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D-Day invasion remembered by local Veteran

By 2nd Lt. Susan Carlson | Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs | June 09, 2010

JOINT BASE CHARLESTON, S.C. -- This is the first of a three-part series highlighting Charleston Veterans and their contributions on D-Day which will run through the month of June.

Sixty-six years ago, Joint Base Charleston's 437th Airlift Wing began their first combat flight to the beaches of Normandy, France. The 437th Troop Carrier Group, as it was known then, was composed of four squadrons - the 83rd, 84th, 85th and 86th Troop Carrier Squadrons. What would become infamous in history as D-Day, became the inauguration of this Airlift Wing, which later found its home in Charleston, South Carolina.

One surviving D-Day veteran continues to aid the JB CHS mission working three to four days each week at either the Naval Weapons Station or the air force base for the past 15 years. Chief Petty Officer (Ret.) George Drury, now 84, was a Seaman Apprentice in the Navy on June 6, 1944, serving as a gunner's mate on the 40-foot long Navy Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel boats, which were armed with two 30-caliber machine guns.

The LCVP's brought the hundreds of thousands of infantry troops to shore that day, landing just a few hundred feet from the shoreline. If they got any closer, they ran the risk of becoming embedded in the sand. Mr. Drury's boat never got too close to be met with disaster.

"If we got broached, we had to take what guns we could and go with the Army," said Mr. Drury. "We all said, 'we ain't going with the Army', so we never got broached."

Each time they drove the LCVP's towards shore, they had to avoid mines near the beach because the boats would immediately explode upon contact, he said.

"Going in each time [to the beach], you would hear gunshots going off, and just hope that they weren't firing at us," said Mr. Drury.

The worst part of the invasion for Mr. Drury was nighttime. The German Army would use "Big Bertha" - large cannons on railroad cars - to bomb the waters. They would shoot four to five rounds, then move somewhere new so the Allied forces could not keep up with them, he said.

"They would shell us every night, and luckily they missed," Mr. Drury said. "We'd wake up in the morning with shrapnel all over the boat. We would take our boat to get repaired, or repair it ourselves, then do it all over again."

After the Normandy landings, Mr. Drury remained on the beach for a few weeks ferrying soldiers back and forth before moving to the Rhine River to aid in the crossings of General George S. Patton's troops. The general gave them all a commendation after they ferried an entire regiment across in just above three hours, Mr. Drury explained.

The commendation letter from General Patton, which Mr. Drury keeps to this day, describes the four separate crossings that ferried more than 23,500 troops and 1,500 vehicles. General Patton commended them for their "superior work accomplished ... [and] for the superior manner in which [their] tasks were performed," the letter reads.

Mr. Drury only became emotional when remembering two friends in his company who lost their lives, one who had taken his place only minutes before.

Mr. Drury only had one life threatening incident, when a young German came at him with a knife. Mr. Drury knocked the knife out of the youth's hand and has kept it as a memento till this day.

"That's my pride and joy," he said.

After 33 months in Europe, Mr. Drury returned home and married a South Carolina girl he had been writing during the war. He officially met Helen for the first time in 1945, married her three days later and together they moved to Charleston. He remained in the Navy Reserve for more than 22 years, serving in the Korean War and obtaining the rank of chief petty officer.

When asked about his overall thoughts about his experiences, Drury said, "I don't envy those guys going over to Iraq. It was a good experience, but I don't want to do it again. I'm glad to be home."

Today, Mr. Drury continues to volunteer at the Retiree Office helping retirees and widows of veterans, and also enjoys speaking to schools about his experiences.

"We need to know about the past," he said. "Even if you might not want to, you need to know."

His story, like many others of his generation, needs to be heard before it is forever silenced.

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