Advertisement
  1. Florida

Their D-Day memories remain vivid. But two Pinellas veterans are haunted by the names never learned.

Harley Reynolds and Gerald “Bud” Berry see their hope for answers slipping away with the dwindling number of World War II survivors.
An American soldier wades through water under heavy fire to reach the beach on the Normandy coast of France on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Two Pinellas men are among a dwindling number of soldiers who survive from that historic battle. [AP Photo/Files-Wartime Pool/Robert Capa]
Published Jun. 5
Updated Jun. 5

Their Pinellas apartments double as shrines to the generation that defeated the Nazis.

Wartime photos and paintings hang on the walls, books about World War II line the shelves.

But Harley Reynolds and Gerald “Bud” Berry don’t need any props to help them tell their stories of D-Day, 75 years ago today.

They were there. And they recall in minute detail how that historic battle unfolded.

Berry co-piloted a plane that dropped 17 paratroopers near the French village of Sainte-Mère-Église just after midnight. Seven hours later, Reynolds landed with a troop-carrying vessel at Omaha Beach.

Still, for all the vivid images they carry as survivors of that bloody day, they remain haunted by what they never learned.

For Berry, 98, that’s the names and the fates of the paratroopers.

For Reynolds, 95, it’s the name of the man next to him who died as soon as he blew the first hole through the barbed-wire barricade, enabling some of the troops to escape the slaughter from Nazi gunfire above and push toward victory.

“No one knows who the man was. He was never identified,” Reynolds said.

At his apartment in Largo, former 1st Lt. Gerald “Bud” Berry holds pictures of taken during his service as an aviator during World War II. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

As each day passes, the two men see the chances of finding their answers slip away.

They are among the half million or so Americans still alive among the 16 million who served in World War II, according to 2018 figures from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Reynolds and Berry have never met. They live in assisted living centers, Reynolds in St. Petersburg and Berry in Largo. Reynolds is a widower married three times. Berry lives with his wife.

On June 6, 1944, nearly five years after World War II began, American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions helped launch the D-Day invasion by dropping inland to keep more German soldiers from advancing to the beaches of Normandy, France. In all, more than 13,000 American paratroopers saw action that day.

Former 1st Lt. Gerald "Bud" Berry was a C-47 co-pilot who flew paratroopers behind enemy lines on D-Day. He lives in St. Petersburg. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]

Assigned to the 91st Squadron of the 439th Troop Carrier Group, Berry flew a C-47 Skytrain and joined a group of nine planes traveling in a V-formation. There were so many of these V’s, Berry said, they stretched clear from England to France.

“Airplanes were dropping troopers in France and airplanes were still taking off in England,” said Berry, who was a first lieutenant with the Army Air Corps.

Except for thick clouds blurring his vision, Berry said, he had a smooth flight and the paratroopers he carried made it to the ground. But that’s all he knows about them. He never learned their names or their mission.

“Everything was kept secret. I’d like to know what happened to them.”

On the ground, so many troops died that the beach was dubbed Bloody Omaha. Some 43,250 men landed there the first day and suffered 3,000 casualties, making it the deadliest of the five Normandy beaches targeted, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation said.

All told, more than 150,000 Allied troops landed at Normandy on D-Day. Just over 4,400 Allied soldiers lost their lives that day.

It was the third invasion of the war for Reynolds, part of the 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division — known as the Big Red One. The others were Italy and Africa.

Harley Reynolds of St. Petersburg was in the first wave of troops to land on Bloody Omaha, the beach that saw the heaviest casualties during the D-Day invasion. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

Some of the soldiers on Omaha Beach had no combat experience, Reynolds said. But a battle resume meant little here.

“Gods or whatever, the powers that be, they didn’t discriminate,” said Reynolds, a 19-year-old staff sergeant at the time, in command of a 13-man machine-gun section. “I saw many men pray. There is nothing wrong with that. I saw many men cry. There is nothing wrong with that.”

Pinned down on the beach for more than an hour, Reynolds recalled reaching out in his mind to his father back home.

“I said, ‘Dad, where are you now when I need you the most?’ And just like that, my mind just settled down and I started thinking and I started looking.”

The St. Petersburg apartment of Harley Reynolds, with its World War II memorabilia and shelves of history books, is a memorial to the generation that defeated the Nazis. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

The barbed wire stood more than 5 feet high, just 20 yards from the water’s edge. Near one portion of barbed wire was a bed of rocks high enough to provide cover.

Reynolds made a dash for it. Others did, too, including his unknown hero.

The man carried a Bangalore torpedo, an explosive made for clearing obstacles. Exposing himself to gunfire, he slipped the device under the barbed wire.

But when he pulled the fuse, nothing happened.

So he replaced the fuse, again exposing himself to gunfire.

This time, the torpedo blew a 12-foot wide hole in the wire. And the hero was hit.

“He just closed his eyes,” a somber Reynolds said. “He was dead on the spot.”

