Just like many history textbooks, Jack C. Vineyard, a wounded war veteran who fought during the Invasion of France in World War II has detailed accounts of this battle. Even though he is growing in age, as he is soon to be 88, his memory is as vivid as any picture portrayed in history. Along with the documented events were his personal experiences that one can only enjoy in person, and that I did.
Jack was born on June 30, 1924 in Missouri, but at a young age was placed in an orphanage until the age of 12. This didn’t bother him as he is one to never complain, but he did always hold the desire to have a family of his own.
Shortly after graduating and at the age of 20, Jack joined the Army and became part of the 9th Infantry, Regent Company F of the 60th Regiment. His first mission after training was on June 6, 1944 in South Hampton, France where the Allies, now including the United States, among others, were attempting an Invasion on France to liberate Europe from Germany. American General Dwight D. Eisenhower commanded the invasion with a huge army to be placed at Normandy Beach, which is located on the northwest coast of France – Code-named “Operation Overlord”. Jack along with hundreds of other soldiers were placed on land barges to float across the English Channel to one of five beaches. He along with 18-20 other soldiers were instructed to arrive on Utah Beach.
Jack recalls the front gate of the landing craft being let down too early leaving him and his two friends to be neck-deep in water as they waded for miles to reach their designated point, all while dodging bullets. Many were killed and wounded with only eight surviving, making it to their rendezvous. He mentioned the difficulty he and one of two friends had in carrying the other of the three to shore due to his lack of height – hands under the armpits.
It took several days to walk inland to a town called Ste Mere-Eglise on Utah Beach, so a break was allowed every hour. At one point, Jack decided to lean against a concrete/brick fence. As he looked up he noticed a paratrooper hanging from a church steeple. He knew he couldn’t have been there for more than a day.
If you visit Ste. Mere-Eglise today, you will see a dummy in a paratrooper outfit hanging by his parachute from the steeple of the church as it commemorates the story of Private Steele, portrayed by Red Buttons in the movie, The Longest Day. Private Steele landed on the church during the middle of the airborne invasion on D-Day just a day before Jack looked up.
Jack was now in a platoon replenished with 19-20 soldiers that were headed to Cherbourg. They were faced at the head of a bunker to take on over 200 German soldiers with guns. The Germans were unwilling to fire many shots as most were Polish, which Jack thought was humorous. They took them as prisoners.
Once they arrived at the final destination on Utah Beach, all soldiers were allowed to take a quick shower after the many days of traveling through water and muck and given a new uniform. Many didn’t fit as they were handed whatever uniforms were available. Wounded soldiers were then replaced by more for the next task at hand. The time frame was now around June 27th.
After marching through the hills of France through St. Lo and on into Caen, a small farming community, Jack was hit with the hardest realization of war- that in fact, one can become injured or lose his life. While here, he witnessed the loss of a fellow soldier whose body remained in fighting position, gun in hand, with no head in tact after being targeted by a tanker.
Also, on July 12, as Jack was walking through an apple orchard, he was hit by a sniper rifle directly in the jaw, ripping and tearing much of his flesh off of one side. No doubt in shock, but still alive, Jack remained calm and immediately began reaching for the first aid kit that he carried as well as another he had obtained from the soldier previously mentioned. He began packing his mouth with gauze, took shelter behind a hedge row and began doing the only thing he knew to do since birth – pray. He prayed to the Father, only to mention the family he dearly desired to have one day. If Jack hadn’t been climbing over a stump of a fallen apple tree at the time, he believes he would have taken the bullet to the head, leaving him as yet another casualty of war.
This left Jack in a military hospital to recover. He made improvements and was later transferred back home flying into New York.
Now on U.S. soil, Jack was treated like every soldier coming home from war and given two phone calls. Of course, Jack’s first call was made to his mother, who the day before had received word that he had passed away serving his country. As you can imagine, she was thrilled, but in disbelief in hearing his voice.
The second of the two calls was the answer to Jack’s prayers. He had asked to make a call to a girl he liked while attending school in Arizona. Her number was found and by impulse, Jack called. He asked to visit her and needless to say, the rest is history. They eventually married and had six children.
Jack is a prime example that God has a plan, yet, the story doesn’t end here.
Jack has always held a deep desire to travel back to the place where a portion of his life ended, but yet another journey began – the apple orchard.
Even though Jack was not able to return with his first wife as she passed away, nor his second wife as they married too late in life, he was able to take a trip down memory lane with his son, daughter-in-law and grandson earlier this year. It was a definite treat for all.
Emotion began to build in the deeply-lined creases of Jack’s face as he talked of his return.
Even though Jack is considered legally blind, he was able to see everything as clear as the mental picture so deeply etched in his mind after all these years. And for his son, it was like the fine details on a painting, it put in perspective the stories which his dad had told all these years.
Time moves forward, but history remains. And although most things become memories only to fade, Jack’s love for fish and chips didn’t!
As Independence Day is upon us, think of every firework as being a bullet shot, be forever grateful for veterans like Jack, who stood strong in victory!
I enjoyed listening as if almost reading what I consider to be the pages placed in the chapters of Jack’s life.
By looking at his face, one would never know of his war journey, but one would soon realize of his blessings by the smile he constantly carries. I am glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to meet him. Thank you, Jack! Still interested in your book!