John Armenta was just 19 when he served as a B-17 tail gunner during two combat missions on D-Day.
During his first mission in the early morning of June 6, 1944, Armenta said his plane — as part of the 8th Air Force — dropped bombs along the coast. They flew back to England, reloaded and flew back to France at low levels.
“I was able to see what the channel looked like,” the 89-year-old Killeen resident recalled. “I couldn’t have imagined anything like that. So much activity. ... It was such a busy place down below.”
The D-Day invasion into France was the first offensive move by the Allied forces and considered to be the turning point of World War II. After months of planning, 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of France’s Normandy region.
Curtis Martell was a 20-year-old private first class who landed at Omaha Beach as part of the 30th Infantry Division.
“There was so much taking place, it was hard to put it all together,” said the now 91-year-old Temple resident.
As his unit prepared for the invasion, Martell, a rifleman, said he didn’t realize just how large it would be.
“I knew it was an operation of the Army and the Navy, but I didn’t realize the extent,” he said.
Armenta said his crew was told that morning they would be part of an invasion. Looking back, he said he’s still impressed with the execution.
“The general did a super job of planning that invasion. The Germans were surprised. To me at that stage in my life I couldn’t see anything wrong with what we were supposed to do and what we did and how it was executed,” he said.
As the invasion was underway in France, Killeen resident Kenneth “Scooter” Barclay was serving with the Army in the Pacific.
“It was two different wars,” he said. “In Europe, they were in combat constantly. In the Pacific, it was intense for a period of time, then we would go to a safe island. The civilian populations were friendly.”
Barclay, now 90, was on a ship when the news of the invasion was announced over the loudspeakers.
“It was quite exciting. Everybody cheered,” he said. “I would say it changed the morale, because someday we hoped the war would be over.”
Martell continued to fight through France, Belgium, Holland and Germany, not returning home for about a year and a half, he said. At one point, he took over as platoon leader, because the leaders kept dying. One only survived a day, he said.
“I liked the job. I knew I could rely on the men,” Martell said. “I really enjoyed my men. They were like family. I was with them all the time.”
There were funny things Martell can still recall about the war — such as the K-rations he ate for days on end.
“There was a disc of cheese for lunch. It was like a hockey puck,” Martell said, laughing. When his unit walked through an orchard, the soldiers picked fresh apples.
After the war, Martell left the Army and retired from General Motors, where he worked as a draftsman. For most of his life, he said he didn’t really talk to his wife and children about his time in the war.
About six months ago, Martell put together a book and gave it to his children.
“Only then was I able to open up,” he said. “It was too horrendous to even think about. ... You wouldn’t think it would last that long, but it did.”
As far as the 70th anniversary of D-Day, Martell said he’s not putting too much thought into it — it’s “redundant.”
“Put it in the history books and let the young people learn about it,” he said.