The World War II battle along a 50-mile stretch of France’s Normandy region was codenamed Operation Overlord, and it began on D-Day, June 6, 1944. About 160,000 American, British and Canadian soldiers landed at five beaches along the country’s northern coastline.
Among them was Jim Dover, 93, who was an Army paratrooper in World War II.
“Being a paratrooper was dangerous,” he said. “We took a chance. Some survived. Some didn’t. I was one who did, and I’m thankful for that.”
He remembers the days leading up to the invasion. They knew what they were facing, but they saw the threat of Adolph Hitler as more important than their own lives.
“You told all of your family and friends goodbye,” he said. “We didn’t really expect to survive. We did a lot of praying and crying. It wasn’t pleasant.”
Dover’s best friend, Carl West, was among those who didn’t make it.
“I don’t know if he jumped or if he went down with his plane,” said Dover. “That was the worst part of it.”
Dover trained at Georgia’s Camp Toccoa, which was featured in the book and HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Dover was in a different company than the one depicted in the book, but he said his own experience was similar.
“We had the same mission,” he said.
But Dover said it’s tough to watch the series.
“It brought back a lot of unpleasant memories,” he said.
D-Day was just the beginning for Dover, who fought in Europe until May 7, 1945 — a day he’ll never forget.
“The Germans surrendered on my 21st birthday,” he said.
After the war, Dover remained in the Army.
The North Carolina native had grown up on a farm, and that was a life he didn’t want to return to.
“I didn’t want to go back to looking at the rear end of a mule,” he said.
He served two tours in both the Korean and Vietnam wars, and he was wounded in action twice.
Vietnam was a different war than World War II. He said he didn’t feel the same sense of closeness to those he served with in Vietnam. And there were other differences.
“You didn’t know who the enemy was,” he said. “Our operations weren’t as effective as they had been in the past.”
While there are painful memories from his time in the military, Dover said there are some good ones.
“I went to Paris, Vienna and all over Europe. I went to Japan, Korea, Vietnam, Hawaii, the Wake Islands. I enjoyed a lot of it, and I met a lot of good people,” he said.
After retiring from the military in 1971, he opened an auto repair shop, which he said was more of a hobby than anything. He started collecting Model A Fords and restoring them.
“I have two real beauties,” he said. “Now, a lot of times we drive them in weddings and parades.”
Dover is a Shriner, a member of the Shade Tree As, and the Disabled American Veterans.