Memories of D-Day, World War II from veterans

Memories of D-Day, World War II from veterans

Here are previous News-Gazette stories about D-Day and World War II.

Dick Quint was standing at a train station platform in Paris with his grandchildren while his daughter searched for the train to Bayeux, when the French woman noticed his plight – and his World War II veteran's cap.

In short order, the woman had collected three French policemen, who hauled the Quint family's luggage through the station to the right gate, walked the bags onto the correct train and deposited them on the luggage rack.

"It was like that everywhere we went," the 81-year-old Rantoul man, a former Army combat infantryman who fought in France after D-Day and in Belgium and Germany, recalled last week.

D-Day veterans recount the heroes' welcome they received 10 years ago when they returned to Europe.


This, Lawrence Shelton says, is what he tells people about his experience in World War II, 41 months and 21 days, mostly in the Army Medical Corps, which took him to Africa, Italy and Germany.

"It's something you can't buy," the 84-year-old Urbana man said last week.

Asked if he would buy the experience if he could, Shelton replied: "In some cases, I'd say yeah, and in some cases, I'd say no."

From a preview of a trip planned by area veterans for the 2004 dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.


Their departure, after several unnerving false starts, was supposed to be a secret.

So Carl Hatcher was a bit unnerved when he saw the English women waiting outside the gate as his truck headed for the airfield.

“There was probably 50 women at the gate. Guys had girlfriends there. They were crying and waving,” Hatcher said, recalling the night of June 5, 1944. “I thought right then, ‘It looks like the word’s leaked out. This is not going to be too secret at all.”

D-Day excerpt from "When We Went to War," a News-Gazette book published in 2012, based on a special project by the newspaper in 1994.


As scores of family and friends, including about a dozen veterans, celebrated the Hardens' 50 years of marriage at a party in Urbana, the 84-year-old Harden was presented the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal from the French government.

An honor from the French for former Urbana schools Superintendent Kermit Harden.


Steaming toward the Omaha beachhead on D-Day, Coxswain Joe Ernst and his crewmates blew out the bottom of their gasoline tanker with explosives 1,000 feet from shore.

In the early hours of June 6, 1944, the tanker would provide a breakwater to protect U.S. infantry in Normandy, as well as a deck, inches above the water, from which to shoot at German planes.

Unfortunately for Ernst and his crewmen, the Germans shot back too – for four days – from the shore, from the cliffs and from the air. For four days, the young men went almost entirely without food and water.

An Arcola native was presented with France's highest honor.


Sixty years ago, one Illinois boy rescued another from machine-gunners in a Nazi prison camp.

Sixty years later, Gene Metcalfe thought Elmer Melchi was dead, and vice versa.

But Melchi, a Champaign native, was able to track down his rescuer this year, and just in time for Memorial Day, the two met up at Melchi's Colorado retirement home.

A story about a reunion of two soldiers 60 years after one of them saved the other.


Bill Karr tells us about watching for snipers on the Pacific island of Guadalcanal. Ralph Langenheim describes the early dawn of D-Day from a small landing craft. And Art Leenerman tells the tragic story of the USS Indianapolis, which was sunk out of radio contact, leaving hundreds of sailors trying to stay alive in shark-infested waters.

A letter sent by Langenheim gives a taste of the times; just days after D-Day, he sent a letter to his family that doesn't even mention the Allied invasion of France because censorship was so stringent.

Veterans' memories of World War II include the early dawn of D-Day. *****

As children, my brother, sisters and I had only a vague idea of what my father did in the Army Air Forces in World War II.

He seldom told war stories – only when we begged – and never in much detail.

We knew he was a co-pilot who had flown paratroopers on D-Day, the famed invasion of Normandy.

 Melissa Merli recounts her father's memories of the war.

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