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D-Day veterans gather, remember

July 20, 2002|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Storming the Normandy Beach on D-Day 58 years ago, Isaac Everts found some advantages to being the driver of a command halftrack.

The enemy was shooting at the Sherman tanks in the water, not at the halftrack.

"If they did, they didn't hit it," said Everts, 85, of St. Thomas, Pa.

On Friday, Everts and fellow members of the 741st Tank Battalion recounted war stories at the Four Points Sheraton in Hagerstown where about 25 members are holding a three-day reunion.

One of those stories finally was told by the source Friday.

Paul Ragan, 81, of Bainbridge, Ga., said the first two Sherman tanks off the Landing Craft Tank he was aboard sank. When waves lifted the LCT, the remaining three tanks onboard collided, ripping the canvas floatation device around Ragan's Sherman tank.

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Knowing the tank would sink if the LCT dropped it off there - at least 5,000 yards from shore - Ragan ordered the LCT skipper to move closer to shore.

"He didn't want to," Ragan said. "I convinced him that he should. I had a pistol on my side and I just motioned to him that I would use it if it was necessary."

The skipper took them further in where the water was about waist deep and the tank dismounted, Ragan said.

Everts' halftrack was the first vehicle in the 741st tank battalion to hit the beach on D-Day - June 6, 1944 - around 6:30 a.m., he said.

While the LCTs dropped the duplex-drive Sherman tanks off in deeper waters, another LCT went up near the bluff where Everts could drive the command halftrack into shallower water.

"It wasn't very deep. It just barely came in the door," he said.

When the halftrack hit the beach, Everts said, he immediately jumped out and pulled the tape off the motor's breather so the halftrack could run on land. The tape kept out water.

"By that time, (Lt. Col. Robert N.) Skaggs was out walking down the beach on the sand," Everts said.

In addition to Everts and Skaggs, the halftrack carried three radio operators.

The men estimated 21 tanks from the 741st made it to shore.

Many more didn't.

Phil Fitts and Bill Merkert each escaped from sinking tanks, eventually to hospital ships. They never reached Normandy Beach that day, but they fought later.

"It was hard to keep track of everybody that day," said Merkert, 82, of Kokomo, Ind.

Everts stayed with the halftrack on the beach until that night when they were able to move up the hill.

"It was a long day," Everts said.

"It was hell," Ragan said.

"I believe it was worse than that," Everts said.

Leonard Trimpe said the driver of the old tank retriever he was in couldn't see where he was going because the periscope was underwater.

"So I stuck my head out the top, telling him where to go to miss the bodies and stuff and debris," said Trimpe, 82, of Seymour, Ind.

Everts said he was not wounded in the war, but came close to losing his life.

Around Sept. 30, 1944, the battalion was in Germany near the Ziegfeld line when another soldier sitting in Everts' seat, Donald Mominy from Detroit, was killed by shrapnel.

Nelson Hall, 80, of Salt Lake City, said he joined Everts' halftrack six days after D-Day when two men onboard had been injured.

The Battle of the Bulge in December 1944 was "just another day," Everts said. His command halftrack stayed with the tanks.

During the war, Everts sometimes set up command posts in vacant houses, stringing wire from the halftrack so the radios could operate.

"I had to go out every so often and start (the halftrack) to keep the radio from dying," he said.

Asked if he enlisted in the Army, Everts responded emphatically, "No!"

The Fulton County native was living in Big Cove Tannery when he was drafted, entered the service on Jan. 7, 1942, and was sent to various U.S. military bases before heading overseas for the D-Day Invasion. He remained overseas until May 8, 1945, after Germany surrendered.

After the war, Everts returned to Big Cove Tannery. He traveled throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia building power plants and started a family with his new wife, Leona Lake, who died in 1988.

Around 1951, the family moved from Big Cove Tannery to a farm in Fort Littleton in northern Fulton County. In 1965, they moved to St. Thomas in Franklin County.

Everts' oldest daughter, Shirley Gordon, has accompanied her father to his reunions for about 20 years. This is the fourth time she has hosted the reunion, which rotates among the members' hometown areas.

Gordon, 55, of Needmore, Pa., visited Normandy Beach with her parents in 1987 on a reunion tour.

"In school, it was boring," Gordon said. "After that trip to Europe with them, I understand a lot and have all the respect in the world for these guys."

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