Tuesday will mark the 79th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces during World War II, often referred to as D-Day.
Employing more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, was the beginning of the liberation of France and laid the foundation for the Allied victory on the Western Front.
When many people think about D-Day, the invasion of Omaha Beach (with its 2,400 American casualties) is often what they think of, but the operation actually took place on five different beaches, one of which was Utah Beach, where now 98-year-old Greenville resident Bill Caldwell was serving in the U.S. Navy as a signalman.
Caldwell submitted the following account of his ship making its way from Plymouth, England, to the waters of Normandy:
“On June 4, the troops boarded our ship at Plymouth, England, and were sailed on the LCIs (landing craft infantry). Due to security, everything was locked down. We were not allowed to get off the ship, and dockworkers were not allowed onboard.
“We were scheduled to set sail on June 4, but it was called off due to bad weather. After a one-day delay, we set sail on June 5, arriving at Utah Beach early in the morning on June 6. We were at the assembly area at 3 a.m.
“Utah Beach was a different beach than Omaha Beach. The most significant danger on Utah Beach was the underwater mines. To reduce the risk of getting sunk by a mine, we unloaded our troops to smaller boats. These boats transported troops the rest of the way to Utah Beach. Despite these precautions, several naval ships struck mines offshore. One of the LCIs struck a mine and sunk.
“Like Sicily, Salerno and Anzio, I was stationed on the bridge, watching all the action. In Normandy, I had to be on the look out for mines. I didn’t see it all, but I saw a lot.
“As a final act, we again loaded our ship with troops and carried them to Plymouth, England, but these soldiers were (German and Italian) prisoners of war. Their war was over.
“In 2014, the French government presented me with the French Legion of Honor medal, their highest award, just because I was there.”
Over the decades since his service during World War II, Caldwell has given interviews for several books and museum exhibits. While Caldwell simply enjoys sharing his story with younger generations, he also occasionally receives “fan mail” from people who learned a lot after reading or listening to his words.
“Reading about history is awesome. When I went to the special operations museum (in Fayetteville, North Carolina) and later I heard you talking about pushing the Nazis ‘up and out,’ my reaction was, ‘Wow. He was actually there,'” a 10-year-old girl named Emma Yip wrote to him in 2019.
“You say you’re not a hero, but you are one in my eyes. Thank you for serving our country.”
In addition to being a World War II Navy veteran, Caldwell also served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Later, he later worked for Temco/LTV (now L3Harris) for much of the Cold War-era, during which he worked on several top-secret military aircraft contracts.
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