Veteran remembers D-Day

Published 11:00 pm Friday, June 8, 2012

D-Day, June 6, 2012, came and went without much notice. At least not much when compared to other days when there are parades and barbecues to commemorate red-letter calendar days.

But around the country, more than 2 million World War II veterans probably didn’t forget the day. Many couldn’t forget.

On June 6, 1944, some 2,000 soldiers in the Allied Forces lost their lives and 10,000 were listed as dead, wounded or missing in action.

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Every June 6 since that day, Charles Saunders of Troy turns his thoughts not just to the soldiers whose lives were lost or bodies maimed, but also to the veterans who live with haunting memories of a war that rocked the world.

Saunders joined the United States Army shortly after turning 18 and right after he graduated Opp High School

Despite the war effort at home, Saunders was unprepared for what he found when he left Boston for South Hampton, England, with 5,500 troops.

“We were only the first or second troop transport to go across the Atlantic without an escort,” he said. “That way, we could go faster. A submarine got after us and we couldn’t land in South Hampton. We had to land in Scotland. There, we were put on a train to Birmingham, England.”

Saunders was a member of an elite military police unit trained primarily for guard duty. His ship was docked next to ships that were bringing in the soldiers who had been wounded on the beaches of Omaha and Utah on D-Day.

“What I saw scared me to death,” he said. “We debarked D-Day plus five. We had to jump in the water and wade in. There were still dead bodies on the beaches and, after an area was cleared of mines, we broke off on our own.”

The horrors of war were everywhere and, after the Battle for Brest, France, Saunders said prisoners were hauled away for a week. “We worked along side of German soldiers, each burying our dead,” Saunders said. “I’d always thought that God was on our side but I started thinking that maybe God was on their side, too. The German soldiers had pictures of their families in their pockets. They had families and homes they wanted to go back to. We buried their soldiers and ours and they buried ours and theirs.”

Tens of thousands of American soldiers came home, in a sense, as prisoners of that war.

“You can never forget it,” Saunders said. “It’s been nearly 70 years and I’m an 87-year-old man and I still remember. That’s why D-Day never slips by me.”