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Army veteran recalls invasion on D-Day (w/video)

By Jessica Priest
June 5, 2014 at 1:05 a.m.
Updated June 6, 2014 at 1:06 a.m.

Earl R. Parker, 90, of Shiner, holds photos of himself from when he served in the Army.

Background

Earl R. Parker is married to Marilyn, who he met while working at Tenneco. He has four children.

Parker served as a .30-caliber machine gunner, a member of Company M, 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division in the Army on D-Day.

He earned and received:

Bronze Star Medal for heroism on D-Day, June 6, 1944, with oak leaf cluster

Purple Heart Medal for injuries in November 1944 in the Hurtgen Forest

Good Conduct Medal

European Theater Medal with three battle stars and arrow attachment for the invasion

American Campaign Medal

World War II Victory Medal

Army of Occupation Medal

French Government Normandy Invasion Medal

Combat Infantry Badge

Distinguished Unit Citation with oak leaf cluster

French Fourragere

Belgian Fourragere

D-Day by the numbers:

160,000 Allied troops

50-mile stretch of beaches

5,000 ships

13,000 aircraft

More than 9,000 Allied troops killed or wounded

SOURCE: U.S. Army

SHINER - Earl R. Parker felt queasy the entire five-day trip to Scotland aboard the Queen Elizabeth.

Parker, then 19, had grown up on a dairy and tobacco farm in Kentucky; he'd never felt the pitch and roll of the Atlantic Ocean - of any ocean - before.

He survived on cheese tidbits below deck with about 15,000 other troops.

Months later, on the morning of June 6, 1944, Parker had gotten his sea legs, so to speak, climbing down a net that led from the HMS Empire Anvil to a small boat with a ramp.

"I had too many other things on my mind," said Parker, who is now 90 years old.

Many men clung to a net as they were pelted with rain and jostled violently by the waves; some banged their bodies against the ship; some drowned before ever reaching the shore of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France.

About 100 yards offshore, Parker plunged from the small boat into the water, unsure whether those who had disembarked before him were OK, his ears ringing from the gunfire.

When he surfaced, he'd lost his 50-pound machine gun, his gas mask and a pack with three to four days of rations to the ocean.

With only a .45-caliber pistol holstered to a belt that he couldn't unfasten, Parker rested at some big, iron bars designed to keep the American ships from docking and planes from landing. Then, he quickly discovered a mine.

As he moved away from it toward a cliff, his best friend, a 6-foot-2-inch-tall boy built like a Wisconsin football player, was cut in half by German machine-gun fire.

Parker, who now lives on 110 acres in Shiner, still can't talk openly about a moment that's haunted him for 70 years.

"He just kept walking and fell on his face," Parker said, his eyes welling with tears. "I went to him but quickly realized there was nothing anybody could do. He was already gone, so then I decided I better look after Earl Parker and see if he couldn't get himself somewhere away from that kind of activity.

"Finally, one of our company officers said, 'Men, we're being killed on the beach; let's go to the top of the hill to be killed!'"

Parker joined others who, despite being outnumbered and out-armed (American machine guns fired 400 to 450 rounds per minute; Germans' fired 1,000 to 1,100 rounds per minute), captured some Germans and gained a foothold.

"I claim that we won because we were not so regimented. They couldn't do anything unless they were told to do it, whereas our guys, if something happened during the battle that needed to be changed, they didn't wait for someone to tell them to change it; they did it on their own," Parker said.

He went on to fight the Nazis throughout Europe. He was hospitalized once after shrapnel broke his left arm in the Hurtgen Forest.

He was there in Reims, France, when the Germans surrendered May 7, 1945.

"I cried like a baby, and the guys around me were carrying on and laughing and said, 'What's the matter with you, you nut?' ... I was thinking about my buddies who didn't make it and all the destruction that war has caused. It's the most useless thing that ever happened," Parker said.

For a long time, Parker held in his feelings about D-Day. Who besides those who had experienced the hell that day would ever understand? He's found though over time that speaking about it, whether to schoolchildren in Yoakum or at a Memorial Day event, is cathartic.

"To give you some idea, I wrote a paper recently for the company that I retired from. One of the guys that was with me at the company said, 'I worked with you for 35 years, and I never knew you were even in the Army,'" Parker said.

He still wakes up at night, screaming.

"My wife can tell you that at night, I say bad things. I say, 'Shoot those sons of bitches!'" Parker said. "So it does come back at times, even if you don't want it to, but maybe it's best that it does."

"All I can say about D-Day is it was hell on Earth. I don't know how hell is, but it was hell," Parker added.

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