LIMA — For French Smith, it’s hard to recall memories from the front lines of Normandy June 6, 1944, because it was all such a blur.
“We were so busy trying to find and take care of our own and fighting to keep alive, there wasn’t too much I could do,” Smith explained. “We were digging in one place, digging a trench, before going out to another place and dig in there. It was like that way all the way through … Just fighting and taking care of yourself, keeping alive.”
Smith, 98, was part of the 39th Infantry Regiment of the United States Army, K Company, that was on the front lines coming off the barges into Normandy.
“One night after dark, we was sitting not too far apart when I hear something, so I put my hand on the back of a guy’s head next to me, and I heard the bullet hit him,” Smith recalled. “I didn’t know who he was, had no way of knowing. When some guy gets wounded, you pay that no attention, you just walked right over top of him and take care of your business. The medic will come pick him up.”
Each year on June 6, Smith said he does like to take a second to reflect on what he’s able to.
“When the time comes, you wonder why that happens, what caused it, what made it happen to him,” Smith said. “You just had to forget it at the time and go about your business. You didn’t know when you could be next. I take a little time to study about really how old I am. I’ve lived a good long life, the Lord has blessed me with a long life, and I appreciate that.”
Smith said it’s important to remember battles like D-Day, especially now that most of his surviving comrades have died, because even though his war is over, others’ are not.
“I think that’s something you’ve got to keep up on. We’ve got other soldiers, other veterans. War’s not over, it’s still going on,” he explained. “We’ve got a younger generation out there right now fighting so we don’t have to go back to the same thing again.”
Larry Huffman, Allen County Museum board member, has helped to organize Medal of Honor displays at the museum and continues to speak at events and share military history of all kinds.
“You really are doomed to repeat all the mistakes of the past if you don’t know what’s happened before,” Huffman said. “The comparisons between Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are living proof that history repeats itself, so you better know it from before so you can be prepared for when it happens again. Human beings are creatures of habit, they’re going to do it again.”
Huffman recently taught one of his grandsons all about D-Day, the topic he selected to present to his class.
“Normandy is really just the culmination, the peak, of all the build up in this country for World War II,” Huffman continued. “D-Day is the absolute culmination of about three years of manufacturing building up, and when [the front line] sprang forward it was like a mouse trap. That’s the power of the force of going and landing on Normandy was incredible. There will be nothing like it again, and it had to be done.”
Reach Tara Jones at 567-242-0511.