70 Years Ago: Remembering 15 Flagler County GIs Who Took Part in the D-Day Landing in Normandy
FlaglerLive | June 5, 2014
By Sisco Deen
Tuesday, June 6, 2014, marks the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Europe.
If you go on the web to search “D-Day,” you will find on Wikipedia that “On June 6, 1944, some seventy years ago, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high: more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded — but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.”
What you will not find on Wikipedia are the names of the Flagler County men and women who were on duty in England at the time and who actually supported or participated in Operation Overlord.
During WW II, most of Flagler County’s servicemen and women corresponded with Melvin Fuller, the editor of the Flagler Tribune. Fuller condensed the letters and published them in The Flagler Tribune weekly.
In April 2005, The Flagler County Historical Society published these stories and letters in a 484-page book entitled “News about Flagler Countians in Military Service.” A search of this book found that of the over 400 individuals from this county who answered the call of duty in World War II, the following fifteen Flagler Countians were on duty in England in June 1944, and their stories that were published in the Tribune during the D-Day time period follow.
JOHN EULICE BARBER
November 2, 1944
Pete Barber, who has been at an Eight Air Force bomber station in England for more than a year, recently contacted his brother-in-law, Jessie (Junior) McKnight, B-24 pilot, also flying out of England. We are also informed by public relations from England that Pete “is an important participant in the Eighth Air Forces onslaught against: Germany” in the “vital job undertaken by ordnance soldiers.”
Pete is a member of the 448th Bombardment Group, Heavy, and which was recently cited by the commanding general of the division for “outstanding performance of duty.”
PVT. DANIEL W. DECHMAN
June 15, 1944
From Pvt. Daniel W Dechman somewhere in England, the following: “Have been receiving the paper very regularly and surely am glad to get it because it gives a lot of news about the boys that are off (in service). Do wish I could get the APO’s of the boys over here. May get a chance to see some of them. As you will note, I am now in a different company; doing dry ground farming – driving a shop tractor with supplies of all kinds for our company which is a parts company in an automotive maintenance battalion. Everything is fine here but we still have our stoves going as long as possible as it is still rather cool over here. In fact, some of the boys are still in their ‘long johns’ – especially Florida boys with outside work like mine. I am in and out of the shop all of the time.” (Yeah, Dan, our remembrance of a lot of things 26 years ago are rather hazy but we certainly remember vividly the weather up and down the channel. Sometimes we think the weather is what makes the British Tommy so tough – Fuller)
LT. JOY MONROE DEEN
March 23, 1944
A V-Mail from Lt. Joy Deen to say he is out of flight training in Florida and am now in England and out for better hunting. We have pretty nice quarters and good food. We are supposed to live like Kings, being combat boys. At times I pity the Kings. I can’t crab much, however, as we don’t expect the best over here.
The Red Cross and Salvation Army are doing a great job. Tell the people that with more help back in the States, this job would be greatly simplified and our lot more easy. I only hope the home front this year puts more effort into the war than ever before. If the pressure could be held another year, things would be much better. Keep the pressure up at home and we’ll do more than that over here. (OK Joy. We’ll tell ‘em and do our best to keep it up – Fuller)
April 6, 1944
Lt. Joy Deen, bomber pilot in England, was recently awarded the air medal, we have been advised. (Congrats, Joy). In a letter to his grandmother here, Mrs. C. E. Sisco, he said he has a piece of Flak for this scribe. (Thanks, Old Top, that’s the only way we want to receive any, but we’ll certainly be glad to get it – Fuller)
May 4, 1944
Joy Deen, B-26 pilot in England is now a “flight commander” and has been awarded the oak leaf cluster. (Congratulations, Joy, and good luck- Fuller)
July 20, 1944
Each week brings reports or outstanding records made, not only here in the States, but in far places as well. This week comes news of Lt. Joy (Abe) Deen, stationed in England with the Ninth Air Force, saying he has been awarded the Air Medal and five Oak Leaf Clusters. He has, also, been commended three times for accurate bombing in combat.
