Charlie Dietz was a 20-year-old newlywed when he was drafted into the Army in November 1942. Less than two years later, he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy to help take back France from the Germans.
His job, as a staff sergeant in the 13th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, was to figure out exactly where the German artillery fire was coming from. To do that, he and his team set up microphones around Allied positions to record exactly where the shells landed. They plotted the explosions on a map and used calculus _ and pencil and paper _ to determine where the U.S. forces should aim their guns.
It could be dangerous work. Just days into Dietz's Normandy tour, a man walking behind him stepped on a land mine. The man was killed.
"I took it in the back," Dietz, now 80, recalled Friday. He was sent to a hospital in England, then rejoined the fray with shrapnel still lodged in his back _ just in time for the Battle of the Bulge.
Today, in a ceremony in New Port Richey, Dietz and more than 300 veterans will receive special recognition for taking part in the Normandy landing and the liberation of France. Deputy French Consul Jean Galinier will hand each of the veterans a "Thank You America" certificate at the ceremony.
The Veterans Day ceremony begins at 10:15 a.m. at Sims Park. A unit color guard will begin the ceremony by placing a wreath at the Veterans Monument at Orange Lake. Speakers at the ceremony include Galinier and U.S. Reps. Mike Bilirakis, R-Tarpon Springs, and Karen Thurman, D-Dunnellon.
Dietz arrived on Utah Beach on June 7, 1944, the day after the historic U.S. invasion of Normandy.
"When we got there, everybody was digging fox holes," Dietz recalled.
Days later, his wife, Helen, received a telegram from the Red Cross informing her that her husband had been killed. A few hours later, a letter arrived from Dietz. He was recovering from a land mine explosion and was in a British hospital, the letter said.
After months of treatment, Dietz returned to the war. By then, U.S. forces had advanced to the Rhine River, and it was there that the Germans launched what would be their final offensive: the Battle of the Bulge.
Dietz's battalion was sent to Luxembourg to protect the south, he said. For a few weeks, Dietz gave up his surveying duties to become an infantryman. Then the weather cleared, Allied forces launched an air war and, as Dietz put it, "We crushed them."
Dietz was on the Czechoslovakian border when the war ended. He received a three-day pass to go to Paris, he recalled Friday with a smile.
"We were glad it was over," he said.
Dietz was awarded a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for his service.
After the war, Dietz went to Pace University in New York City on the GI Bill. He studied accounting. He and Helen bought their first house, again with the government's help.
"We got a real low mortgage rate," he said. "The government was very good to us."
For the next 41 years, Dietz worked for the Brooklyn Union Gas Co., rising to vice president. He retired in 1981, and he and Helen moved to a home in Timber Oaks, where they still live.
On Friday, sitting in his home with Helen beside him, he recalled a letter he sent to his wife just before the Battle of the Bulge.
"If I ever get out of here alive," Dietz remembers writing to his wife, "I'll never complain again."
He turned to Helen: "And I never have."
Replied Helen, with a chuckle: "I wouldn't say that."
Every Veterans Day is special for Dietz. But this one will be different, he said, "because of the French thing and, of course, Sept. 11."