Reporting Reg Chapman
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Wednesday marks the reality that it’s been 68 years since 92-year-old Bill Harper and his American and Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy.
Artillery Capt. Harper was 24 years old when he survived one of the most brutal days of World War II.
“It’s just as clear as the day it happened,” Harper said.
It was a day Harper – who has won two Purple Hearts for his service – said is hard to forget.
“It was an awful day,” Harper said, part of the first wave to take Omaha Beach. “The waves were 6-feet high. And we went over the side of the ship, down rope ladders into the lcvps.”
Within minutes, Harper had his first brush with death.
“When I came out of the lcvp, I stepped into about a 3-foot deep hole,” Harper said.
Harper said the water was over his head as his heavy gear held him down.
“My sergeant held his carbine out and I grabbed it,” he said. “And he pulled me out of the hole, and we started running across the beach at that point.”
As they ran, he noticed the enemy was not far away.
“The Germans were sitting up on top of looking over, watching every move we made,” Harper said. “And any time anybody moved, he got shot.”
Harper says that’s what happened to his sergeant, the man he credits for saving his life.
“Three feet along side of me he got hit,” Harper said. “And I didn’t.”
Harper’s sergeant was one of more than 6,600 casualties that day, but not the first to perish in front of his eyes.
“I started to move up the beach, and I got about 100 yards up the beach and I found a captain that I knew,” Harper said. “I laid down on the beach to talk to him and no sooner got stretched out then a motor round came in and it hit about 6 inches from him. It blew him in two pieces. It wounded me. I really feel blessed. I just don’t know how I made it — the number of men that were killed that day.”
Harper was wounded twice that day.
He then spent 11 more months in combat, without a scratch.
His wife of 70 years, Peg, waited for him to return and the two are still together today.