In writing to his father here, James Emmett Deen, Joy said that his first plane had set a record in the European theater, it having over fifty missions with less flak damage than any other plane. Joy added “it surely was taking good care of us. (Congratulations Joy! We are proud of you and we hope the new plane will take just as good care of you as the old one did – Fuller.)
SGT. JACK HEWITT DUPONT
September 21, 1944
JACK DUPONT IS NORMANDY CASUALITYSgt. Jack Dupont was wounded in action in Normandy several weeks ago; it was learned this week from Willard Eatman.
Mr. Eatman said Mrs. DuPont, who lives in Miami, was notified by the war department and, in addition, had received a letter from her husband written from a hospital in England, stating that he had a bullet through a hip and one through the back but is recovering satisfactorily.
Sgt. DuPont went into the army a number of months ago and was stationed in England prior to our invasion of the French Normandy coast.
November 30, 1944
Jack Dupont, recently wounded in France and in a hospital over there for about three months, has arrived in the States, we are advised, and may get to come home sometime soon
LT. MARGARETE MYRTLE HARDING
November 18, 1943:
Lt. Myrtle Harding, army nurse and daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Harding here, has notified them that she has arrived safely in England.
Then on June 29, 1944: “Pvt. J. W. Medders, in England, wrote his parents here a few days ago that he had been to see Lt. Margaret Harding, army nurse, also in England. She is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Joe Harding of Bunnell.”
CPL. JOSEPH BENTON HIGH
March 16, 1944
Another V-Mail is from J. B. High – also in England – advising the Tribune of a change in address. J. B. said: “I waited until I was sure it was more permanent than a former one. I should get 4 or 5 Tribunes at once soon and I certainly will be glad to get them, You can hardly realize how much I and all the other fellows appreciate it.
I saw Varn (Sgt. Wilfred Claude Varn) twice before I left. He had been stationed very close to me. I am getting along fine and like England a lot. I find the English a very friendly people. Have been to London; saw the palace, parliament, Westminster, big ben, and most of the points of interest. The food here is very good and there is plenty of it, too. I still can’t get used to traffic on the left side of the street. Am using English money of course and it is confusing at first.”
July 6, 1944
Here’s the second letter received from “somewhere in France.” This time J. B High who relates: “Well I was beginning to receive The Tribune regularly when we pulled up stakes and left for somewhere in France” but my APO is the same, I am looking forward to receiving The Tribune and I should get one soon. Mail service from the States to here is very good, averaging about 15 days for V and air mail. At one time back in England I was receiving air mail from Bunnell in 5 days.
Say, will I appreciate a bed a lot more after this, ha! But I have a bed made by tying my blanket to two logs about seven feet long and hitching this onto two more logs at my head and feet, and I have a ‘Queen Victoria’ canopy over the top made of twigs and branches. It rather looks like a Rube Goldberg model but it’s more comfortable than on the ground.
The weather here is almost Florida’s – much warmer England’s and a lot more sunshine. We have been eating ‘K’ rations for quite a while now. Incidentally, they are packaged by a Cracker Jack Co. and as you know are the same sizes as their product. They have everything in them – canned meats, condensed crackers, concentrated chocolate, cigarettes (4), stick of gum and sometimes concentrated fig bars. They are pretty good, and every man can carry his with him easily. Well, I am running out of space, so will close. I am getting along fine and have put on a few pounds weighing about 175 now. J. B. (Thanks J. B, for the excellent letter. The other fellows, we know, will be glad to read it. Also, we extend congratulations on your promotion to Sgt. – Fuller.)
July 13, 1944
“And Sgt. J. B. High writes his mother from Normandy that “I sometimes wish I could curl up under my helmet like a snail in its shell.”
