Thursday marks 75 years since one of the most monumental events in human history, and James Brown of Warner Robins was a part of it.
Brown, 94, was a Coast Guard seaman on D-Day, assigned to the USS Bayfield, the command ship for the Utah Beach landing at Normandy. Brown helped launch 1,000 soldiers in landing craft that were the first on the beach.
“We just hoped and prayed the Lord would watch over them and they would get their job done,” Brown said.
He couldn’t see much of what was happening on the beach, but he did see the injured and bodies coming back on the boats.
“It was heartbreaking,” he said.
He also saw shells from the heavy German guns coming toward his ship. One struck it, but didn’t cause significant damage.
In the months leading up to the invasion, which spelled the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany, the Allied forces held maneuvers to practice it. When his ship went out in the early morning hours of June 6, Brown said he and his crew mates thought they were just going on another maneuver.
They didn’t know it was the real thing, he said, until they got to the beach and heard the guns firing.
Brown, as it turned out, would go on to see quite a bit of World War II. Because his ship was one of the few with the ability to launch personnel carriers, he was involved with four major invasions.
After D-Day he was a part of a second invasion in southern France. They later sailed to the Pacific and launched boats for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
He grew up in Mississippi, the son of a “one-horse farmer” who was a Navy veteran of World War I. When Brown graduated high school, he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps and join the Navy, but he was 17 at the time and needed his father’s permission. His father wouldn’t let him.
His father did agree to let him join the Coast Guard, thinking that would be relatively safe.
“We didn’t know that in time of war, the Coast Guard becomes part of the Navy,” Brown said.
After the war, Brown worked as an industrial machinist. He moved to Warner Robins 13 years ago because his wife has family here.
He has been battling health problems, particularly with his heart, and wasn’t sure he would live to see the 75th anniversary of D-Day. He had a heart valve replacement in Atlanta on Tuesday, a surgery serious for anyone, but especially for a 94-year-old.
Brown had asked that it be postponed until after the anniversary but doctors said it needed to be done now. He gave an interview to The Telegraph last week before the surgery.
His wife, Pam Spence, texted on Tuesday that the operation went well.
Brown said last week it’s hard for him to contemplate that it’s been 75 years since D-Day.
“I just look back on it sometimes and think, ‘Did I really go through all of that,’” he said. “I’m just thankful the Lord brought me through it.”