In his Illustrated World War II Encyclopedia, the book's owner, Samuel Samples, 88, of Carbondale wrote on the inside cover, "I've run so fast, I've run over the enemy."

He was running plenty fast on June 6, 1944, during the Normandy invasion. An engineer in the Army amphibious forces, he was tasked with logistic responsibilities including moving munitions to infantrymen fighting to establish a foothold against Nazis entrenched in fortified bunkers.

The Chicago native was 18 when he enlisted. He was stationed in Dartmouth, England, and shipped out with troops as part of a landing-ship-tank convoy.

"We didn't know what to expect. The seas were rough. A lot of guys got sick," he said of the channel crossing.

There was fear of the enemy also as the Germans had prepared for war for more than a decade, and "here we were, a bunch of school kids," Samples said.

Samples remembers the ship dropping anchor off Utah Beach. Samples and his fellow servicemen went to work.

Navy swimmers made initial strikes and the Germans retaliated with what Samples described as "incredible machine gun fire."

Working on specially designed amphibious craft called “ducks” that floated atop the water and could reach speeds of 55 mph to 70 mph on land, Samples moved back and forth from beach to ship transporting supplies.

"I thought I was going to have to get out and swim a few times," he said.

But what he remembers most was the physical strain, meager rations and sleep deprivation.

"We couldn't sleep. Guys hadn't slept in two or three days. We had to get them supplies in," Samples said.

When he eventually returned to the United States and resumed a civilian life, Samples said he "didn't want to talk about the memories. I lost too many friends."

In his company of 179 men, only 39 survived. He remembers the mass graves dug in Normandy to bury the servicemen.

Seventy years later, Samples said he still has nightmares of being in the water and "somebody chasing me."

Johnny Key

 

Johnny Key of Mulkeytown served in the 2nd Infantry Division and also was a part of the D-Day invasion. His first son was born four days before he departed for basic training.

About the Normandy invasion, Key said, "It wasn't a very pleasant sight."

Germans had the initial advantage as they fired away from two-foot-thick bunkers at approaching Allied troops.

"They were killing us. We lost something like 980 lives just to get on the beach," Key said.

He remembers getting to shore by landing craft and as the tide turned for the Allied forces, eventually making progress inland across France.

There were some harrowing moments as Key suffered shrapnel wounds in 18 different places on his body. He remembers a buddy dying on a stretcher next to him.

"I've seen a lot of death. It's not a pleasant sight," Key said.

When Key returned home, he said he didn't talk about the war. His family urged him to seek rehabilitation and Key found his therapy through writing about his experiences.

In 2011, he joined with 52 other World War II veterans in a journey to the nation's capital to take part in a day of honor and remembrance.

In October, he journeyed to France to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial. He also received a Legion of Honor medal from the French government as a token of gratitude for his service at Normandy.

"I'm not a hero or celebrity. I just did the things I was told to do," Key said.

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