SGT RICHARD HOSFORD
June 29, 1944
Sgt. Richard Hosford who has been in England several months after going through the African campaign, sent his parents here a collection of English small coins, ranging from half penny to half-crown”
July 6. 1944
Sgt. Richard Hosford, who was in England a number of months after the African and Sicilian campaigns, is now in France, having written a letter from there on Jun 16 to his parents here, Richard said “I lost most of my personal things on the beach but still consider myself very lucky,”
Incidentally, Richard also sent to his parents the Purple Heart awarded to him for wounds in the African campaign, although he has never written a word about it to his parents. However, the War Department notified them when he was wounded. He also sent home another batch of small coins, including Italian and French.
SGT. OTIS HUNTER
27 July 1944
Each week brings news of more of Flagler county men who were in on the Normandy invasion. This week we received a letter from one aboard an LST (landing ship, tanks), and another which was described as a “foxhole manuscript.” The second letter is from Sgt. Otis Hunter who says: “Just received three Tribunes today – all at once. That makes the fourth copy since I have been in France. They were just about on time. Please excuse this scribbling as it is a foxhole manuscript. I’m writing from my foxhole ‘somewhere in France.’ One good thing about keeping the Jerries on the run is that we can use their second-hand foxholes and not have to dig one for ourselves. It’s pretty nice of the enemy to dig holes for us, don’t you think?
I was in on the (censored) and I might add that it was rough. We had plenty of fireworks on the Fourth, but I’m ‘gonna’ see a different kind in civilian clothes next year.
Thanking you for The Tribune and tell all the boys in all theaters of the war hello for me.”
SGT. ZENO CHRISTOPHER MERCER
March 2, 1944
M/Sgt. Zeno C. Mercer has advised us that he has arrived in England, giving us his new address there.
April 13, 1944
In a letter to his parents here, M/Sgt. Zeno Mercer, now in England, stated that a number of Tribunes are catching up with him and he is enjoying catching up with the hometown news.
June 29, 1944
Another letter, but this one is from Zeno Mercer with the army engineers “in England.” Zeno said: “I suppose you think that I don’t appreciate The Tribune for I never write telling you so. That, though, is not the case. I do appreciate the paper and plenty. I read it word for word and I always look forward from one to the next. I haven’t had the pleasure of bumping into any of the fellows from home yet. I found out in a roundabout way that I missed Aubrey Sheffield by about an hour.I correspond with Lt. Joy Deen quite often and I hope before long to call him Captain, and also to be able to see him. Although I haven’t met anyone from home, I have seen several fellows that know lots of the folks from around home. I did bump into a fellow about a week ago that knows you and is known in and around Bunnell – Lt. Albert Baker. We had a nice chat and a ‘spot of tea’ together. It certainly gives a fellow a very good feeling to run into someone he knows so far from home.
Thanks very, very much for the paper. It means so much to me.” (We are very glad to be able to send it to you and the other fellows for we understand just how good anything from home looks when you are in war and on foreign soil)
SGT. JAMES HENRY ‘JIMMY’ SALYERDS
January 27, 1944
V-mail letter from S/Sgt. Jimmie Saylerds from “somewhere in England” says that “since I left the states I haven’t met anyone I knew before I joined the army, but hope to now that I am in England ….. I am still with the same outfit I joined up with and like it OK and hope that we all return together.”
July 13, 1944
Sgt. James Salyerds writes to his parents here that he is now “Somewhere in France.”
PHARMACIST MATE AUBREY SHEFFIELD
April 20, 1944
Also got a V-Mail letter from Pharmacist Mate Aubrey Sheffield saying he has recently landed in England and that he had done a lot of traveling lately. He says “that England is really a nice place for scenery and there are lots of things I would like to tell you, but you know how that is. The place where we are has been bombed and that adds to the scenery. Tell all the folks back home hello for me and to hope that we’ll be back with them soon.”
June 22, 1944
From Aubrey Sheffield PhM/2C, and attached to an LST somewhere in England: “Would like to take this time to tell you how much I appreciate The Tribune and would like very much to keep receiving it at my present address. I received two copies today, telling all about the election and other activities in and around the old hometown. It is really worth more to me than I can ever be able to tell you.
