LEIPSIC — Ray Woods, a long-term Ottawa resident now living in Leipsic, was sitting in Millionaire Row during the Kentucky Derby. He was rooting for a horse named Normandy Invasion.
Woods was one of four World War II veterans who were guests of the owner of the horse, Rick Porter, an ex-soldier who has been naming horses to honor veterans.
“I got the invitation only a few days before the Kentucky Derby,” Woods said.
Rick Montgomery, who coordinates WWII re-enactments, called Woods and said, “Have I got a deal for you.”
Woods had attended one of Montgomery’s re-enactments a year ago and had been asked to speak at the event as a WWII veteran. Also speaking at that event was Bill Wilch, who, like Woods, had been part of the D-Day invasion. Both men were offered a three-day all-expenses-paid trip to the Kentucky Derby.
“I made a few calls and made arrangements to travel to Louisville for the race with Wilch’s son driving us,” Woods said.
Upon their arrival the two men met two other veterans who were also guests of Porter.
On Friday, Woods and the other three veterans got to meet the horse Normandy Invasion.
“He’s a beautiful horse,” Woods said.
During the meeting, Woods said there was a lot of media present to cover the event.
The day of the race, the veterans were picked up in a van at their hotel and given a police and sheriff’ escort to the front doors at the race track.
“There are 113,000 people who attend, so there was a lot of traffic. That escort got us through quickly. Then they had wheelchairs waiting for us.”
The veterans were taken to “Millionaire’s Row” at the Kentucky Derby.
“It was a beautiful room,” Woods said.
He said there were tables of eight in the room. Woods said his arm band indicated the ticket for that seat cost $804. A glass window overlooked the track. On one side of the room were betting booths. There were also two huge buffets in the room.
Woods said he watched the race from the window. He was excited when Normandy Invasion almost won the race.
“But then he was nosed out at the last by three other horses,” Woods said.
Woods served as a radar man on the USS O’Brien during World War II. His boat was not scheduled to hit Omaha Beach until the next day after D-Day.
“But my skipper heard what was happening and after we dropped troops off at Utah Beach he sped straight over.” Woods said.
Woods said he believes it was the action of their boat that made the difference that day. The USS O’Brien began firing at the cliff where the Germans were located, taking out the communication end first, and then knocking out the row of German gun tunnels along the cliff.
Woods has written a book about the event titled “D-Day Hero Destroyer Identified after 68 Year Search.”
He gave his first copy to the owner of Normandy Invasion.
Woods said while he enjoyed meeting the horse named after the D-Day event, he most enjoyed reminiscing about D-Day with fellow veterans.
Just recently he received a letter from Porter along with papers indicating he had purchased and named one of his horses USS O’Brien
“Porter said he named four of his fillies after the four of us,” Woods said. “That is quite an honor.”