Jun 4 at 8:08am by David Tate
Bedford Co., VA – The upcoming 65th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion that touches all of us here in southwestern Virginia simply because the National D-Day Memorial is in our backyard. But it wouldn’t be so, if it weren’t for one man- Bob Slaughter. It’s a name many of us have grown familiar with over the years as it has with thousands of others all around the world. It isn’t a legacy Slaughter ever would have imagined himself sharing. It’s one he takes seriously if only to preserve homage to the casualties of that war.
“The news we didn’t want to hear arrived like the shock of a thunderbolt. It was a simple briefing. ‘Men,’ he said, ‘We’re going back up- assemble the platoon.’ Everyone of us gulped. We all knew what he meant,” Slaughter said.
Surrounded by the relics of a war long gone by, Bob Slaughter is never far away from the action that killed so many men and helped shape a world in so many ways. His first taste of death, at just 17, came when his ship collided with a British ship, killing 332 sailors as he and his fellow soldiers made their way to England.
“We thought we had seen something when you see 332 sailors drown, but we hadn’t seen anything, the worst was yet to come,” Slaughter said.
He and his friends, many from southwestern Virginia, would be the first Americans to hit the beach when the Allies made a move to liberate Europe.
“We were the first to hit the beaches- Omaha, the worst beach,” Slaughter said.
The first American he saw die barely made it off the landing craft. “The first guy I saw killed was hit with the front of the landing craft and died- right in front of our eyes,” Slaughter said. Moments later, more Virginians would die- 21 from Bedford alone- would die on June 6, 1944. “He started screaming and hollering and then one of our medics went to help him and they shot him too. Then we had two guys screaming,” Slaughter said.
And that wasn’t the end for Slaughter and tens of thousands of others. The allies would need another 11 months to fight their way into the heart of Germany, and ultimately, victory over the Nazis. That was 65 years ago, memories that faded over the decades until the late 80′s.
“Very little until recently, the last 10 years I guess, when we talked about the D-Day memorial,” he said. Ever since then, Slaughter has been busy promoting the memorial, which was dedicated in 2001. His work highly regarded by his
Fellow veterans, men like Jack Shields. “He deserves a lot of credit for that, that’s for sure. He’s a fine fellow; he’s a hero,” Shields said.
“I’m not a hero. I’ve got all my limbs, a couple scars, some shrapnel in the back,” Slaughter said. Slaughter’s experience has also turned into a book- a written record of his war ordeal.
“Now it seems like everyone knows who I am. I’m not real happy about that but, you know, if it will do the job, you have to do it,” Slaughter said.
A job Slaughter accepts in his golden years, not for himself, but for those who weren’t as lucky. “We were going back to death, destruction and fear. We were all painfully aware that many of us would be wounded and others of us would soon be dead,” he said.
At 84, Slaughter is one of the younger World War II veterans. He joined in 1940 at the age of 15. He says this could very well be the last major reunion for the battles’ veterans.
Slaughter is scheduled to lay a wreath at the D-Day Memorial during the anniversary ceremony on Saturday.
Video? Go here –> DDay Video