MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

June 5, 2014

Vet recalls wonder, fear of D-Day

Area man stormed beach in pivotal battle

By Cathy Spaulding

— Sand up to his knees could not keep young Bill Fox from charging across Omaha Beach during the Allied invasion of France 70 years ago.

“It was a battlefield there. We kept our heads down and took care of each other,” he said. “There were moments of absolute fear and wonder, awe and gratitude.”

Fox, 89, recalled crossing the beach, then moving through France, Belgium and, finally, Germany.

The 70th anniversary of D-Day has renewed such memories for the Eufaula resident.

“It’s been going on in my head all week,” Fox said as a recording “God Bless America” played in the background.

Fox said he was 17 when he and a friend volunteered for the 8th Armored Division. Fox became a radio operator. He said he later joined the 113th Mechanized Cavalry, which was to be involved in an upcoming invasion.

“We were in the south of England until preparation for the invasion,” Fox said.

The unit’s task was to go into an area to get information about the enemy.

“We were always in front of the combat line,” Fox said. “It was fast, plus the fact we were fast-moving helped. We were there to protect the flanks.”

The D-Day invasion actually lasted five days, Fox said. The 113th hit the beach four days after the initial charge, he said.

“The reason we didn’t get there earlier was that we were waiting for all the boats to come back,” he said. “They brought the wounded off and put us on.”

Omaha was one of five beaches targeted for invasion on the north coast of France.

“We had sand up to our knees when we got there,” Fox said. “We cleared the beach and we muscled up to the top of the hill.”

Fox said the beach “looked like it had been used by two high school teens that tore up the place.”

He said all the wounded soldiers had been removed, though there still were some bodies on the beach.

“All the heavy equipment was still there,” he said. “But we weren’t looking at it much, we were moving up the hill.”

Fox said the unit got fired at a couple of times and strafed by enemy aircraft. The more direct fighting came when they got up the hill and into the French countryside. There, Fox’s unit had to pass through hedgerows flanked by Germans.

“We were facing people who knew how to fight, and they were facing people who knew how to fight,” he said.

The rows were 15 to 75 feet across with German machine gunners in the corners.

“They had no trouble spinning their machine guns,” he said. “Each row was zeroed in by mortars, tanks would get bogged down in the hedgerows. The armored cars and Jeeps would speed down the sunken roads until we made contact. We learned to keep our heads down and run like hell.”

Soldiers found ways to overcome German tricks.

“They used to string wires on the hedgerows and the Jeeps would go through fast and decapitate the drivers,” Fox said.

After two or three days, troops would weld rods in front of the Jeeps to cut the wire and fit the Jeeps with machine guns, he said.

Fox said he was injured and stayed in a hospital while the 113th advanced across France and into the Netherlands. He returned to action just before Christmas 1944, when allies were steeped in the Battle of the Bulge.

“We were there on the north side, not Bastogne,” Fox said, referring to the site of a seven-day siege. “We were good enough and strong enough. We survived and we fought.”

He said German soldiers sometimes would disguise as Americans.

“We’d always ask them about baseball, which they didn’t know about,” he said.

When Germans withdrew, Allies managed to cross the Rhine.

“We liberated some of the slave camps,” Fox said, listing Langenstein, a sub-camp of Buchenwald, as one of the camps. He recalled freeing Polish, Russians and Czechs.

“They were so happy to get out, living in their own filth,” he said. “The Jews were herded into enclosures to starve, sleep and defecate.”

After the war, Fox worked at Beech Aircraft and “married an Okie.” He worked with the U.S. Postal Service before retiring to a lake home in Eufaula.

Fox wouldn’t say how much of a difference he made in the war.

“We were there to do what we did,” he said. “That’s what we had in mind.”

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.