A question is asked and almost instantly Woody’s 97-year-old memory stirs up images more vivid than any photograph.
“Yes,” he says with a slow nod, “I remember that day. I was on the flagship. I looked up and there were so many planes. I’d never seen that many in my life.” It was quite the sight for a young man from Cedartown.
Woody, Polk County’s oldest World War II veteran is recalling his first memories of D-Day as he watched from the deck of the ship USS Bayfield as they approached Utah Beach.
Cited as the westernmost beach of the five landing areas of the Normandy Invasion of World War II, Utah was assaulted on June 6, 1944.
That day and the days that followed were full of the carnage of war, but Woody doesn’t talk much about that. “War is hell,” he says, and then moves on.
Instead, Woody recounts the relationships formed and the friendships kindled, even those of the unexpected four-legged furry kind.
It seems that as the troops secured their area and settled in, they had a visitor watching their every move.
“When we landed, we had a black dog that took up with us. We don’t know where he came from, but he sure stuck by us,” Woody said. “I’ll have you know, that dog sat there and watched us dig out our fox holes. Of course, when the Germans started throwing their artillery, we would all dive into those holes.”
Woody explained that the first few times, the dog just sat there as the shots rang out, but then, Woody said, “I guess he learned his lesson.”
“It got to be that every time the Germans fired, that dog would try and outrun us all to our foxholes. If you were slow, that was bad news for you because that dog would beat them to it,” he said laughing. “I was fast, so I didn’t have that problem, but one time I remember I dove into my fox hole and a few seconds later, here he comes, jumping in on top of me.”
Evidently, the stray dog wasn’t the only one that enjoyed Woody’s roomy foxhole. “Everybody said I dug out the best ones. My commander would sometimes stay in the hole with me. At night, we would pull up our covers and he’d get out the flashlight and go over the maps. ‘Tomorrow, we’re going here, and then we’ll cover that,’ he would say, pointing to different places on the map,” Woody said.
“I had so much respect for him. When he was killed by a sniper it hurt me worse than if it had been my brother,” Woody said as his voice quieted.
But when asked what the secret was to digging the best foxholes, Woody didn’t hesitate to answer. “I came across a long-handled German shovel,” Woody explained, a wide grin spreading across his face, “So I picked it up and carried it with me wherever I went. Worked like a charm.”