PEEKING INTO THE PAST – D-Day – 80th anniversary

The following two stories were compiled by historian Lewis Bramlett to mark the 80th anniversary of D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.

Several years ago, Tom Blalock shared the following account of his father’s experience as a paratrooper during the D-Day invasion in June of 1944.

“It’s 10 p.m. Eastern time. 0300 06 JUN 44 in England.
CPL Newell D. Blalock along with sixteen others of the HHC, 1st BN, 507th PIR, 82nd ABN along with four air crewmen and 1175 pounds of ammunition are about to exit their aircraft, C-47 42-92838 J7 after a brief flight across the English Channel from England to France.

Newell Blalock

Their objective, to take the bridge la Fiere Bridge near Sainte Mere Eglise, France. Set up a blocking force to prevent German Panzer units from reinforcing German troops as American soldiers would be landing on the coast.

After being amazed at the anti-aircraft fire exploding around them as they floated to the ground then realizing they could get killed before even landing, they refocused on the objective ahead. Once on the ground, they were so scattered from troops in the company they married up with units from the 505th PIR to stall the Panzer advance.

The rag-tag units held together and fought gallantly at a high price. The 507th suffered more losses and wounded than any other ABN unit. So decimated, CPL Blalock was promoted to SSG in the pre-dawn darkness of June 6, placed in charge of a machine gun platoon. As the fighting raged and more Germans advanced the unit was forced to withdraw and take refuge in Sainte Mere Eglise.

They placed their wounded in the local church where a priest and other villagers cared for the wounded. The others were forced to withdraw and left the wounded to be taken and cared for by the Germans per the Geneva Accords. This was not to happen. The Germans murdered the wounded and the priest and others that cared for them. This was clearly war crimes. SSG Blalock pressed on.

6JUN into the battle, 11JUN he turned 21, 14JUN he was wounded. He was returned to his unit on 14AUG.

Gen. Eisenhower asked them before taking off from England to give him three hard days of fighting and they would be pulled back. Three days would be stretched into three months.

SSG Blalock continued through the war to what is known as the Battle of the Bulge, the coldest winter on record at that time. SSG Blalock suffered frostbite and was hospitalized. The weather, not the Germans, took him out of the war.

Thank you, Dad, and the others, of the 507th for saving the world. Let us remember what they fought for and be willing to fight for it again.

Your son, Tom.”

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Clarence Burns Clark was born March 11, 1921, and grew up in Stanly County. He graduated from Badin High School with the 11th grade class in 1938 and then went to Albemarle High School for a final year of school where he graduated in 1938.

Clarence Burns Clark

Clark attended several years at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before enlisting in the Army on June 20, 1942. The following year, while stationed at Bowman, Kentucky, he married Naomi Smith on June 7, 1943.

The Aug. 11, 1944 edition of the Stanly News & Press ran a short article that shared about Clark receiving the Air Medal from the Army Air Force. It was awarded “in recognition of meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight in the European theater of operations during the recent invasion.”

Clark had participated in the D-Day invasion of Normandy as a “troop carrier glider pilot.”

Gliders, such as those flown by Clark, have been referred to as “flying coffins.” According to a 2012 article by the American Society of Engineers, they were “engineless and unarmed and overcame perilous odds to make the first cracks in Hitler’s Fortress Europe.”

During the D-Day invasion they were used to transport troops and material behind enemy lines.

I don’t know what happened to Clark after the war, but he and his wife later had four sons.

Clarence Burns Clark passed away on Aug. 18, 1985, while living in Texas.