You get everybody up. You get ready. You’ve got a series of things you go through, checking equipment and so forth, making sure you are ready.
It was 65 years ago. A Tuesday. June 6, 1944.
Army paratrooper Roy Creek jumped out of a plane and into history with thousands of other Allied soldiers as part of the largest single-day invasion of all time — the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, about 2.6 million World War II veterans are still living. But more than 300,000 are expected to die this year. And so Creek, now 91, hopes younger generations don’t forget the stories of D-Day.
“I think it’s important for them to know that our whole way of life was threatened at this time, and it was real,” said Creek, a Lawrence resident who was a captain in the 82nd Airborne Division.
Then you get the command you are minutes away, and so you get everybody hooked up and ready to go.
Kansas will be well-represented today at the invasion site in France.
Kansan and World War II veteran Bob Dole, a former U.S. Senate majority leader, is traveling there as a guest of President Barack Obama. Susan Eisenhower, the granddaughter of President Dwight Eisenhower, is also part of the group.
Eisenhower, who grew up in Abilene, led the invasion as the supreme Allied commander.
You’re hooked up. You’re ready to go, so your light’s still red.
Creek vividly remembers leading his company in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and jumping from the plane early that Tuesday morning.
Poor weather conditions and heavy German anti-aircraft fire created chaos and sent some paratroopers off course. Creek landed in a flooded field and had to cut loose his parachute and let go of his machine gun just to keep from drowning.
“Then I realized that I’ve got a war to fight. The next man I meet might be a German soldier, and I don’t even have a weapon,” he said.
He went back into the water and recovered his machine gun. Over the next few hours, Creek assembled other lost paratroopers, and they sprang into action.
Their major assignment was to seize a bridge from the Nazis in the French town of Chef-du-Pont. Because his colonel was wounded, Creek eventually took command. The soldiers attacked German foxholes to fight off opposition until they could take the bridge at dark.
A bridge at the site today bears Creek’s name, along with the men who served with him.
“It’s a mixed feeling for me to see my name in bold print,” he said.
As soon as the light flashes green, you go, and everybody follows just as fast as they can out of the aircraft. And everything’s quiet.
Although they are aging, many veterans have fresh memories of the invasion of France by American, British and Commonwealth troops.
Allied forces, under the overall command of Eisenhower, began the assault by parachuting troops behind the coast shortly after midnight. Infantry and armored divisions began hitting the beach about 6:30 a.m.
The operation was the largest single-day amphibious invasion of all time, with 160,000 troops landing along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast.
More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded along that heavily fortified French coast, even though German leaders such as Field Marshal Erwin Rommel were convinced that Gen. George Patton would lead troops further north near Calais, where the English Channel is narrow.
You land, and the war is on. It’s started.
Creek survived D-Day and World War II. Others weren’t as fortunate.
Some 215,000 Allied soldiers, and roughly as many Germans, were killed or wounded during D-Day and the nearly three months it took to secure the Allied capture of Normandy.
Within a month after D-Day, Creek’s 125-man company was reduced to 17 men. The rest were captured, wounded or killed.
About six months after D-Day, Creek was wounded by a booby trap in the Battle of the Bulge. But he later returned to action and ended the war in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Creek retired as a colonel fr2om the Army in 1967 after he’d completed two tours of duty in Vietnam. He worked for a Kansas City research company and retired in 1984 as an administrator for the Kansas University Hospital. He lives with his wife, Florine, in Lawrence with their daughter, Cindy Maude, and her husband, Mike.
Like many World War II veterans, Creek has been humble about his D-Day experience. He didn’t tell stories to his children until the 50th anniversary. He has been featured in books by Stephen Ambrose and other authors.
He considers D-Day to be a significant event in history that he hopes will have a lasting legacy.
“I value the experience,” Creek said. “I value the association with the people. I miss those who didn’t come back.”