Nearly ran into Zeno Mercer not so very long ago. The way it happened was that I was in the Red Cross this particular afternoon and noticed that his name popped up right beside mine. Surely would have liked to have run into him.
We are still hoping to ourselves that we’ll be home for Christmas. Give my regards to everyone and thanks again for The Tribune (Thanks for the letter, Aubrey, and The Tribune will keep going so long as you keep giving us your correct address).
July 27, 1944
Each week brings news of more of Flagler county men who were in on the Normandy invasion. This week we received a letter from one aboard an LST (landing ship, tanks), and another which was described as a “foxhole manuscript.” The first, from Pharmacist Mate Aubrey Sheffield, reads: “Just a few lines to let you know I was in on the initial invasion of Normandy in France. I don’t quite know how the people at home felt about it but it seemed to me that it was something everyone over here wanted to be in on. I will say, however, it was quite an experience, and everyone learned a lot. Haven’t received The Tribune for quite some time but expect that is due to the fact that we have been moving around quite a bit.
Surely wish you’d tell all the good people back home hello for me” Seems ages since I’ve been among them but we are hoping, and praying, that it won’t be so terribly long before we can be with you for good.
Before closing, I would like to say to the people back home that if they could have seen their men who went into France, the equipment they had and are using, and the spirit they were in, they would be more than proud of them. They would certainly honor them. Since the invasion I’ve often wondered if they (the home people) really had any idea they were backing armed forces with such superior equipment, high spirit, and fighting ability as they are. I’ve seen it and I know. The yanks say ‘That is the American way of doing it.”
Also from somewhere in England comes a V-Mail from Cpl. Ben Sparkman dated December 7 and saying “I am still seeing the world at the expense of the government. I am now in England. Everything here is really OK, after staying over a year in Africa and Sicily x x x. Two years ago today I spent in Bunnell (Those were the days). I am getting The Tribune and thanks a lot.”
CPL. BENJAMIN ORMAN SPARKMAN
December 30, 1943
August 24, 1944
BEN SPARKMAN BATTLE CASUALTY
Tech. 5th Grade Benjamin O. Sparkman, whose wife resides in Holly Hill, was wounded in action about July 15, his brother, Steve Sparkman, said today.
This week his folks received a letter from Ben stating that he received an injury to one of his feet but is not considered serious, and is resting well in a hospital in England. Ben went into the army from Bunnell about three years ago, serving in Africa, Sicily and Italy before returning to England and thence to France where he was wounded.He is in the infantry.
November 30, 1944
Pvt. Forrest Durrance wrote his parents here from “Somewhere in France” saying he had run into Ben Sparkman also from Bunnell. Ben went through the African, Sicilian and Normandy campaigns, was wounded in Normandy, hospitalized and is now back in his same old outfit in the line.
May 10, 1945
BEN SPARKMAN BRONZE STAR FOR NORMANDY ACTION
Cpl. Ben O, Sparkman, brother of Steve Sparkman here, and who is an infantry medic that went through the African, Sicilian and Normandy campaigns, has been awarded the Bronze Star, The Tribune learns from his wife, Mrs. Leona Sparkman of Holly Hill. The citation accompanying the award related:
“For heroic action against the enemy on June 23, 1944, in the vicinity of Flottemaniulle-Hague, Normandy, France, Cpl. Sparkman, without regard for his personal safety, attended the wounds and helped evacuate wounded men while under the direct fire of three enemy tanks..
Cpl. Sparkman was wounded early in the engagement but refused to leave the scene of action or take cover until the last of the wounded was evacuated and until an attack was beaten off.”
Cpl. Sparkman won the Soldier’s Medal during the African campaign and was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in Normandy. He is still overseas – either in Germany or France.
CPL. JAMES W. TOWNSEND
November 25, 1943
Cpl. Jim Townsend has written his parents here that he has landed safely in England.
January 13, 1944
V-Mail from Cpl. Jim Townsend this week saying “I am sending my new address so I may receive The Tribune again. I haven’t received one since I arrived in England and I really miss the news. I am getting along fine and like England fine, but never forgetting, you folks at home.”
