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Clearwater veteran looks back on 67 years since invasion of D-Day

CLEARWATER — Monday is the 67th anniversary of D-Day, revered as the greatest invasion in history and the turning point of World War II.

On June 6, 1944, the United States and its allies invaded Nazi-occupied France. More than 150,000 troops stormed the beaches of Normandy.

Clearwater resident Don Roy was there.

He's 90 now, but his mind is sharp with detail as he recalls what it was like to be among the young and the brave that day.

Roy was only 23 then, an engineering graduate of the Case School of Applied Science in Cleveland, Ohio, drafted into the U.S. Army.

During the invasion, he was a sergeant in the 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion, a unit of the 101st Airborne Division nicknamed the "Screaming Eagles." The men were trained in air assault operations.

As they churned toward Normandy aboard a Liberty ship, the John S. Mosby, he and his fellow soldiers knew something big was about to happen. They just didn't know what.

"We knew we were going to kick their butts, we just didn't know how hard."

Along the way, he thought about Margaret, a girl he'd met on furlough. He and his buddies had missed the train to Glasgow. They caught another to Edinburgh instead.

It was at a dance hall that he first caught sight of her curly blond hair and lovely Scottish eyes.

"She brought up her cigarette and asked for a light," he reminisced. They danced cheek to cheek.

Arriving at Utah Beach, the men waded ashore and removed the plastic waterproof covers from their guns. The second part of the battalion was aboard the Susan B. Anthony, which had struck a mine near Omaha Beach and was on fire and sinking. All of those soldiers were able to get ashore.

About 23,000 men landed on Utah Beach that day. Unlike the bloodbath going on at Omaha Beach, these fighters were met with little resistance. Hours earlier, paratroopers and glider forces had arrived and largely cleared the area beyond the beaches.

"They confused the Germans and made it easier on us," Roy said.

His job was to serve as a forward observer and join up with paratroopers to direct artillery fire.

"D-Day was just the beginning," he said of his three-week mission. He received a Bronze Star for valor after they captured Carentan, France.

Their next operation took place in September of that year, when they took off from England and soared into Holland by gliders, motorless flying machines towed and released by C-47s, military transport aircraft. The glider pilots would slip the aircraft into enemy territory so troops and equipment could be deployed. Some crash-landed.

"No one volunteered to be a glider-rider," Roy said. "You were assigned. After a while we became eligible for extra flight pay just like the paratroopers. It was an extra $50 a month added to our base pay of $50."

In Holland, Roy was shot in the left hand by the Germans. He received a Purple Heart medal.

That December, he was involved in the Battle of the Bulge, one of the biggest battles in American military history. Roy had been promoted to lieutenant and was part of an engineering battalion. They were in the Belgian town of Bastogne, surrounded by the enemy. Food and ammunition were scarce, and it was bitterly cold. But they fought fiercely and ultimately were part of the successful effort to halt the Germans.

World War II ended a few months after that and Roy wasted no time claiming his bride.

He married Margaret in June 1945; they moved to this area in 1946. Roy got a job selling air-conditioning accessory equipment to contractors. They figured Florida would be ripe for the product.

The couple had two sons, Richard and Douglas, who still live in the area.

Two years ago, a few days before their wedding anniversary, Margaret died from cancer. They had been married 63 years.

Today, Roy is said to be the longest residing resident in Harbor Oaks Place condominiums, having lived there since 1976. His unit overlooks the Clearwater Memorial Causeway Bridge, the Intracoastal and Clearwater Beach. He reads, works jigsaw puzzles and does his own cooking.

Three mornings a week, he drives to the nearby Morton Plant Hospital, where he is a volunteer, delivering the St. Petersburg Times to patients.

He keeps a copy of Time magazine's D-Day edition on his coffee table and enjoys looking at a book called Mission Accomplished. Published in 1945, it details the actions of the 321st Glider Field Artillery Battalion during World War II.

He points to a picture of himself in the book. He's resting on a sidewalk in Carentan and appears to be yawning.

Why was he yawning?

"I think I was just worn out."

Clearwater veteran looks back on 67 years since invasion of D-Day 06/04/11 [Last modified: Saturday, June 4, 2011 2:46pm]
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