J.L. Doolittle, of Edgefield, S.C., is a hero. Small of stature and tough as nails, he turned 90 this year. He epitomizes the "Greatest Generation."
Sixty-five years ago today, Mr. Doolittle was one of 150 commandos who helped launch the D-Day invasion to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany.
Two days earlier, the Allied commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, had told them at supper, "You'll board the ship in the morning." Men cheered and shouted. Some wept. Mr. Doolittle said, "I had a feeling like a rock in my stomach."
A terrible storm delayed the invasion one day.
At 3 a.m. on June 6, the chaplain and Eisenhower got into a hot argument. The chaplain wanted to pray with the commandos. Ike said, "No, you will soften them up." The chaplain won out, Mr. Doolittle said.
"I'll always be grateful for that chaplain, for telling us the truth," he said.
"Boys," the chaplain said, "There's not much hope for you. Your officers predict 148 out of 150 of you will be killed. You'll be first to clear the water of mines and barbed wire for others to follow. You're looking right down the barrel of death. If you ain't right with God, get right now."
All bowed their heads as the chaplain led in prayer. Four men broke down as the commandos loaded into the landing craft. Near the drop-off point, the tech sergeant, who would be the first off the boat, also broke down. Mr. Doolittle said he took his place.
"It's a terrible feeling to jump into that water," he said. "You ain't got no home, no bed, and don't even feel like you've got a country."
The Germans opened fire, but Mr. Doolittle miraculously got to the beach. His life jacket and uniform were torn to shreds from bullets, but none made a direct hit.
He fought his way up the cliffs and eventually through France and Germany. He was in the Battle of the Bulge, swam across the Rhine River, and marched into Berlin. Only he and two other commandos from his original unit made it through the war. For two incidents of extraordinary bravery, he was awarded the Silver Star and the Bronze Star.
"For some reason unknown to me," Doolittle said, "the good Lord allowed me to come back home to Edgefield. I don't consider myself a hero. None of us did. We just did our job the best we could for our country."
THE REV. DAN WHITE IS PASTOR OF NORTH COLUMBIA CHURCH IN MARTINEZ.