The St. Petersburg apartment of Harley Reynolds, with its World War II memorabilia and shelves of history books, is a memorial to the generation that defeated the Nazis. [SCOTT KEELER | Times]

The first man through the new breach, Reynolds would march halfway through Germany before he was sent back to England that fall. He never saw another day of action.

Overall, he had spent 461 days on the front lines.

After D-Day, aviator Berry flew supplies to the troops and picked up the wounded and prisoners. He would later take part in the invasion of Southern France and the failed invasion of the Netherlands known as Operation Market Garden.

Today, whenever he meets a D-Day paratrooper, he seeks answers to his lingering question: Did you fly on my plane?

So far, no one has said yes.

The answer to Reynolds’ D-Day question eludes him, too. But not his resolve.

He believes, even if no one else does, that one man above all “deserves recognition for that entire invasion being a success.”

The torpedo carrier, Reynolds laments, got nothing.

“I guess that is war for you.”


LEARN MORE ABOUT D-DAY

Victory ship: In honor of D-Day survivors, the SS American Victory Ship and Museum, 705 Channelside Dr., Tampa, offers free admission Thursday to active-duty military and veterans. For other adults, admission is $10. Veterans of World War II will be aboard to share stories with visitors and other special events are planned. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. More information at (813) 228-8766.

Tampa exhibit: A special D-Day exhibit has been set up at the Hillsborough Veterans Memorial Park and Museum, 3602 U.S. 301 N in Tampa. Hours are 10 to 3, park open until 5.

D-Day on screen: Turner Classic Movies is airing 24 hours of World War II films every Thursday in June. Titles on D-Day include 1962’s The Longest Day and 1975’s Overlord.

History presentation: Masterful Deceptions of D-Day, a presentation by Dave Dockery on confusing the Nazis about invasion plans, is scheduled 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at East Lake Community Library, 4125 East Lake Roa

Veterans’ stories: Veterans History Project will hold Story Days 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. June 21 at Curlew Hills Memory Gardens, 1750 Curlew Road, Palm Harbor. The project’s mission is to collect war veterans’ personal accounts for future generations. More information is at Empath Health (727) 467-7423.



ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Maintainers prepare KC-135s refueling planes to be evacuated from MacDill Air Force Base in August. A new study predicts MacDill and other Florida bases will experience a sharp rise in the number of days when the heat index tops 100 degrees Fahrenheit, making it unsafe to be outside for extended periods. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
    MacDill Air Force Base is predicted to see big increases in days the heat index tops 100 degrees.
  2. Yesterday• Arts & Entertainment
    A visitor feeds the pelicans at the Pier Bait House in St. Petersburg in 2010. Tampa Bay Times (2010)
    Plus, an expert explains how their pouches work, what to do if you catch one on a fishing hook and more.
  3. Pelicans sit on a pier along Boca Ciega Bay in Pass-a-Grille. MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    An old limerick ignites a quest for recognition for the big-billed friends of the city.
  4. Sam's Club fulfillment center manager Nick Barbieri explains to a shopper how the new Scan & Go shop works at 5135 S Dale Mabry Highway. SARA DINATALE  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Shoppers in Tampa Bay can now skip the line and cash out alcohol on their own phones.
  5. One of a pair of orphaned panther kittens is being examined by the staff at ZooTampa. The pair, named Pepper and Cypress, so far have shown no signs of the ailment that led to their mother's death, zoo officials said. Courtesy of ZooTampa
    The mother had to be euthanized because a mysterious ailment left her unable to walk.
  6. In this Amber Alert made available by the Jacksonville, Fla., Police, shows an undated photo of Taylor Williams. On Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019, authorities in Alabama say they have found human remains while searching in the woods for Williams. The child was reported missing from her Jacksonville, Fla., home last Wednesday. (Jacksonville Police via AP) AP
    Taylor Rose Williams’ mother, who said her daughter disappeared from home overnight, was charged with child neglect and giving false information to investigators, according to investigators.
  7. St. Petersburg's new 26-acre Pier District, with components that will include a coastal thicket walking path, marketplace, playground and pavilion, is nearing completion. Shown is the tilted lawn in front of the Pier head building that is being created  with Geofoam, soil and grass. SCOTT KEELER  |  Tampa Bay Times
    St. Petersburg hopes to sell naming rights in the Pier District — available for annual payments of $50,000 to $1 million for 10-year terms — to help offset taxpayer subsidies.
  8. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  9. Flood-elevation requirements for permanent Florida Keys homes could mean local ‘tiny homes’ wind up with more square footage than most of the diminutive domiciles. Courtesy of Bayview Homes
    “We cannot keep building the way we always have and expect a different outcome in future disasters.”
  10. Check tampabay.com for the latest breaking news and updates. Tampa Bay Times
    Michael Patrick Nealey, 49, was arrested Monday morning and charged with killing Lucky Miller at a Hilton hotel.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement