Charlotte-area WWII vet opens up about horror of D-day

by: Greg Suskin Updated:

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MONROE, N.C. - Walter Dickens, of Monroe, will be 96 in August. He was surprised when reporters began calling his home this week, asking for interviews about one specific day of his life -- the day he landed on Normandy Beach in France. D-Day.

He's glad that people want to remember the day and commemorate those who sacrificed there. He can still picture the pounding of the German guns.

"They were above us, firing right into the water where we were at," Dickens said. "We had to try to get up to a bluff above the beach."

Dickens was an Army medic, charged with treating the soldiers all around him, dying in the water and on the sand. He remembers jumping out of the troop ships into the water offshore.

"We had to go into waist-deep water, and there were so many in front of us. Many bodies that were floating in the water. You had to push some of them, you know," Dickens said.

He said most of the morphine the medics desperately needed had sunk to the bottom on supply boats. He only had what was on him and what he managed to take from the bodies of dead soldiers.

Dickens paused during the interview and then said there was one memory more vivid, more haunting from that day than even the blast of gunfire. It was the screams of wounded men.

"The wounded, they were either praying or calling 'mama.' That sounds ring clear to me. Them calling for their mama," he said.

Dickens went back to France 40 years later, just like many more did Friday, on this 70th anniversary. He said the French people were grateful. He was touched that so many came up to him and thanked him. However, he winces at being called a hero. 
 
Dickens left the war for home in June of the following year. Two weeks after returning home he tried to put it all behind him and went to work at Carnation Milk Co., where he retired 37 years later. He and his wife have been married for 72 years.

Dickens doesn't care much for attention and wasn't thrilled about doing a TV interview, but he wants to make sure people never forget what freedom cost.

"It’s scary to me knowing how things have been and how they could be again if we don't wise up and know what freedom is," he said.

He and his wife still try to keep up with people they knew during the war, though they are losing many of them each year.