To commemorate the 61st anniversary of the Battle of Normandy, Harry Crouch, 84, of Compton Road in Clifton, came forward to tell his story. In his raspy yet eager voice, Crouch described the beginning of his perilous journey.
He had dropped out of high school to help his father on their farm; but when the United States entered WWII, he was forced to leave everything behind to defend his country. "I was drafted into the military," said Crouch. "I didn't want to go."
He recalls being loaded onto a military boat on June 5th, 1944, while his pregnant wife, Nena, and 4-year-old son, Raymond, waited patiently for his return. Crouch was part of the 357th Infantry Division that fought to thwart Hitler's campaigns against Europe, and the anti-Semitic genocide that ensued.
Deployed on June 6th, 1944 — his 23rd birthday — Crouch fought on the beaches of Normandy, France.
Now 84, he retells of D-Day from the eyes of a local citizen who fought through difficult times.
"I remember the beach being blood red," said Crouch. "So many people died [that] it turned the ocean red."
After being dropped off at Normandy, Crouch's ship left the shore only to be sunk upon its return the following day, stranding him in hostile territory.
"We couldn't go back to the ship," said Crouch. "The ship was gone. There was no turning back, and we were in the middle of no man's land."
Despite certain cinematic and literary depictions of the Battle of Normandy, in which it is fought and won in the course of a few hours, Crouch recalls accomplishing a much more laborious feat.
"We fought for three days before ever believing we had a solid hope of defeating the Germans [who controlled the beach]," said Crouch. To make matters worse, "most of the soldiers lost their equipment or ran out of supplies."
After fighting at Omaha Beach and Utah Beach in Normandy, Crouch continued marching with the 357th, 358th, and 359th Infantry Divisions. To avoid being discovered at night, he remembers sleeping in long-johns and covering nearby tanks with white sheets to blend in with the surrounding snow.
Though Crouch won medals for each of the battles in which he fought, including four bronze medals and one silver medal, he seems most proud of the fact that his entire group of four survived to see the end of WWII.
He eventually returned to his wife, son, and 11-month-old daughter, Ann. After the war, he went into the produce business, raising chickens on 5th and K Street in Washington, D.C.
Crouch still lives on the same piece of property in Clifton that he did during the war, a piece of property his family has owned since 1834; he intends on giving this land to his son.