Lufkin D-Day survivor: 'I was the only one to come home'

Jerry French was in Normandy, France when he was only 19 years old (Source: KTRE Staff)
Jerry French was in Normandy, France when he was only 19 years old (Source: KTRE Staff)
French was a B-24 Liberator Flight commander with the Army Air Corps (Source: KTRE Staff)
French was a B-24 Liberator Flight commander with the Army Air Corps (Source: KTRE Staff)

LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - Seventy years ago, the Normandy landings, also known as Operation Overlord, claimed the lives of thousands of men in the Allied Invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.

On Friday, millions of people across the world honored those who dedicated their lives to the D-Day invasion 70 years ago.

Early Friday morning, President Barack Obama gathered with European leaders in Normandy to pay tribute to U.S. Service members who stormed the beaches that cold day.

More than "160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy," according to the U.S. Army Website.

The web site also says more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded, while more than 100,000 continued to fight "to defeat Adolf Hitler's crack troops."

Jerry French, 89, a former B-24 Liberator flight commander in the Army Air Corps' 450th Bombardment Group, said he remembers Normandy as if it was yesterday.

"Normandy. Yes, I remember that mission very well. And it's in my mind, and I think of it all the time. I think of all my buddies," French said.

Every year on June 6, French keeps his American flag at half-staff to remember his friends who died on D-Day.

"I was 19 when I went into combat and I was 19 when I came home. I had my 50th mission then on D-Day. June 6th was my last mission," French said.

French was the only person out of 16 crews and 12 airplanes to come home from that day, he said. However, in the skies, the Normandy landings were just like any other day, he said.

"Our primary duty was, of course, strategic bombing, and we would drop bombs, but prior to that we went to pull the fighters off the beach head. In other words, the fighters were attacking our ground troops, and the ground troops were on the defensive," French said. "They had no cover from those fighters. We were the aggressors. We were on the offensive. We went up there intentionally to have combat with the fighters."

The casualties were severe, French said, something that has always bothered him.

"I know, it's real different for those boys on the ground. Yeah, a lot of blood and guts. Yeah, we didn't see a lot of that. All we saw was in our own airplane," French said.

French said he still likes to look at his scrapbook and remember his friends. He said what he would like to see is more patriotism among America's youth.

"I believe men from age 18 to 21 should dedicate one year to military service," French said.

Even though it's been 70 years, French said the memories of D-Day are still fresh in his mind.

"So many of our buddies got shot down cause the boys on the beach, the Marines and the Army, they were getting killed, too," French said.

French also flew B-29s in the Korean War and B-35 four-engine jets during the Vietnam War. After he retired from the U.S. Air Force, French spent 33 years in commercial aviation as an instructor pilot for United and American Airlines.

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