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As D-day anniversary approaches, survivor recounts vivid memories

Posted May 15

Joe Dickerson nearly died twice in 1944 – first from a near drowning and then from shrapnel.

Dickerson, 91, a retired U.S. Army sergeant, was at Omaha Beach during the Normandy campaign – the largest amphibious invasion in history. The offensive, known as D-Day, was the turning point for Allied forces in World War II.

Born and raised in eastern North Carolina, Dickerson, then a 20-year-old, led a group of 30 men into battle – many one or two years younger than him.

“They dropped the gate and there were so many getting killed going out the front that I hollered and told them to go over the side of the boat,” he said.

That decision saved several lives but, at 5 feet 7 inches and 110 pounds, nearly ended his.

“I went over the side of the boat and when I did, I went to the bottom,” he said. “I had 60 pounds on me and the water was over my head. Two men were with me...they were 6 feet (tall). If it weren't for them I wouldn't be here today. They pull at my shoulders and pulled me up to keep my head above water.”

Dickerson made it to shore, but then had to make it to the base of the cliffs.

“That was a long 400 yards,” he said.

He crawled inch by inch, his bayonet in front of him while he searched for land mines. Dickerson and two of his men made it to the cliffs, but many were left behind.

“We decided we had to go back and help the guys hurt in the water...so bad,” he said.

Dickerson made the trip back to the water, passing dead and mortally wounded soldiers along the way.

Fourteen of his men didn’t make it.

“Holding a young soldier that was dying...asking for his...mother,” Dickerson said. “’I want,’ he said...’to see...my mother.’ All you could tell him was ‘someday you'll see your mother.’ That was the worst part of it...I think about that often.”

Dickerson was wounded by shrapnel the next day. He was injured three more times en route to, and during, the Battle of the Bulge.

He received four Purple Hearts for his injuries.

The medals, along with many others, are hanging on a wall in his Hertford County home. The more recent came from the French government three months ago.

Dickerson has returned to Normandy several times, the last in 1979. He brought back sand from Omaha Beach.

He uses that sand at the funerals of his Army friends.

“When they say dust to dust and ashes to ashes, I pour this sand on the casket,” he said. “I’m glad I brought it back.”

Operation Omaha is sponsoring a free trip for veterans to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va. on June 6 to mark the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

The Triangle group will leave Raleigh on Thursday, June 5 at 1 p.m. and return the following evening. Transportation, hotel accommodations and meals will be provided. Each veteran will be accompanied by a guardian. Family members between 21-65 are encouraged to accompany their vet and the guardian. The trip is funded through donations.

First priority will be given to veterans who participated in the Normandy campaign between June 6, 1944 and August 31, 1944.

14 Comments

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  • Hippy_mom May 16, 3:54 p.m.

    God bless Joe Dickerson.

  • glarg May 16, 3:10 p.m.

    Amazing guy!

    Hoping that my schedule permits a trip to Bedford to see the ceremony.

  • vitodee1 May 16, 12:11 p.m.

    God bless you sir! We appreciate your sacrifice. Glad to see you're still going strong at 91!

  • Wake1 May 16, 11:49 a.m.

    Let us never forget the sacrifices they made for this great country!!!

  • Grand Union May 16, 10:34 a.m.

    My Father landed a week or so after D Day, and being a future farmer one thing he noticed was all the dead animals in the fields, all blown up and rotting. Luckily he came through France, Belgium (where he met my Mum) and into Germany without a scratch, he drove a truck so wasn't right on the frontlines, only to be knocked and have his leg broken by an American driving a Jeep!
    Ending Hitlers Rule was probably the best thing that happened in the 20th Century and the landing on Day was one of the most important parts of doing that.
    Without it we would have still beaten him but the Russians would have got a lot further west before we did.

  • NativeNC0ne May 16, 10:31 a.m.

    Joe, thank you and the brave men with you for your sacrifices for our freedom. We owe you our deepest gratitude for our way of life and the rights we enjoy. We love you Joe!

  • mcorson2 May 16, 9:26 a.m.

    Mr. Dickerson, God Bless you! You are a true Hero, My uncle was there and past many years ago., He told some stories as well. its hard to sit and listen to what happened and the lives that were lost and how brave our men were. Thank You for your Service...

  • sinenomine May 16, 8:57 a.m.

    Author Rick Atkinson said in “The Guns at Last Light” that sometime in 2014 the number of surviving WW II vets will dip below one million. By 2024, he said, there will be around 100,000 left. By 2034 their numbers will have been reduced to around 400 or, as he said, about half a battalion. Atkinson also said that no war is ever truly over until the last veteran dies. These men were the bravest of the brave and they should be cherished and thanked while we, the unborn for whom they fought, still have the chance.

  • mbsheisey May 16, 8:48 a.m.

    We owe these men a debt that we can never repay.

  • Union Cavalry May 16, 8:44 a.m.

    Mr. Dickerson--any US veteran who reads this article knows that you are a true hero to your country. We honor your service and sacrifice and we salute you!
    A US Army Vietnam veteran

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