D-Day survivor Charles Sprowl didn't want to join the Army in 1943 but he fought anyway, and the French Consulate acknowledged his effort this year with the highest decoration awarded by France, the Legion of Honor.
"I was happy that the French gave it to me," Mr. Sprowl said. "You think you've been forgotten, but sometimes it doesn't happen that way."
Mr. Sprowl, a former U.S. Army technician fifth grade, is among fewer than 2 million living World War II veterans. Several of them will commemorate the 66th anniversary of D-Day today.
D-Day on June 6, 1944, was when Allied troops invaded Normandy, France. World War II ended nearly a year later when German forces surrendered in late April and May 1945.
Mr. Sprowl, 88, went to Atlanta to receive his award at the French Consulate on May 27.
He recalled the war while sitting in his home in Dalton, Ga., Friday.
"The things you seen and the things you heard, you never forget it," Mr. Sprowl said. "You couldn't let it get to you. You had a job to do, regardless of what's going on around you."
Mr. Sprowl was part of the 490th Port Battalion that landed on Utah Beach in Normandy with six other men from Dalton. All of them returned, but he is the only one still living.
The sky was full of planes, and soldiers could hear battleships bombarding the coast, he said. Mr. Sprowl was in a fleet of 5,000 ships pushing to the coast of France. But when they got there, they had to wait for the Navy to carry them to land. They were under German fire during the wait, but none of the shots hit Mr. Sprowl's ship, he recalled.
* June 6, 1944, was D-Day, when allies landed in Normandy, France.
* The majority of troops who landed on the Normandy beaches were from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. However, troops from many other countries participated.
* On D-Day the Allies landed about 156,000 troops.
* The American forces numbered 73,000. About 23,250 landed on Utah Beach. Another 34,250 landed on Omaha Beach and 15,55 were airborne troops.
Mr. Sprowl said his job was to unload equipment from the ships. He depended on planes overhead and battleships to cover him and others while they worked, he said.
About 156,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day, according to the D-Day Museum website www.dday museum.co.uk. About 73,000 of them were Americans. At the end of the day, 2,499 Americans had died. Another 1,915 people from other Allied nations died, according to the U.S. National D-Day Memorial Foundation.
Former U.S. Army Sgt. Herman Ottinger, 85, of Chattanooga, arrived on Omaha Beach three days after the invasion. He was 21 then.
He said he immediately saw a white cross with a Sale Creek soldier's dog tag on it when he stepped onto the beach. He was born and raised in Sale Creek, he said.
And there were "so many bodies on the beach when we landed that we could hardly move," Mr. Ottinger said. "We just had to walk around them."
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