Local News

Cary vet remembers pivotal point in WWII

Posted April 23
Updated April 24

A local campaign called "Operation Omaha" is raising money to send Triangle World War II veterans to a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy at The National D-Day Memorial in Beford, Va. on June 6.

But as Hal Shook stands in his "Normandy Room," the 94-year-old retired colonel remembers June 6, 1944 vividly.

Commonly known as “D-Day,” the event marked the moment when American, Canadian and British troops stormed Normandy Beach in France, marking a pivotal point in World War II that helped propel allied forces to victory.

But keeping German air forces from thwarting Allied troops was anything but easy.

"The weather was stinkin'," Shook said. "The weather was terrible."

Despite the dreary conditions, more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft and 150,000 troops flooded the English Channel and some 50 miles of mine-ridden French beaches.

"The magnitude of this thing," Shook said. "It could have cost the lives of most, but by God it was worth it."

Shook was only 24 when he led his flight squadron in the largest land and sea invasion in history. The mission: surprise Adolf Hitler's forces with an astounding wave of force from water and sky to free France from Nazi control.

"I figured we got a job to do, and by God we're gonna do it – at all costs," he said.

Carrying out that job meant Shook was often in the line of enemy fire. He remembers his plane taking hits and having close calls, even watching two planes in his squadron exploding mid-air. But Shook said he always remained calm – keeping cool was the most important skill.

"If you lose your cool, that's all she wrote, baby," he said.

The Battle of Normandy lasted from June to August and caused more than 425,000 Allied and German casualties. But Shook said it was worth it – German forces surrendered one year later.

"These guys on the ground are a bunch of heroes," he said. "They deserve all the credit we can give them."

8 Comments

This story is closed for comments. Comments on WRAL.com news stories are accepted and moderated between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Oldest First
View all
  • tayled Apr 24, 11:59 a.m.

    Thank you sir and God bless!

  • baldchip Apr 24, 11:46 a.m.

    God bless you sir!! Thank you for being a true American hero!!

  • sinenomine Apr 24, 11:14 a.m.

    It's a shame we do such a poor job of educating our young. One person pointed out that with cursive writing no longer being taught students of today and tomorrow will no more be able to read the Constitution or Declaration of Independence than most people can read heiroglyphs. As regards WW II history one student about whom I read was so clueless he wondered whether Pearl Harbor was Japan's revenge for Hiroshima.

  • lec02572 Apr 24, 9:16 a.m.

    There is a reason his gerneration is called, "The Greatest Generation." Thank you and your fellow soldiers for what you did for the world. I don't know if today's generation could accomplish what you guys did.

  • sinenomine Apr 24, 9:05 a.m.

    These were the bravest of the brave. Thank them while you still have a chance. According to Rick Atkinson in "The Guns at Last Light" sometime in 2014 the number of surviving WW II vets will dip below one million. Atkinson goes on to say, by way of paraphrasing, that in about 2024 that number will have been reduced to less than 100,000 and by 2034 or thereabouts to around 400 - as he says (again paraphrasing) "less than half a WW II battalion". As he also said "No war is truly over until the last veteran dies."

  • ospreysilver Apr 24, 9:05 a.m.

    I really admired this generation. They seemed a lot tougher back then, took the loss of their loved ones and the soldiers returned as if coming back from a job vs. treated as hero's like we do today. We make movies of todays soldiers fighting and losing 3-100 men, but this was 20 minutes of fighting in WWI or II. We hold up Seal Team 6 as super soldiers, while there are a ton of uneducated farmers and even women snipers that fought during these wars that killed over 100 men a piece. Just think someone's grandma in Russia has killed more men than entire squads of our military today.

  • The Deadhead Apr 24, 8:17 a.m.

    Normandy gets all the attention. But the first "invasion" by the U.S. was Operation Torch in November 1942 on North Africa. And after the Germans (von Arnim) lost Tunisia, the allies hopped, skipped, and jumped across the Mediterranean to the invasion of Italy around September 1943. While pushing the Germans north, D-day pushed south and east and put Hitler et al in a sandwich he could not get out of, not to mention the Soviets pushing west.

  • JEIAKC Apr 24, 8:12 a.m.

    My late Grandfather was in the first wave, he watched the first 15 minutes of "Saving Private Ryan" and told us as he left the room that hollyweird did a nice, clean portrayal of the invasion. We can NEVER than that generation enough. Interestingly enough, Mamaw was in the second wave, a nurse, they met in Paris and the rest is history!!!