D-DAY VET­ERAN RE­CALLS THE CHAOS OF OMAHA BEACH

Ed­i­tor’s Note: To­day is the fi­nal day of an eight-day se­ries hon­or­ing lo­cal heroes.

Chattanooga Times Free Press - - FRONT PAGE - BY MARK KENNEDY STAFF WRITER

As a 19-year-old Army pri­vate on D-Day dur­ing World War II, Rus­sell Pick­ett re­mem­bers be­ing hud­dled in the back of an as­sault boat wait­ing to land on the beach at Nor­mandy in north­ern France.

Pick­ett, a 93-year-old Soddy-Daisy res­i­dent, says he was armed with a flamethrower on June 6, 1944. His job was to cross sev­eral hun­dred yards of beach to take out a Ger­man pill­box, a for­ti­fied con­crete gun-house over­look­ing the area the al­lied com­man­ders had dubbed Omaha Beach.

To­day, Pick­ett, who was reared in the Fall­ing Water com­mu­nity and later be­came a well-known elec­tron­ics re­pair­man in Soddy-Daisy, still has a re­mark­able mem­ory of the al­lied in­va­sion on D-Day.

His weapon and other com­bat gear weighed about 110 pounds, he says, or more than two-thirds of his body weight. As they ap­proached the beach in a Bri­tish boat, the sol­diers hud­dled near the back to help lift the nose of the craft in the shal­low surf.

“We didn’t make it, though” Pick­ett re­called. “We got knocked out just be­fore we touched down. … I’m not sure if we hit some­thing, or some­thing hit us.”

Pick­ett re­mem­bers a deep rum­ble fol­lowed by a hole ap­pear­ing in one side of the boat.

The next thing he knew he was in the water, some­how stripped of his flamethrower by the force of the ex­plo­sion. Help­less and un­able to walk due to a back in­jury, he wit­nessed the car­nage un­fold­ing on the beach as thou­sands died in the as­sault.

“I was able to see too much,” he said now, more than 74 years later. “Way too much.”

To this day, Pick­ett won­ders how things might have been dif­fer­ent if he and his bud­dies had been able to help take out the Ger­man ma­chine guns that rained down fire on the beach.

As it hap­pens, Pick­ett was even­tu­ally evac­u­ated back to Eng­land. And it was not the last time he would be in­jured.

Af­ter a week of hos­pi­tal­iza­tion, he was able to walk well enough to be sent back into the fight­ing. As the al­lied troops fought to lib­er­ate the city of Saint-Lo, Pick­ett joined a for­ward unit just as it en­coun­tered 25 to 30 ad­vanc­ing Ger­man sol­diers. In the re­sult­ing fight­ing, Pick­ett was hit by grenade shrap­nel in his left arm.

“They got me bad,” he re­calls. “I couldn’t stop the bleed­ing.”

This time he was sent to Eng­land for 21 days, be­fore re­join­ing the front lines dur­ing the bat­tle for the French port of Brest. He was in a fox­hole when an en­emy shell col­lapsed an earthen wall on top of him. He only re­mem­bers wak­ing up in Eng­land in a state of shell shock. “My nerves were com­pletely gone,” he says.

Dur­ing treat­ment, Pick­ett said he nearly died. Twice, he re­mem­bers awak­en­ing to the sight of a “death cur­tain” drawn around his bed, only to re­move it him­self. With three se­ri­ous in­juries, Pick­ett was el­i­gi­ble to be sent home to the United States, but he begged to stay in Eng­land, not want­ing to re­turn state­side un­til af­ter the fight­ing was over.

Af­ter the war ended, Pick­ett even­tu­ally set­tled into a ca­reer as a ra­dio and tele­vi­sion re­pair­man, but he never stopped help­ing fel­low vet­er­ans. In re­cent decades, Pick­ett was trained as a Vet­er­ans Ser­vice Of­fi­cer to help other vets re­ceive their gov­ern­ment ben­e­fits and ser­vices.

In 1994, Pick­ett re­turned to Nor­mandy for the 50th an­niver­sary of the D-Day in­va­sion, and again in 1999 to help par­tic­i­pate in the form­ing of an ed­u­ca­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion called the Nor­mandy Al­lies. His per­sonal World War II story is part of the script shared with stu­dents vis­it­ing the bat­tle site, and the con­crete pill­box is still in place.

“I was able to see too much. Way too much.” – RUS­SELL L. PICK­ETT

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