Remembering D-Day: Birmingham resident’s father fought at Normandy, lived to tell the tale

Remembering D-Day: Birmingham resident’s father fought at Normandy, lived to tell the tale
Uncommon bravery was displayed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 1944 – a deciding moment in World War II that proved the Allies' tenacity in keeping Europe free. Charles Webster, a Birmingham, Alabama, resident, served in the Army's 1st U.S. Infantry Division. From Webster's 14-man squad, only he and one other soldier survived the D-Day battle. For his courage on the battlefield, Webster was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery, which is treasured by his only son. (R. Webster)

Seventy-five years ago, American servicemen fought on the beaches of Normandy to retain U.S. freedom, and that of Europe, in the D-Day invasion.

Most of the U.S. servicemen who fought the Germans on June 6, 1944, have died. But their valor remains in the hearts and minds of Americans as they remember and honor the great exploits of bravery that allowed the U.S. and Europe to remain free.

Such is the case for Rick Webster, who took time to honor his father, Charles Edward Webster, a U.S. Army serviceman who fought on the beaches of Normandy and lived to tell about it.

Rick Webster, a Birmingham retiree, said that his father didn’t often talk about his time in combat, and rarely showed off the Bronze Star he won for bravery at D-Day. It was the perhaps the remembrance of difficult times and the deaths of his comrades in arms that made the elder Webster refrain from discussing World War II.

Webster holds his father’s Bronze Star, won for heroic service on D-Day. (R. Webster)

The eldest son in a family of 11 children, Charles Webster began working at 14, driving a delivery truck. He was drafted into the U.S. Army shortly after turning 22 years old. Webster married his sweetheart, Louella, on Jan. 11, 1942.

Webster was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division, nicknamed the “Big Red One.” When he arrived in England, the Army made him a cook.

“He knew that he could cook well, so my Dad volunteered because he could cook good food, and he didn’t trust the other guys to cook,” Rick Webster said, with a chuckle.

D-Day arrives

Webster was in England for about four months before the U.S. invasion into Normandy, France.

The men would go on drills, “just like it was the real thing,” Webster said. “They’d go out to the English Channel and come back. They did this many times. The way my dad knew that they were really going was, finally one day, the Army took all of their personal effects – their wallets, money and pictures. They only had their dog tags on to identify them.

“My Dad kept a picture of my Mom and hid it in the lining of his helmet,” Webster said.

The red ‘1’ represents World War II service in the ‘Big Red One,’ the 1st Infantry Division. (R. Webster)

The next morning, Charles Webster’s squad went out. It was so foggy on Omaha Beach that the men could barely see.

“Bombs were falling around them, and there were snipers firing at them,” Rick Webster said. “They let the men out at the front of the boats. My dad saw several of the men drown, because the water wasn’t as shallow as they had thought it would be.”

It took a long time for the Army men to get established at the beach. They were pinned down for a long while. Every man – even Webster, the company cook – was outfitted with a gun for protection and a 3-foot-long shovel to dig trenches.

“My dad asked God, ‘If I’m going to die, make it quick,’” Webster said. “They’d never done anything like that in Europe during the war. Out of 14 men in his squad, only my dad and one other guy survived.

“My dad never was never injured or shot,” he said. “He got malaria at one point, and once he had a really bad ear infection in Egypt.”

Webster was in occupied Germany until the war ended, returning stateside in October 1945. Webster, who was born on Dec. 22, 1919,  would have turned 100 years old this year. He and Louella were married for 46 years before he succumbed to cancer. The couple had five children – four daughters and a son – and Webster’s legacy continues through eight grandchildren, 11 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild.

“My dad carried the picture of my mom all the way through Europe,” Webster said.

That photo remains in a drawer with the Bronze Star medal that bears remembrance to a father’s valor, 75 years ago.

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