On the morning of June 6, 1944, Charles Maupin of Columbus was on a ship in the English Channel where he watched massive air attacks over Omaha Beach and naval gunships pound enemy positions as part of his unit landed for the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Today marks the 71st anniversary of one of the largest amphibious landings in military history. It sent 156,000 Allied troops into battle along a heavily defended coastline to fight Adolf Hitler's troops on the beaches of Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah and Sword. The invasion paved the way for Allied forces to gain a foothold in Normandy during World War II to free Europe and defeat Hitler's Germany.
"I looked out and as far as I could see was ships everywhere," Maupin said Thursday from his home at Covenant Woods. "The channel was just full of ships. It was just something else to see that many ships. Then I hear all those planes flying over and all the naval ships start bombarding. It was a spectacle. It was unreal."
At age 95, Maupin said he's fortunate that the confusion on the beach delayed his 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division from entering until June 7. The invasion described as "The Longest Day" left 2,500 soldiers dead and 7,000 American casualties. Some soldiers never made it to the beach as many drowned in the channel.
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Maupin said about 2,000 soldiers died on Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended of the five locations. American troops also were on Utah Beach while British troops landed on the other three beaches.
"I landed on the beach and saw all the bodies laying on the beach, rows and rows of bodies of soldiers just covered with their ponchos," Maupin said. "They died on D-Day and tried to secure the beach area."
By the time the rest of his unit arrived, the beach was secure. Serving as a radio operator, Maupin said his division moved inland through the Vierville Draw from the beach. He faced some close calls from artillery fire on a French farm but escaped serious injury when an apple tree was shredded from a blast.
Brian Zeringue, a spokesman for the Georgia Department of Veterans Service, said records show that 6,781 Georgians died and 11,650 were wounded during World War II. Another 652 were prisoners of war and 364 are still unaccounted for or missing in action. Although the numbers are dwindling, 21,545 veterans of the war still live in Georgia, according to 2014 records, he said. That number may drop by about 500 this year when the numbers are updated.
Maupin said he has no special plans to recognize the D-Day invasion. Over the last three or four years, he has placed colorful red, white and blue flowers at the church he has attended for 68 years. "We've got flowers in our church sanctuary on Sunday," he said. "Every year, as close to D-Day, I put red, white and blue flowers at Wynnton United Methodist Church on Macon Road. I hope to be at church on Sunday."
Sunday is the day the rest of his unit landed on Omaha Beach. This year also is special because a song written by Haden Sammons has been recorded for Maupin. "It was written May 12 and recorded this year," he said. "Two ladies came up and interviewed me, and I told them of my experiences."
The song is available on YouTube, he said. It's titled "D-Day Plus One." "It also shows my picture taken back in 1945," he said.
For veterans and supporters of soldiers, the National Infantry Museum & Soldier Center is offering special IMAX screenings of "D-Day 3D: Normandy 1944" at 11:15 a.m., 1:45 p.m. and 4:15 p.m. today. The reduced cost is $5.
Maupin, who served 34 months and 17 days in the Army, said the war was necessary to stop Hitler, along with the other Axis powers of Benito Mussolini of Italy and Emperor Hirohito of Japan.
"We lost 400,000 troops in World War II," he said. "It's a terrible price to pay for freedom, but it had to be done."