March 2, 1944
A letter from Sgt. . Jim Townsend in England for the past six months, to his father here said that he had just received the first Tribune since arriving there. The paper was datedDecember 16. (Well, Jim, we are glad you got that one and hope you continue to get ’em)
May 11, 1944
Received a letter today from Cpl. Jim Townsend, stationed in England, thanking us for the “promotion.” Recently we mentioned him in, the column as Sgt. There are so many titles to keep up with we are afraid we get them mixed up too often, but maybe the Army will get around to it and make it official.
June 15, 1944
Also from Public Relations at “Headquarters Air Service Command, U. S. Strategic Air Forces in Europe,” we are advised that! Cpl. Jim Townsend, son of Mr. and Mrs. F. M. Townsend and is (or was?) in England.
Public Relations says “Cpl. Townsend is one of the men recently commended by Lt. Gen. Carl Spaatz, commanding general of the U. S. strategic air forces in Europe, when production at the depot (at which Jim is stationed) was increased by more than 100 percent. (Ed Note: Strikers in the United States please note)
MSGT. ALFRED ROBERT TUCKER
April 6, 1944
Had a V-Mail letter each from Pete Barber and Alfred Tucker, both in England. Pete asked us to change his address and told of planning to meet Alfred a few days later. Then we turn to Alfred’s letter and learn that he did meet Pete and, incidentally, asking us to change his address too. Pete said he had received only 6 copies of The Tribune since being in England, but Alfred reports that he has received them regularly. He has been there longer than Pete, however.
August 3, 1944
From public relations officer of “An Eighth Air Force Bomber Station in England,” we received the following:
“The promotion of Alfred R. Tucker, 24 of Bunnell, from technical sergeant to master sergeant has been announced by his group commander at this Eighth Air Force Station.
As group sergeant major, Sgt. Tucker is in charge of keeping all administrative records, and is responsible for the proper handling of documents that are vital for this group to properly carry out its attacks on Nazi military and industrial targets.
As sergeant major he also acts as the first sergeant for the headquarters squadron, caring for the personnel and administrative problems of that small but important unit.”
PVT. GILBERT GEORGE WALKER
November 25, 1943
Pvt. Gilbert Walker, son of Mr. and Mrs. A. W. Walker, has arrived safely overseas (probably England).
March 16, 1944
A V-Mail from Pvt. Gilbert Walker in England says: “Just a line to say hello to all my friends in Flagler, and to tell you I enjoy The Tribune very much, so keep it coming. I just received my first one over here and really enjoyed it. I am in England. I was in N. Africa and had the opportunity of visiting Oran. I am well and getting along fine. Tell I. I. Moody and his wife hello for me. I look for news about the hometown boys the first thing, and I hope to get another paper soon.”
June 22, 1944
V-Mail from Pvt. Gilbert Walker in England: “Just a few lines to say hello to all of you Flagler county people and to tell you that I am well. I certainly hope you keep sending the paper as I am getting it regularly. I ran into one of Bunnell’s former boys, Tillman. We are in the same camp together. By the way, Mercer is stationed not very far from me, although I haven’t been able to see him yet. We are having beautiful weather over here in England, I would like to send everyone of you a souvenir but just can’t make it.” (Thanks, Gilbert for the letter and write again)
June 29, 1944
We don’t know, of course, how many fellows from Flagler County are in Normandy, but we learned today from Mrs. A. W. Walker that her son, Gilbert, is. He wrote her from “somewhere in France” on June 8, saying “We are pretty busy dodging bullets but we are OK.” (Here’s hoping Gilbert that you luck continues. In the meantime, take it easy!)
Sisco Deen, a captain, served two tours in Vietnam, first in 1965, with an air-refueling wing, then in the 8th Tactical Fighter Wing from August 1972 to August 1973. He is the archive curator for the Flagler County Historical Society and FlaglerLive’s historical adviser.