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|Memories live on after 65 years|
As machine gun bullets whizzed past and mortars fell, Edmond L. Richard hit Omaha Beach and fought his way through the bloody chaos that ensued.
Sixty-five years later, sitting inside the Chennault Aviation and Military Museum in Monroe, Richard calmly told his story of that historic day.
Richard is a former principal at Columbia High School and Caldwell Parish High School. He also served for 13 years as Caldwell Parish's superintendent of schools.
Richard is one of the many veterans who will be honored at a special Memorial Day celebration Saturday, May 23, at the aviation and military museum.
The museum also plans to unveil a special exhibit next month to honor the men who fought during D-Day. Richard says if anyone wanted to know what American soldiers went through on that day, it can be seen in the opening scene of Saving Private Ryan.
"That was it," Richard said of Steven Spielberg's depiction of the battle.
Richard's 1st Infantry Division, commonly called the Big Red One, was one of the first waves of soldiers to storm the beach.
"The first wave … we were all chopped up and lost a lot of people," Richard said.
American soldiers landed with the tide out, so all the German's mines were exposed, Richard said.
"They (mines) were supposed to get the landing boats, so that's why they wanted us to go in when the tide was out," Richard explained. "They got that boat as far as it could go and they dropped the ramp on that thing, and off we went.
"They teach you when you hear something to fall on the ground. Well, I fell on the ground, got up and started running."
All the while, Germans peppered the invading Americans with their .88 caliber weapons.
Richard reached one of the Belgium gates and took shelter.
"I looked up there and bullets were flying in and there was a big mine up there, and here I was lying up under it," Richard continued. "So I got out from there, and headed toward the hill. We kept pilling in there and they needed someone to take that hill, so they got us."
The Americans were stopped at the hill by sections of barbed wire. Combat engineers used Bangalore torpedoes, a long tube with an explosive charge at the end, to clear a path through the wire.
"It makes about a 15-foot gap in that thing and just runs the wire back," Richard said.
Richard was a demolition man during the invasion. When the Higgins boats arrived at Omaha Beach, Richard stormed out with 10 pounds of TNT strapped to his back and 10 pounds hooked to his eight-foot pole charge.
The demolition crew needed to use their pole charges to knock out the German's pill boxes, which were the fortifications that housed the German's machine guns and antitank weapons across the beach.
"When we hit, I was supposed to run up and prop that pole charge against the door of that pill box to blow it open," he said.
Richard then had to run around the back of the pill box to throw the TNT from his back into the fortification.
"Well, the good Lord was with me because that pill box had already been taken care of, probably from the ships coming in," Richard said.
Once the Americans gained a foothold, the Germans began their retreat.
Richard distinctly remembers the firefight as they drove the Germans off.
"People ask me, 'Do you feel bad about shooting people?' " Richard said. "Well, I say, 'When they trained you, they dressed a dummy up in the German uniform and a Japanese uniform. That's what you shoot at, that's what you bayonet, so when you see them coming and they're shooting at you, well you return the favor. But you don't think about it being a human being. You think of that German or Japanese uniform.' "
Richard's company captured a handful of German prisoners as they retreated.
"This SS business, they may be tough when they are slapping women and children, but when they come up against the real thing, they trembled like the rest of them do," Richard said.
Richard recalled watching a German prisoner eating his C-rations after the fighting had stopped.
"I looked at him and said, 'I want a taste of your C-rations,'" he said. "Well, he wanted a taste of mine, so we exchanged. Mine was better. He was just a grinning."
Richard eventually was wounded near the Siegfried Line when he was hit in the leg by .88 shrapnel. He was later wounded again at the Battle of the Bulge. Richard received two Purple Hearts.
Richard's leg eventually got infected from his first wound, and a doctor from New York approached him.
The doctor looked at Richard and said, "Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to get some maggots and I'll put those maggots in that wound and when they eat up all the rotten flesh, they'll die, and I'll come back and get them out. Then we can sew it up and you'll be ready to go."
"Well, that's what he did," Richard said. "They gave me my orders and up to the front I went to the Battle of the Bulge."
At the Battle of the Bulge, Richard said a crew was putting up barb wire when a group of SS troops arrived on scene.
"All of a sudden they took off running and they didn't say anything when they passed us," Richard said.
Richard's division hunkered down in trenches and man-made holes during the firefight. Richard had a grenade launcher on him at the time. He shot at one of the Germans who was spraying machine gun bullets in all directions.
"He was sitting up there on the snow just tearing us up," Richard said. "I put that thing on my shoulder and shot that thing, and it must have gone under him. So, he just moved around and then knew where I was, so he started peppering that hole. Clogs of dirt was flying in my face."
"I thought I was shot in the face," he added.
The next morning, soldiers took turns to return to company headquarters to warm their feet. Richard was getting out of his fox hole to run back to headquarters when the Germans dropped a mortal shell nearby. A piece of shrapnel pierced Richard's leg again.
"One of the 'ole boys looked at me and said, 'You've got you a good wound there. You're lucky," Richard said. "I went back to Paris, same hospital."
In the spring of 1945, after two years of fighting, Richard returned to the United States. He was asked which hospital he wanted to be transferred to. He mentioned New Orleans.
"They put me on a train and I went through Chicago, South Dakota, went over on the west coast and then to Fort Louis, Washington," Richard explained. "They told me that was the only place they could send me to be treated for my wound."
To honor soldiers like Richard, Chennault Aviation and Military Museum, will hold a Memorial Day celebration Saturday from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at the museum near Monroe Regional Airport.
Antique cars and military vehicles will be on display. Other D-Day veterans will be on hand to share their stories and answer questions.
"What we do here at the museum is for the veterans like Mr. Richard," said Nell Calloway, director of the museum.