Local veterans reflect on Normandy invasion

Seventy years ago today, hundreds of thousands of Americans embarked on perilous voyages and flights across the English Channel, knowing they may never return, but that their actions could make the world a better and safer place to live.

Hundreds of soldiers who have called Logan County home over the years were among those who risked their lives in the days and months that followed the D-Day invasion.

In 2001, 45 Logan County soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy in the first 90 days and returned from combat afterward were awarded France’s Jubile de la Liberte Medal.

Others were among those who played critical support roles in the skies above Normandy or the coastal waters where the infantry and tank divisions were deployed.

Countless others, including 34-year-old Zanesfield resident Charles Tallman, the first of Logan County’s sons to die in the Normandy invasion, gave their lives for the cause.

Seventy years later, few of those that returned remain, as the passage of time continues to wear on members of the Greatest Generation.

Meril Huffman of the North Lewisburg area and Robert MacDonald of Russells Point, however, are still willing to share their stories with those who care to listen.

Both men arrived within days of the main landing, making their way inland to clear out the German forces that had occupied France.

Here are their stories.



A tank full of French memories


Even at age 90, Meril Huffman says landing in Normandy just days after the first wave of Allied forces had secured the beaches is an experience he could never forget.



“It’s certainly something I’ll never forget,” he said as he reflected back on his days as a tank operator with the 735th Tank Battalion, which arrived in Normandy on June 8, 1944.

He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and would remain in Europe beyond the end of the war in the European Theater, playing a role in the liberation of Paris, crossing the Rhine River into Germany and learning of Germany’s surrender at the Czechoslovakian border.


Mr. Huffman, who grew up operating farm equipment on his family’s farm near West Liberty, was selected as a tank operator after basic training at Ft. Lewis, Wash.


Early in the draft process, he met two other Logan County men — Cary Whaley of Bellefontaine and Bob Riley of Middleburg — whose service would be integrally tied to his own.


“We bonded in Columbus and we stayed that way,” said Mr. Huffman, who now lives between Middleburg and North Lewisburg. “I didn’t know either one of them before that but we would be together the whole time.”


The trio was later sent to England, where they spent six months before the advance into western Europe began. They took a transport boat across the English Channel just two days after the fighting began.


“I’ll never forget that first day,” Mr. Huffman said, recounting a story of how just hours after their arrival the company stopped for a moment and he got out of the tank and took off his shirt.


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On the shoulders of heroes


Robert MacDonald insists he is no hero.


His time in Normandy was brief, he says. He only did what millions of other American and Allied soldiers were called upon to do.


The heroes, the Russells Point veteran says, are the men like Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower who had to make the decisions to risk the massive casualties that were certain to come with a full-scale assault upon the most heavily fortified beaches of Western Europe.


But when Gen. Eisenhower held his head in agony at the thought of sending thousands of soldiers into combat knowing certain death faced many of them, he knew he was the one standing on the shoulders of heroes.


And in his brief time in France, Mr. MacDonald, 94, was one of those thousands of heroes that would make the D-Day invasion the turning point of World War II.


“I didn’t do anything different than millions of men of my generation did,” the veteran said. “I don’t want to be a hero. I just did my job.”


Mr. MacDonald was called to serve in the earliest rounds of the drafts, entering the Army in September 1941, prior to the Pearl Harbor attacks that drew the United States into the war.


“The country was terribly divided at the time,” he said. “Some people thought we should get involved and others were screaming that we should stay out of Europe’s wars.


“Then Pearl Harbor happened, which was the dumbest thing that could have come along in terms of warfare. The next day there were lines across the street of men waiting to enlist.”


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