Local News

Cary vet remembers pivotal point in WWII

Posted April 23, 2014 7:13 p.m. EDT
Updated April 24, 2014 5:21 a.m. EDT

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."