Jim Wooters, a sailor who served on the USS Arkansas during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France, died Friday of natural causes at the Orchard View Rehabilitation & Skilled Nursing Center in Columbus. He was 95.
“I am very saddened by the passing of my dear friend, Jim Wooters,” said Charlie Maupin, who served about three miles away during the June 6, 1944, invasion during World War II. “He was a fine man — friendly, kind and very talented. I am already missing him.”
Faye Smith, Wooters’ eldest daughter, said the funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 9 at Striffler-Hamby Mortuary on Macon Road in Columbus. Burial will follow at Parkhill Cemetery. Visitation will be 5-7 p.m. Sept. 8 and one hour before the service.
Smith of Bergton, Va., said her father’s health had been failing for several weeks before he died Friday morning. She will miss his laugh the most.
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“He just enjoyed life all the way around,” she said Saturday.
Maupin, 97, didn’t meet Wooters until the sailor moved across the hall from his apartment at Covenant Woods, a senior living community on Woodruff Farm Road. The two spent many days sharing experiences from World War II and how close they were from one another on June 6, 1944.
“He was in the battleship USS Arkansas, shelling the German defenses on the northern coast of France, hopefully to save lives of the troops that stormed the beaches, and me in an assault landing craft heading for Omaha Beach,” Maupin said. “We agreed that we could have been within two or three miles of each other, on that fateful day. Jim’s story shouldn’t die with him, nor should the stories of other war veterans.”
Wooters was a native of North Carolina. After completing two years at North Carolina State University, he went to Wilmington and enlisted in the Navy in 1942 to avoid the draft. At the time, his father was chairman of the local draft board, and he didn’t want his own father to draft him.
He was 19-years-old when he was sent to Portsmouth Va., and assigned to the Arkansas, a ship commissioned in 1912 before World War I and the only one with older 12-inch guns.
The ship was used mostly as an escort to prevent attacks on convoys before the invasion. It sailed across the Atlantic ,and by the spring of 1944, it departed for Ireland to train for on-shore bombardment duties. Just before 6 a.m. June 6, 1944, the Arkansas fired its guns on enemy positions on Omaha Beach, one of five shore locations for the invasion. The others included the beaches codenamed Juno, Gold, Utah and Sword.
The ship had a close call during the invasion after a 2,000 pound bomb was dropped nearby. “When a 2,000-pound bomb goes off, it gets your attention in a hurry,” Wooters said during a June 2016 interview. “It missed us by about 50 yards. It soaked the ship down.”
Before the battle started, most on the ship thought they wouldn’t survive the pounding from German guns. “We knew that we were going to be hit, and we didn’t think we would come out of it,” he had said. “When you know you’re going to die, you are no longer afraid. That has stuck with me over the years since Normandy.”
After the invasion, the Arkansas with 1,200 sailors moved to southern France before taking part in the Pacific Theater in battles at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
Wooters left the Navy after the war ended.
Survivors other than Smith include his wife, Tillie, a daughter and a son.