Trying to imagine what Father endured at D-Day

Published 10:02 am Friday, June 7, 2013

“I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.” — Nelson Mandela

At approximately 6:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in world history was being executed with over 160,000 soldiers landing on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast. My Dad was one of them.

A member of Company L, 16th Infantry, Third Battalion, 1st Division, Private first class James Allen Minetree Jr., came ashore at Omaha Beach by the grace of God. I cannot fathom what he was feeling and thinking on that day.

Some years ago, he wrote down in his own words his recollections of that day. Re-reading his thoughts this week, again brought it all home to me. Even though he and his fellow soldiers had trained extensively for the invasion, having it become a reality must have been overwhelming. In fact he said that when they got on their transport in Weymouth (England) Harbor on the afternoon of June 5, they didn’t know if was a dry run or the real thing.

Dad had KP duty that night but later was in his bunk when Gen. Eisenhower’s voice came over the ship’s speakers giving a troop message. He said nobody slept and all were on deck and dressed in assault gear, ready to load onto the assault crafts at first light.

There was one platoon for each craft and he said they bobbed like corks in the choppy water. The shelling by the U.S. Navy had already started. He said the Coxswain, or the pilot of his Landing Craft, did a great job maneuvering between the obstacles on the beach and when the ramp went down small arms fire was hitting all around them. He said they jumped into the water, chest high, and began to run. Many went down. Dad was shot in the arm. He kept running and reached a small chalk cliff. He saw the landing craft that brought them in get hit, throwing the Coxswain into the air.

Dad said many at the bluff were badly wounded and many of those around him were strangers from other outfits. Finally, he said his commanding officer 1st Lt. Jimmie Monteith and Sgt. Wells and several others of their assault team showed up. Just then a Navy destroyer pulled toward the shore and fired at the German pillbox above their heads. Dad followed Sgt. Wells and never saw Lt. Monteith again. Dad was a B.A.R. (Browning Automatic Rifle) man and it was at this point he discovered that two of his B.A.R. magazines in his jacket had been hit. They probably saved his life, as a bullet went through his arm and into the magazines covering his chest.

The 1st and 29th Divisions suffered 2,000 casualties at Omaha Beach. Much later that day Dad finally went to get his wound dressed. A photographer took a photo and years later we found it in a calendar from the Normandy Museum. Recently I searched the web for that photo and purchased my own copy. I framed it and gave it to Dad. It is hanging on the den wall next to his medals. He was awarded, for his service in the U.S. Army (including Sicily, Normandy, France and Germany) the combat infantryman badge, good conduct medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon with four bronze stars, Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster, and the Purple Heart with one oak leaf cluster.

He has never talked very much about his contributions. On a hot June day in 2001, our entire family traveled to Bedford, Va., when the D-Day Memorial was dedicated. Dad was treated like the hero he is with VIP treatment and did offer a few insights of how it all unfolded.

To say I’m proud of my Dad is an understatement. My family is eternally grateful he made it out of that horrific day whole and eventually came home to marry Mom. Being a humble man he wouldn’t say he’s a hero. Instead he’d say he was following orders and doing his duty. Thanks Dad.

“Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway.” — John Wayne