Wanted: Stories of D-Day at home and abroad

On June 6, 1944, my dad was aboard a ship somewhere in the English Channel.

Soon, he found himself climbing up a French beach under heavy enemy fire as part of Operation Overlord. Dad had a natural talent and ability for all things mechanical, and the U.S. Army had trained and assigned him to run the motor pool for his unit.

When he and thousands of other American and British soldiers charged down the ramps of their landing craft into the seawater to invade Europe, he had an enormous tool chest and a pair of helpers tasked with carrying it. After he was finally safe enough on dry land to pause and look around, his helpers and all of those tools had disappeared. As far as he could tell, they never made it to shore.

His name was James Compston, but most people called him Jim or Jimmy. He was 18.

Dad was never really certain whether he landed in France on D-Day or the day after; he also wasn’t sure which beach he arrived at, but he said the fighting was fierce and the scene was chaotic. He was glad to survive. After all, more than 400,000 German and Allied troops, including Allied ground and air forces, were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy.

I believe Dad spent four years in Europe during World War II, serving as a scout during many of his unit’s movements and much of the fighting. He remained on duty after Adolf Hitler and the Axis Powers in Europe were defeated to help maintain order as the countries once ravaged by the Nazis began to put themselves back together.

Dad was a member of the “Greatest Generation,” and stories like his are getting harder to come by as the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches. The youngest of those brave invaders — men who, like my dad, were teenagers at the time — would be no less than 94 years old today.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, only 496,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII were still alive in September 2018. Sadly, my dad was not one of them; he died in 2010. The VA estimates that more than 350 WWII veterans die each day, and no one seems to have an accurate accounting of how many D-Day veterans still survive.

That is why it so important that we act now to gather and share the stories those living veterans still have to tell. The Times Leader – and our sister newspapers The Intelligencer and Wheeling News-Register – aim to do just that, with a special supplement to our publications on June 6, 2019 – the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

To make that supplement as authentic and compelling as possible, we are working to find and talk with any surviving veterans of D-Day who still live in our region. We want to hear their stories or the tales that their surviving spouses and children can relay.

If you are a D-Day or WWII veteran – or if you know of such a veteran or a family member who could tell us about their experiences – please let us know. You can call me at 740-633-1131, ext. 731, or email me at jcompston@timesleaderonline.com. You can also send me a note or letter by mail at The Times Leader, 200 S. Fourth St., Martins Ferry, OH 43935.

We also welcome stories from folks who remember what it was like to experience D-Day from the home front. Please share your memories of what it was like to ration supplies, to prepare for an air raid, to see news reports about casualties or to know that your older brother or a friend or neighbor was in the thick of the fighting.

I look forward to hearing from you.

On the topic of military veterans, we are just over a week away from Memorial Day. Although that occasion has evolved into a weekend-long celebration of the arrival of summer, it actually originated as a somber observance – a day set aside to honor and remember those who have died in service to our nation.

As you can see on page C1 of today’s newspaper, a lot of fun and interesting activities will be taking place across our region during the coming weekend. There will be plenty of reasons to get outside and celebrate, and I urge you to take advantage of those opportunities.

In particular, you may want to visit downtown Wheeling on Saturday or next Sunday, May 26, during the Ogden Wellness Weekend. It will include the traditional Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic and its associated events for people of all ages on Saturday, as well as the Tough as Nails Urban Challenge on May 26. The Heritage Trail Tour bicycle event also is part of the overall weekend aimed at promoting family fun and physical fitness.

If you are the athletic type, there is still time to register to participate in any of these events. If not, there will still be plenty of excitement for those who turn out to watch. Visit ogdenwellnessweekend.com for all the details about these events.

I also encourage you to take at least a few minutes on May 27 to observe the true meaning of Memorial Day. Many local communities will hold parades or prayer services at their cemeteries. Support those activities by attending, and consider other ways you can get involved, such as decorating the grave of a fallen soldier. It is important to remember that we might not be here today if not for their sacrifice.