STILWELL - Stilwell residents John Nick Strauss and Quentin Reed Sr. both took part in the D-Day invasion 75 years ago - Strauss at sea, and Reed in the air.
Chief Machinist Mate Strauss with the U.S. Navy was on the USS Augusta, while Lt. Col. Reed, with the U.S. Air Force, was the pilot of a B-25 medium bomber.
Strauss was on board when the Augusta fired 51 rounds from its 8-inch main guns onto the shores of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Meanwhile, Reed was flying missions behind the lines, offering low-level support to troops.
Strauss would have a dignitary on board during D-Day: Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, who was using the Augusta as his flag ship. The Augusta was accustomed to having dignitaries on board, including British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Gen. George Patton, and Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
Strauss had seen his share of action aboard the Augusta, including Operation Torch off the coast of Africa, wherein it sank a pair of Vichy French destroyers. The Brestois and Boulonnais attempted a torpedo run from Casablanca on the Augusta. Strauss' ship sank the latter with her 8-inch guns and so damaged the former that it went back to port and sank the next day.
The American ship narrowly avoided being cut in two when the Vichy battleship Jean Bart took a shot from near the African coast and had the geysers land on either side of the Augusta. American carrier planes silenced the enemy ship.
Action continued for Strauss' ship at Normandy as it shelled the coast of Normandy and had another close call: a bomb falling 800 yards off the port beam on June 11. The Augusta would shoot down a German plane on June 13.
Strauss' ship would return to the Mediterranean and dock at Corsica, where Reed happened to be stationed.
The 488th Bombardment Squadron had been all over the area, in several bases in Tunisia supporting Allied ground forces in the Tunisian Campaign; it participated in the invasions of Sicily and Italy during 1943.
The group was stationed in Pompeii, Italy, when Mount Vesuvius erupted. No personnel were injured, but 70-80 planes were destroyed.
The 488th was then moved to Corsica supporting Allied ground forces with tactical bombing of enemy targets during D-Day, and later on bombing the south of France during Operation Dragoon.
Strauss was busy during Dragoon as the Augusta fired over 700 rounds at various forts and cities, including Marseille.
After V-E day, the 488th moved back to the U.S. and began training for the invasion of Japan, but the group disbanded after the Japanese surrender.
Truman received news of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima while on board the Augusta. The ship, which was awarded three battle stars, was decommissioned in July 1946, and sold for scrap in November 1959.
During World War II, Reed flew 55 combat missions. He received several honors while serving including the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with six oak leaf clusters, unit citation, European-African-Middle Eastern Theater ribbon with three Bronze Stars, and an Overseas Service Bar. Following his retirement, Reed and his family operated Reed's Hardware Store on Division Street in Stilwell.
Strauss had enlisted in the Navy in January 1941, and while on the USS Augusta, he had an up close and personal view of Operation Overlord's naval fleet, which was - and remains - the largest military armada ever assembled. It had 2,727 battleships, destroyers, minesweepers, cruisers and larger landing craft, along with 2,606 smaller landing craft at D-Day. In his later years, Strauss would say how he felt for the men landing on the beaches with the great loss of life and seeing the wounded and how terrible a day it was for them.
During his 63 months at sea, Strauss had seen action in the Atlantic Ocean as far north as the Arctic Circle and off the coast of Africa, in the Mediterranean Sea to support Operation Torch, and was in the English Channel firing support of the 150,000 D-Day invasion troops landing on the French coast. Strauss was very proud of his military service and witnessed much history, as the Augusta was a flag ship that transported many great men of the day.
Keith W. Neal is editor of the Stilwell Democrat-Journal.