Published 9:39 am Saturday, June 6, 2009
FRANKLIN—On June 6, 1944, a magazine of unfired bullets saved Allen Minetree’s life.
Minetree, only 20 at the time, was one of 155,000 Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, to take part in D-Day, the largest amphibious military operation in history. Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of that epic battle.
The young Petersburg native had been drafted into the Army during World War II and, after several months of training in North Africa and England, found himself in Normandy preparing to fight the Nazis.
He wrote about the experience in a 16-page essay and spoke to The Tidewater News about D-Day.
Minetree and fellow members of the 16th Infantry of the First Division in the Army had trained in England for the fight.
“We did our training in wooded areas and on the beach,” he wrote. “Several beach areas were designated for training in amphibious landings. The weeks of training passed and then the announcements came. It was a go. D-Day was at hand.”
The night before had been the calm before the storm.
Minetree’s sergeant had assigned him to kitchen duty while on the merchant ship that would take many to their deaths.
“Don’t remember what was served,” he wrote. “It didn’t appear that too many of us ate. At one point I was the only one in the mess area washing pots and pans. Then some Navy guy came in and told me to go back to my outfit.”
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s voice came over the ship’s loud speaker with a message for the troops, and Minetree sat silently in his bunk to listen.
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months,” Eisenhower told them. “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe and security for ourselves in a free world.”
In France, the soldiers were dropped off by boat onto Omaha Beach.
“The ramp went down and we began experiencing small arm fire hitting the craft and some of us,” he wrote. “All was quiet amongst us. No conversation. We simply jumped into the water, chest high, as we made our way out of the water and began to run. The sand was jumping up all around us. Some going down on our knees. Some falling flat and some staying behind the obstacles. No one seemed to cry out when they were hit. Those of us who could just kept on running, not looking up to see where the fire was coming from. We just kept running and reached a small chalk cliff and stopped.”
Behind them, the boat they had just come off was hit and blew up.
Minetree had been injured while running.
“The bullet had hit me and gone through my arm a little bit. It didn’t hurt a bit,” he said.
“It hit two of my magazines and went through them. If those hadn’t been there, I’d have been long gone.”
The D-Day assault, code named Operation Overlord, involved 5,000 ships and 150,000 American, British, and Canadian troops on the first day of the operation. There were more than 6,500 American casualties.
Minetree was returned to the States with “frozen feet” and was discharged in May 1945.
“I was handed my medals, ribbons and discharge papers on May 29, 1945,” he said. “I had served overseas 21 months and earned 90 points and six awards.”
Minetree was awarded the Combat Infantryman Badge, Good Conduct Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon with four Bronze Stars, a Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster and a Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster.
He went to the University of Florida on the G.I. Bill to study forestry and married his sweetheart, Lois. He was offered a job at Camp Manufacturing Co. and remained there until he retired in 1987.