Tippah vets share stories of invasion, other WWII tales

RIPLEY – J.T. Street remembers the harrowing D-Day landing 65 years ago when groups of four soldiers at a time were told to jump into more than 20 feet of water to make their way ashore at Omaha Beach. Street’s group was about midway, and as groups jumped he never saw any of them bob back to the top of the water. Carrying field packs that weighed about 125-150 pounds and wearing two layers of uniforms, Street said if a soldier sat down or fell down, he needed help to get up. “I dropped my pack just as it was my turn to jump,” Street said. “I figured they’d rather have me alive on shore to fight.” As he was swept away from the vessel by the current, Street heard the explosion of his landing craft taking a direct hit from German fire, and saw “arms, legs and body parts flying through the air.” He was the only one of his group of 34 to make it ashore. Veterans honored Dozens of people attended a 65th anniversary commemoration of D-Day, three days after the actual anniversary, at Springdale Baptist Church on Tuesday to honor the contributions and sacrifices of Tippah County’s soldiers during World War II. Street and fellow veteran Ausbin Hurt shared the realities of war, giving those years and experiences new meaning, while Randy Roberts displayed many years’ accumulation of World War II memorabilia. Five other World War II veterans attended the event and were recognized: Simpson Street, Sewell Gunn, Grady Meeks, Thomas McBride and Lon Pickens. “I was scared,” said Street, now 85. “Anybody who wasn’t scared wasn’t there.” From the landing at Omaha Beach for the invasion of Normandy to the Battle of the Bulge, and through many campaigns before and after those, Street narrowly missed becoming a casualty of the war. Street graduated from high school in Tippah County as a young 18-year-old, having grown up on a farm in the county. “On graduation day I received a letter from FDR welcoming me to serve the government,” he said. That was the spring of 1942, and two weeks later he was at Camp Shelby. He and the late Malcolm Travis Hurt, who died in the war – younger brother to Ausbin Hurt – had been friends even before they were sent to Camp Shelby together. By late 1943 he was sent with his 1st Army 3rd Armored Division to Birmingham, England. “We set up the first base post office and supply depot, then after Christmas went on to Belfast, Ireland, where we set up a post office and supply depot again,” Street said. By March 1944 Street was back in England, where he was involved in secret training in the English Channel for the D-Day invasion for months beforehand. The invasion was originally planned for June 2, 1944, but the action was called off due to bad weather and choppy waters. His group of 34 soldiers had been training to be put ashore at Utah Beach, and they had been prepared with week after week of training film. In the heat of battle, however, those plans changed. For nearly a year after D-Day, Street survived to fight the battles in which so many lost their lives: Patton’s breakthrough of the German lines at the Cherbourg Peninsula, the bombing of Saint-Lo, the Battle of the Bulge. When the German Army surrendered in May 1945, Street was one of only four soldiers immediately eligible to go home because of their accrued “points” in battle. On May 30, 1945, he was personally greeted and commended by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower: “You were all the way with us. I want you to know from the bottom of my heart how much I appreciate what you’ve done.” Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or lena.mitchell@djournal.com. More information: Plan a program for your school or club – J.T. Street: (662) 837-9553 – Share experiences of World War II. Randy Roberts (662) 587-6077 – World War II memorabilia collection.

Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal