66 years after D-Day ...

Posted 6/3/10

Then as we came in closer, we could see smoke from the shelling and action. It was the real thing, the invasion on the coast of France. Normandy, Omaha Beach,” Jackson wrote in his essay titled “My Life in the Army of the …

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66 years after D-Day ...


Heart Mountain homesteader reflects on WWII experienceFrom his quiet homestead in Heart Mountain's shadow, the beaches of Normandy seem a world away. But when he looks at a photograph or recalls a story, closing his eyes for a moment, Bill Jackson is there again.Sixty years ago on D-Day, June 6, 1944, Jackson crossed the English Channel, bound for Omaha Beach with thousands of other soldiers.

Then as we came in closer, we could see smoke from the shelling and action. It was the real thing, the invasion on the coast of France. Normandy, Omaha Beach,” Jackson wrote in his essay titled “My Life in the Army of the U.S.A.”

More than 150,000 Allied troops landed at Normandy during the D-Day invasion, considered by historians as a climatic battle of World War II. The battle allowed American and British forces to march across Europe to defeat Hitler, but at a high cost — 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded on Normandy's beaches, according to the U.S. Army.

Jackson served in the 147th Engineer Combat Battalion, operating a bulldozer in the unit. On that early June day in 1944, Jackson watched as ships were struck, machine guns fired, soldiers died and American destroyers fought back.

“They called in the destroyers for support. They looked beautiful sliding through the water, broadside of the beach. And one passed within 100 yards of us. It slowed down, spotted its objective and fired.

“It seemed to me every gun on it opened up and the whole hilltop seemed to go up in pieces. From our (ship) we had a ringside seat — if one could call it that,” Jackson recalled.

Sitting at the kitchen table in his Heart Mountain home last week, Jackson said, “I can see that just as plain as day. The whole hillside boiled.”

After arriving on Omaha Beach, Jackson and his comrade, Dave, took a little path on their tractor.

“Good thing there were no mines,” Jackson recalled. “Well, this road came to a halt (after)about 500 yards, so we left our tractors and proceeded on foot up the beach … it had started to get dark. I never saw so many dead bodies in all my life — God have mercy on their souls.”

Jackson soon learned “what little strength our company had left to work with.”

After keeping watch as a lookout guard, Jackson was sent back to get his bulldozer.

“On the way down, we were pinned down by sniper fire, artillery and the boys blowing out the obstacles on the beach,” Jackson wrote. Once he reached the bulldozer, “we started out to pull in drowned vehicles and obstacles off the beach to clear it.”

With mortars still being lobbed on the beach, Jackson and his comrades went to work, ready to tow equipment as necessary. While heading toward a truck in his bulldozer, the tide washed in a log that rested in his path. An officer gave the order to move it, “and BANG! A mine on the end of the log hit the front of the truck and blew the whole front off it. No one was hurt bad. I towed more vehicles and obstacles that morning.”

“It sure was a touchy business to operate a tractor anywhere on the beach, because dead bodies were everywhere,” Jackson recalled.

It took a few weeks to clear the beach, and Jackson's battalion remained at Normandy for months.

“We operated the beach from June 6 until Nov. 30, bringing in supplies and equipment,” Jackson noted.

Following Normandy, Jackson moved through France, serving in Paris for a short time. Jackson guarded a German prison camp near Paris in freezing December temperatures.

In January 1945, Jackson went from France to Belgium, hitting a snowstorm upon arrival.

“We stayed all night in a big old barn. The first night, we heard buzz bombs for the first time, and they really were going over, one every 15 minutes at least. We could hear artillery all night.”

Eventually, Jackson and his comrades also traveled from Belgium to Holland, staying near Germany.

“There we cleared road shoulders of mines and maintained the roads,” he said.

In his notes reflecting on 1945, Jackson's Army days were filled with variety.

“We towed logs. A German said we weren't allowed in his woods,” he wrote on May 12, 1945.

“Read my Bible. Played ball. Wrote letters,” he recalled on June 17, 1945.

“Prisoner of war escaped from the work guards. A Portuguese aided him with civilian clothes at the rock quarry. Portuguese is in the jug now,” he wrote on July 9, 1945.

“Nov. 11 —Armistice Day. Belgium had a little ceremony at the war monuments here at the camp.”

Overall, Jackson has a positive attitude when he reflects on his days in World War II.

“There were a lot of good days — and a lot of bad days, too,” he said. “I was fortunate to have more good days than bad days.”

In mid-December 1945, Jackson was discharged.

He returned home to his beloved bride, Alberta, on Christmas Eve 1945. The couple had married in September 1943, after Jackson enlisted in the Army.

Several years after returning from Europe, Jackson's name was drawn for a homestead near Powell. He and Alberta moved to Heart Mountain, establishing a farm that still operates today. The couple raised five sons, David, Steve, Stan, Dan and Bill.

Jackson still lives on the original homestead, in a home that was constructed out of old barracks from the Heart Mountain Relocation Camp that housed Japanese internees during World War II.

From his days on battlefronts to his days on the homestead, Jackson, at 88, has remained a man of faith.