Honored Vets Reflect on D-Day Experiences
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jun. 5, 2004 D-Day veteran Charles W. Hostler is poised to represent the United States in receiving the French Legion of Honor from President Jacques Chirac June 6 at the Normandy site of the invasion.
D-Day veteran and former ambassador to Bahrain, Charles W.
Hostler, will be presented France's highest honor, the Legion of Honor, by
French President Jacques Chirac June 6 during D-Day 60th anniversary ceremonies
Normandy. With him is his wife, Chin-Yeh Hostler. Photo by Rudi
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Hostler, the former U.S. ambassador to Bahrain and retired Air Force colonel, will receive his award during ceremonies commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Allied attack to liberate France from Nazi tyranny.
He was one of 100 American veterans the French government sponsored for a trip to Paris and Normandy for D-Day ceremonies. Their criteria was that the veterans served during the liberation of France from June 6, 1944, to May 8, 1945, and they had to have participated in one of the four major campaigns Normandy, Northern France, Southern France and the Ardennes.
The other 99 veterans were presented the French Legion of Honor today by French Minister of Defense Michele Alliot-Marie during ceremonies in Paris.
An intelligence officer during the war, Hostler, who is fluent in French, said he landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day afternoon. "Because I spoke French and had had intelligence training, I was made a part of a thing they called 'X-2,' which stood for double cross," he noted. "It was our mission to take enemy agents before they could be arrested or exposed."
He was assigned in the Office of Strategic Services, or OSS, forerunner to the CIA. Armed with a list of names and locations of enemy agents, Hostler and his fellow OSS clandestine agents headed for their first encounter.
"I went to the door of one of these places and knocked discreetly, trying to be very cool," Hostler said with a laugh. "The guy opened the door, took one look at me, reached behind himself and hit me on the head with a meat ax.
"We pushed him inside and convinced him to send messages to German intelligence that contained deception material," Hostler said. "The idea was to convince German intelligence that we were going to be landing in greater force on a different date at a different place. We were trying to prevent them from sending their tanks and so forth in to destroy the landings we'd just made."
The ploy worked, Hostler said, "because by the end of the campaign in France, we had under control some 43 enemy agents. After the war, the Allies searched through the German records and apparently the Germans never had any idea that they were being deceived on such a scale."
Hostler said mission was so secret that he didn't get his Purple Heart medal for the hard knock on the head until about six months ago. "That's because the activities we were engaged in during the war were highly classified," he said, pointing to the dent in his forehead. "The government is only now revealing some of those documents."
Charles Curley of Richmond, Va., hit Normandy's Omaha Beach as a second lieutenant platoon leader with the 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, three days after the initial invasion. "The beaches were still messed up and they took us inland and I joined my unit because I was a replacement for a lieutenant who had been shot," said Curley, who retired as a major in 1968.
His daughter, Aelise Noonan, also of Richmond, said she's very emotional about her father returning to Normandy, where he put his life on the line to liberate France 60 years ago. "It's going to be hard to see that and hear all about it," Noonan said.
She noted that Curley wrote a book titled "How a Ninety-Day Wonder Survived the War." "It's about how you became an officer in 90 days," Noonan said. "It takes you from boot camp all the way over to Europe. It's pretty hard to read, sometimes, because I'm reading about my dad."
William Calbert, an African American, and his wife of 41 years, Madlyn, were also on the trip. Calbert wore a name tag that read "Quartermaster Battalion, Normandy." He landed on Utah Beach on D-plus-26 as a supply officer, warrant officer junior grade, for a quartermaster battalion.
The unit was mostly all-black. "The only officers were myself as supply officer and the personnel officer, also a warrant officer," Calbert said. "We were a separate battalion headquarters, we had attached companies, including a graves registration company, service company and trucking companies. Most of the trucking companies had black officers.
"I feel privileged and honored to represent, in a way, those who gave their lives there and those who were severely wounded (and) became handicapped individuals," Calbert said.
He said he spent three years in the Army during the war, used the GI Bill to further his education and returned to active duty in 1952 as a chaplain. "In addition to those who did their part in combat units, I'm honored to represent those who were in service units that supported and made possible what combat troops accomplished."
Armed Forces Retirement Home resident Pasquale Giudice said he'd already planned to visit Normandy for the 60th anniversary of D-Day. "But when they asked if anybody was in the Invasion of Normandy or in any of the battles in France, I put my name in and was selected for the trip," said Giudice, who was a motor machinist mate aboard a U.S. tank landing ship. "I was lucky to be selected to go."
While looking at pictures of the invasion, Giudice said he started thinking about all the men hitting the beaches and how "it was gruesome on D-Day."
"We got in there on D-Day morning and waited offshore of Omaha Beach until they cleared the beaches," said Giudice, who manned the No. 7 gun tube as a first loader. "They didn't want any of our ships to touch the beaches and get blown up by gunfire from the Germans. We landed the 29th Infantry, part of their armored equipment, trucks and men. We made about 50 trips between England and France.
"We were lucky because we never got hit, even though we were chased E-boats going about 40 or 50 knots and our top speed was about 10 knots and escaped," Giudice said. The German E-boats were described as small, fast torpedo boats.
The retired Navy senior chief petty officer said he got out of the Navy after the war, but returned in 1947 and retired after 20 years service. He said he worked for the U.S. Customs Service for 15 years before retiring again. His wife died four years ago; then he moved to the Armed Services Retirement Home in Washington.
Joseph L. Morisi, 91, who was a member of the 29th Infantry Division, remembers well his D-Day experience. He recalled it was about 7 a.m. June 6 when his second wave hit Omaha Beach. "We heard bullets hitting the ramp on our landing craft just before it was dropped," said Morisi.
"I was sitting next to my captain and he turned around and said, 'Here we go! This is it!'" Morisi said. "I jumped out and went under(water) and the captain picked me up and said, 'Are you alright?' I said, 'Yes, sir, I'm alright.'
"I went down again and came back up and the first sergeant was holding my captain saying, 'He's dead!" said Morisi, with tears welling up in his eyes. "They hit him right in the head! Killed him right there! He didn't even get out of the water!'
"Then we got out of the water and ran up on the shore and I met a general on the beach," Morisi said. "He said, 'We couldn't win nothing here. When I blow the whistle, everybody go! Anybody don't go, kick their!'
"We all went, right up to the hill," he said. "I don't know how many men we lost in my boat other than the captain."
The Washington, D.C., native said he didn't know he'd been hit by shrapnel in his leg. When he realized that he was wounded, he got it patched up and kept fighting.
His daughter, Grace Bender, escorting him to France, said, "I'm very excited for my father to be able to go back and have closure. It's one thing he wanted to do, but never did.
"He was always very sad that they never had a memorial here in the United States," Bender said, before the dedication of the National World War II Memorial May 29. "He used to say they have the Korean Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial. But I don't think the world realizes that if we hadn't entered that war and fought this would be a very different world today. He was always sad that it wasn't recognized.
"He told me he was coming, not for the honor for himself, but whatever they gave him was for all the men that died," Bender noted. "He used to tell me that it looked like seaweed on the beach there were that many bodies! He was older than most of the soldiers like 29 when he was drafted and 33 when he got out.
"He told me about all the young fellows and how scared some of them were," she continued. "He really didn't think he was going to make it back. But he did and I'm glad."