Neal Crawford
Navarro County, Texas


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Neal Crawford was just a teenager when he stepped onto the beach at Normandy. Courtesy photo

6/6/2003 D-Day remembered: Crawford recalls day Allies landed at Normandy

By DEANNA PAWLOWSKI/Daily Sun Staff

Neal Crawford remembers vividly the day 59 years ago he stepped off a boat onto the beach at Normandy, "so seasick that I was left-handed." As a boy of 18 or 19, fresh out of high school, the things he saw that day have stayed with him all these years.

June 6, 1944 was the date of the largest amphibious operation ever mounted, when the Allies landed in Normandy and thus began the final push against Hitler's Nazi Germany in World War II. The first day saw more than 10,000 Allied troops either killed, wounded or missing in action. Operation Overlord had been scheduled for June 5, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called for a 24 hour delay due to bad weather in the English Channel.

Crawford, a sergeant in the 29th Infantry Division, had boarded a ship in the English Channel, and the ships got into position. They were grouped into 30-man boat teams, and the plan was to dock, drop ramp, storm the beach and attach the concrete pill-boxes that housed the Germans. The first five men out of the boat brought fire on the bunkers.

"I knew there was some confusion on the beach," Crawford said. "But I didn't know until later how much. People had gotten out of position, they dropped paratroopers at night behind the enemy lines. They were to meet the infantry. I was still seasick, which might have been a blessing in disguise.

"Our casualties were so much higher than the enemies. We weren't gaining ground, it seemed. They had concrete bunkers for protection, and we were just out in the open. We had men drown that never made it to the beach.

"There were ships on both sides, as far as the eye could see. I couldn't believe how many ships I saw at daylight that morning."

Crawford prefers not to dwell on the horrors of that day. He said they fought on bravely in the face of danger, until he was wounded on July 12. He was taken to a field hospital in France, where he had surgery, then sent to England for more surgery. After recuperation, Crawford returned to the same unit, where he remained until VE Day.

Crawford was ultimately involved in major battles at Rhineland and Central Europe, in addition to Normandy. He was honored with the EAME Campaign Medal with three Bronze Stars and one Bronze Arrowhead, a Good Conduct Medal, a Purple Heart, and a WWII Victory Medal.

James Neal Crawford returned to Corsicana after the war and married the former Peggy Roberson. They are parents to two daughters, Gayla Crawford Kallus of Spring, and Carla Crawford of Corsicana. Crawford owned and operated an insurance business in Corsicana for 30 years.

He had many memorable experiences from the war, not the least of which was meeting the Russians at the Elbe River.

"Suddenly we noticed the enemy was no longer firing at us. The Germans were firing at the Russians. The Germans would rather surrender to the Americans than the Russians. They swam, floated on doors, containers, whatever to get across that river," Crawford said.

"I thought it was an unique experience to meet the Russians."

Crawford also has fond memories of the civilian family he lived with upon his arrival in England. They provided him a real bed, rather than his army cot, with real sheets -- which he had not seen since joining the army. They also provided him with a meal from time to time, which was against army regulations. He, in turn, sent them a little money, and Peggy provided the ladies in the family with sheer nylons, which were unavailable in wartime England.

"Poor England -- they paid a price for us," Crawford said.

 


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