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CURRENT STORIES


D-Day memories vivid 60 years later

by Jessica Karmasek

STAFF WRITER

CLARKSBURG -- June 6, 1944: D-Day. A day that every soldier who fought on the beaches of Normandy, and even those who didn't, will remember forever.

John Arco, a Clarksburg resident and D-Day veteran, remembers that day vividly.

He was only 20.

"I was just a baby, just a baby from Clarksburg, W.Va.," he said. "I didn't even know what I was doing."

He and the rest of the 4th Infantry Division were among the many soldiers who hit the beaches that day, all scared, crying and wishing they were back home.

As Arco and his fellow soldiers waded through the water and approached the shore, they were immediately bombarded with fire from swamp areas and trees, he said.

"All I remember is running up the beach and seeing these guys laying all around," he said. "I stopped to look at their faces, crying, wondering if I knew them, but I didn't.

"I just kept running up that hill, crying," Arco said.

Even after the invasion, Arco and other fortunate soldiers who survived still had to contend with other impending enemy attacks on land.

"You could only sleep about five or 10 minutes because you could get killed during the night, watching over the foxholes," Arco said. "You could never rest."

Finally, on Jan. 18, 1946, close to two years after Arco experienced the horrors of the D-Day invasion, he returned home to his mother in West Virginia.

It took years for him to get over the tragedy and sadness of that day. His wife, Rosemary, said he used to have constant nightmares of it.

"I would lay there in bed, years and years later, and I could see all of the men laying on the beach," Arco said. "It took me almost 55 years, as long as I've been married, to try to get over it.

"Something like that always stays with you."

Because of his military service and bravery, Arco was honored with a number of different medals and ribbons, including the Good Conduct Medal, the Victory ribbon, and the European, African and Middle Eastern Theater ribbons.

Clarksburg resident Wallace Brake was 23 when he landed in Le Havre, France, in January 1945. At 23, Brake was considered an "old man" compared to the thousands of 18- and 19-year-olds in his division.

Even though Brake did not storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, he still remembers the tragedy.

"The 50,000th candidate to graduate with me (from training) was killed because of the D-Day invasion. He was sent over there, along with some of my class, to prepare for it," he said. "It's just sad to see so many young people fighting wars."

Through the Library of Congress's Veterans History Project, a total of 39 World War II veterans from Morgantown, Buckhannon and the Clarksburg area have been able to share their stories, said Diane Davis, the outreach coordinator at the Clarksburg-Harrison Public Library.

The library and the project have spent close to a year interviewing World War II veterans and archiving their accounts of the war.

By recording the soldiers' experiences, other individuals can learn from them and appreciate them.

"It was an extremely emotional experience for me," Davis said. "It makes combat and war an entirely different thing for you to imagine, but it's beneficial for people."