As D-day anniversary approaches, survivor recounts vivid memories
Posted May 15, 2014
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.