June 6, 1944, D-Day was a major turning point in World War II.
On this day 68 years ago, more than 150,000 U.S. and Allied soldiers invaded the beaches of Normandy, France in the fight to defeat Nazi Germany.
Retired Army Sergeant William Roberts of Hanover Township, near Wilkes-Barre, was drafted in 1940 at 28 years old.
The attack at Pearl Harbor extended his service and he was later shipped to Europe and Omaha Beach. At nearly 100 years old, his memories of that day are crystal clear.
“There were big iron girders in the water that the Germans had already mined there, and we could only go through one path,” said William Roberts. “They had it all zeroed in, the Germans did. While we were coming in, every now and again, shells were coming in. Someone was getting hit all the time up there on the invasion.”
Roberts said like many others, he was scared at first, but pushed on.
“Soon as we went up the bank there we had to keep moving because other guys were coming in on us on the beach too and we had to keep moving. That’s when the big heavy stuff was coming in at us,” said Roberts. “The shells would come in so close, you could feel the heat.”
Roberts was a tank gunner and spent 62 days on the front line before getting a break and clean clothes.
“The first job I had there was to knock a church steeple down and I said, ‘Why am I shooting that church steeple down?’ and they said there might be a fellow in there calling the shots for the artillery guys, that is the German artillery there,” he added.
Roberts said he was lucky to have survived the D-Day invasion that killed more than 9,000 Allied troops.
“Then when you lose your buddies, it hurts. Yep, it hurts,” he said. “I often think I’m lucky now that I’m alive to realize how many shells were coming at you, going in and going out.”
During his nine months in Europe, Roberts took part in five battles, including the Battle of the Bulge, where he was injured.
“One of the fingers there, with shrapnel from an artillery shell hit it and it started to bleed and they gave me a shot and they said, ‘Now you get the Purple Heart for that little scratch you got on your finger,’ but some guys got it worse yet, you know what I mean. There was shrapnel in their legs or in their bodies or in their face or what not,” Roberts said.
Roberts said his experiences during D-Day and WWII are ones he will never forget.
“The sky’s all lit up with guns going off here or there and I’m never satisfied with the Fourth of July, I never go out to look at the fireworks because it reminds me of World War II,” he said.
Roberts will turn 100 on July 22 and lives at the Gino Merli Veterans Center in Scranton, named after another D-Day veteran.