died to protect the freedoms of people who will never know their names. But veterans like Pollard say they were just doing their job.
“You think about how you saved the United States,” he said. “You have to. But you don’t dwell on it.”
WORLD WAR II VETERANS ALSO HONORED AT NEW CASTLE PATRIOTIC FESTIVAL INCLUDE:
Fred Balke, 91, Crestwood
Served in Pacific Theatre in Solomon Islands, which included Bougainville, Guadalcanal and Okinawa, building airfields and harbors allowing supplies to be brought in to support the troups.
Alfred Williams, 89, New Castle
Enlisted in the Navy in 1941 as an aircraft mechanic. Stationed on Aircraft Carrier Saratoga and Cruiser St. Louis. Was at Guadalcanal during invasion. Was a gunner on dive bombers and torpedo bombers. Was transferred back to States in 1944.
Woodrow Peyton, 92, Campbellsburg
Landed on Utah Beach on D-Day plus 11 as a gunner on a tank crew in 607th Tank Destroyer Battalion.
Earned Bronze Star by destroying three German Panzer tanks singlehandedly. Was in Battle of Metz as well as other campaigns.
Dee L ‘Pete’ Raymer, 92, Smithfield
Enlisted Dec. 1942 in Army and eventually became a Corporal. Served in Miami Beach on Coastal Artillery, transferred to Virginia Beach. Shipped to Philippines in July 1945. At one point there were five Raymer brothers in the service at the same time during WWII while six of nine brothers were in the service during war. Pete was discharged in 1946.
Roy Winchester, 88, Bethlehem
Joined Navy Air Corp in August 1943 and attended several stateside schools to study to be a pilot. He was discharged in December of 1944.
Herbert Williams, 92, New Castle
Enlisted in the Navy. Sent to Hawaii and became a radio man on seaplanes and B-24’s. Patrolled the Pacific, which included Christmas Island and Guadalcanal looking for ships and planes to bomb and strafe. On one mission a Japanese plane shot out the #3 engine on his B-24. The crew regrouped and attacked the Japanese plane, bringing it down. Herbert lost one brother due to wounds sustained from fighting in France. After receiving word his other brother had been killed on Okinawa, Herbert was sent home.
Herman Stanley, 92, LaGrange
Served in the China Burma India Theatre with distinction as a navigator flying supplies in C-46’s and C-47’s over the hump (Himalayan Mountains) to U.S. troops. Served with the famous Flying Tigers as a waist gunner on B-25’s where he had to endure temperatures below zero degrees fighting off enemy planes. Herman was shot down on one mission; the crew had to bail out and was picked up 27 days later by American forces.
Herschel Raymer, 89, Eminence
Became a 30-caliber machine gunner seeing extensive action enduring harsh winter conditions in France and in Germany. He crossed the Rhine River under enemy fire on a small boat as the bridges had been blown by the retreating Germany Army. Served with General Patton’s 3rd Army. At the end of the war was at the Austrian- German border
Glenn Fisher, 87, Bedford
Enlisted in February, 1942 as a 15-year-old. Spent 18 months in Europe landing on D-Day +33. On front lines operating 50-caliber machine guns and 40-mm anti-aircraft guns against the retreating German Army. Sustained shrapnel injury from an airburst explosion from German artillery. Met the Russian Army on May 6, 1945 at the Elbe River
Howard Griffin, 87, Crestwood
Enlisted as a 16-year-old in 1943. he saw extensive action in WWII serving in most of the theatres of the war. Fought in North Africa, then shipped to France, then Italy where he was wounded. Also fought in Luxembourg, Belgium and Germany. Was in Hurtgen Forest when Battle of the Bulge began.
Leslie Stickler, 94, Louisville
Bio: In 1944 was shipped to New York City where he boarded the Queen Elizabeth with 14,000 other troops to England. In August of 1944 took another ship to La Havre, France. Upon arriving, he was transported to Patton’s 3rd Army where he was a tank mechanic for the duration of the war.
Ralph McManis, 92, Turners Station
Drafted Jan. 1943. After basic training was trained to operate landing barges where he transported various materials and equipment to support the war effort. Served in New Guinea, New Britain, Luzon, Manila and finally Japan at the end of the war.