PUNXSUTAWNEY — World War II veteran Walter Hurd will return to Normandy, France for the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion with the assistance of long time friend and VFW Post 2076 member Bob Lott.
Hurd was part of of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment that was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division that jumped behind enemy lines into France as part of Operation Neptune to clear the way for Allied forces invading the beaches of Normandy as part of Operation Overlord. He said the 505th was the most decorated regiment in the war.
Hurd said he jumped into the small French town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise, which was the first town liberated by the Allies. The town was the setting for one of the scenes in the movie “The Longest Day.” Actor Red Buttons played the part of Private John Steele whose parachute got caught on a church steeple during the jump. He said he had met Steele several times.
“I met him different times. I was also with the guy who shot the first German general that was in charge over there,” Hurd said.
Hurd said he was 18 years old when he jumped and was issued a large knife to cut through hedge rows. He said members of his regiment were issued bazookas to counter enemy tanks. He recalled one of the injuries he sustained during the fighting
“The guys in the platoon were assigned different weapons and things they would need, like shovels to dig fox holes, picks to dig with and other things. We had bazookas. They were mostly used on the tanks. I remember I got hit above the eye. I just got awake and he was sewing me up. I remember him saying, ‘I want to get one more strip put in! Lay still!’” Hurd said.
Hurd said there was much secrecy surrounding the mission and many of the members of his regiment weren’t expected to make it back alive.
“We had to cover up our patches because we were the main guys going in. The lieutenants at the airport said ‘These guys are having a good time, don’t they know they are going to die?’ My cousin was a lieutenant in the 101st. They took a picture of him and said he wasn’t coming back either,” Hurd said.
D-Day was not the only battle in which Hurd fought. Three months after the D-Day invasion, Hurd flew a glider into the Netherlands as part of Operation Market Garden.
This will not be the first time Hurd has revisited Normandy. He has gone back several times with his sons, grandsons and other friends. Lott said he first became interested in going with Hurd after seeing a picture in Gettysburg.
“I’ve known Wally for about 55 years. I grew up with two of his sons when we all lived in Big Run. When I took my first trip to Gettysburg, I saw a picture that was taken in 1938 on the 75th of the Battle of Gettysburg. I saw this picture of Union and Confederate soldiers that had returned for the anniversary and I thought it was really neat that they could get together like that. When Wally was getting ready to go over for the 70th anniversary, I told him that I would go with him for the 75th. He’s been reminding the past couple of years. It is going to be a thrill to take a man who was over there to the 75th anniversary,” Lott said.
Hurd said when he had gone to Normandy in the past, he would always talk to the various people that he met and answer whatever questions they had. He said the people of France always treat him and the other veterans exceptionally well.
“I know people over there now and they know me. They are always hugging and wanting to talk to us,” Hurd said.
Lott said they were going to be going with Rupiper Tours, the group with whom Hurd had previously gone. An opportunity was then presented to them to travel with the Veterans Return to Normandy tour group. He said the group would make all of the arrangements and house the two of them in the home of French nationals for their stay. He said the tour group will have a more personal focus.
Lott said while most of their itinerary has yet to be worked out, they will both be in attendance for the ceremony at the American Cemetery on June 6, where there will be dignitaries of various nations in attendance including President Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Lott gave the Courier Express a piece of exclusive information during the interview: during the trip, Hurd will receive the French Legion of Honor award. Lott said this is the highest award that the French give to a non-French citizen.