In my last column I wrote about WWII hero Bobby Harkey who was in the midst of the big fight on D-day, June 6, 1944.
The fighting was intense and by the end of the first day the Americans appeared to have breached the iron wall of the German defenders. All during the first day the battle had raged and at times it seemed the invasion would fail. Make no mistake, to land a seaborne invasion force on a fortified beach is no piece of cake.
There had been preliminary bombing raids against the fortifications and predawn drops of airborne troops, behind enemy lines, to disrupt communications, destroy bridges and hinder reinforcements from reaching the front. Battleships had bombarded the coastline and fighter planes were overhead to prevent the German air force from strafing the landing troops.
Smoke and flames from the bombing and shelling and the burning vehicles must have created a hellish scene, with dead bodies floating in the sea and strewn upon the beach. As I noted in the earlier column: stacked on the beach like cord wood.
It was into that hellhole that Private Bobby Harkey had been pushed from a landing craft. Into the fiery inferno that was engulfing the sandy beaches of Normandy. Imagine, that fateful day, what was going through the mind of this young man who had been snatched from the simple bucolic life of small town Lincolnton and dumped on a hostile shore, amid the sounds of wounded and dying friends.
I had a taste of this in Holland when we dropped paratroops to seize bridges for a push to the Rhine and an end to the war. It was there that I saw my squadron commander hit by flak which sent the entire plane and crew in a burning spiral into the ground. All around us was the puff of anti-aircraft fire, knocking planes and gliders from the sky.
Let me tell you: War is hell. And Bobby found himself right in the midst of it that day. The sea behind him was spewing more men onto the beach and the enemy in front was spewing death in a fusillade of bullets. You can picture him lying on his belly in the sand, searching for the enemy snipers who were picking off his buddies one by one. The common thinking would be, “Does one of those bullets have my name on it?” You hope not. Just close your eyes for a moment and put yourself on that beach. The booming naval guns, the planes zooming overhead, the cries of the wounded and dying and the whine of bullets everywhere.
Now listen to the words of commendation from the award of the Silver Star to Private Bobby Harkey: Despite intense enemy fire, Private Harkey led the men of his company to an appointed assembly area. At great personal risk he exposed himself to eliminate enemy snipers who threatened his unit’s advance. Private Harkey’s gallantry and unswerving devotion to duty exemplifies the indomitable fighting spirit of the invasion forces.
It was there on that hostile beach, a long way from home, where Private Bobby Harkey became a hero.
Charles Eurey is a Lincoln Times-News guest columnist. You can reach him at 704-735-6535.