On Joe Cannon's first trip to France, he didn't need a passport. He had a rifle and a U.S. Army-issued French phrasebook.
On his next trip to France, which started Thursday, he had his passport and phrasebook, but no rifle.
He and his next-door neighbor, Winston Parham, flew out of Chattanooga on a nine-day trip through France that they've planned since the beginning of the year.
"I've been waiting to go back all these years to visit the places," said Mr. Cannon, 85. "And now we're going to go."
The two men met a dozen years ago when Mr. Parham moved to his Hixson home. They both hung American flags in front of their homes and quickly learned that they shared military experience.
A Vietnam-era Army veteran, Mr. Parham would sit on the back deck of Mr. Cannon's home and swap stories. Occasionally, Mr. Cannon would talk about D-Day and his time in Europe during World War II.
"I figured, 'This guy's got a story to tell, and I want to hear it,'" Mr. Parham said.
Mr. Parham, a photographer, is documenting their trip to France in an electronic journal and through photos and voice recordings. He plans to send his writings and pictures to a list of friends and family as he and Mr. Cannon travel from Paris to Normandy and then follow the route that Mr. Cannon fought into Belgium and Germany.
After years of talking about returning to France but "putting it off," Mr. Cannon said, the two men decided earlier this year to get serious.
The biggest hurdle was a passport.
While gathering all the paperwork to get his first-ever passport, Mr. Cannon learned that state government in Nashville had no record of his birth certificate.
With that hurdle cleared, the neighbors sat down to decide where to go. Mr. Parham popped open a laminated map of France with a red dotted line that led from Normandy along the Atlantic Coast, into Paris and traversing the country.
The two also will make stops in Belgium and Germany. Mr. Parham was 80 miles south of Berlin when the Allies declared victory.
A MEMORABLE EXPERIENCE
Mr. Cannon was only a month out of Baylor School when he was drafted in June 1943. Soon he was in England, training for the upcoming D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944.
As a military policeman, Mr. Cannon was one of the first soldiers to land on Normandy's Utah Beach after paratroopers dropped from planes inland.
He remembered setting up a headquarters and helping guide the more than 23,000 Americans who landed. An estimated 160,000 Allied troops came ashore along a 50-mile stretch of beach or dropped into France by parachute or glider.
As the men in his unit marched deeper into France, they saw crashed gliders with dead soldiers, destroyed buildings and blasted-out tanks, jeeps and artillery destroyed by Allied bombs.
Mr. Cannon helped supervise German prisoners who buried the dead.
During one burial detail, soldiers brought the body of Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Teddy Roosevelt. The general died of a heart attack shortly after leading the landing on Utah Beach.
"He was in a bag, you know; I didn't even get to see him," Mr. Cannon said.
He plans to visit the monument and grave of Gen. Roosevelt, who now is buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy.
After his duty ended in Europe, Mr. Cannon was sent home on 30 days leave then told he would have to report to California for training to invade Japan.
But the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki before he reported, ending the war.
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