Charles Wilson, a member of the 4th Infantry Division, gave this speech on June 5th, 2015 at the 71st International D-Day Commemorations where I was honored to be the Master of Ceremony. His speech, which you can read below, if a reminder of how important it is to fight for freedom around the world. - Rudy Passera, Founder and Interprative Guide of Normandy American Heroes.
My name is Charles E. Wilson from Carlisle, Kentucky and I am a Veteran of World War II. I am 89 years old, and was just 18 years old in 1943 when I registered for the draft.
I was contacted three days later and told that I would be sent for a physical examination to become a soldier in the United States Army from 1943 until the end of the war.
We lived on the fast-track during Basic Training at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After training I was sent to England where I was assigned to the 4th Infantry Division just five days before D-Day invasion of Normandy.
The French people became free in a few hours. At the end of the day, if they were brave enough, they could go back to the beach area for the first time in a long period of time.
The 4th Infantry Division was never allowed to slow down any. After we had cleared Utah Beach in Normandy, we were sent on to liberate Cherbourg. I was sent up to the front as a forward observer, helping keep the infantry safe by directing artillery when it was needed.
I would stay on the front for five days and then someone else would come to relieve me. My first rotation was June 12-17, 1944. I told the others, “If you go up there, it is very dangerous.”
During my second rotation to the front, on June 23, 1944 – our 17th day in France – at about 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. sun time (we didn’t have watches so we learned to tell time by watching the sun) we were near Cherbourg, just outside the sea port when I was injured by German shells. My lieutenant came to where I was after the shelling and told me that I was hurt badly. I told him I would try to get over it, but he was right.
When I arrived in France, I was very healthy and could do anything. But after the injury I was totally helpless. I was a basket case. I was left paralyzed for 15 days. I lay on the ground on a sleeping bag. The days were long, but the nights were forever. Everything had to be done for me. But I was never taken to a medical center or a hospital.
I still hurt today – every day since June 23, 1944.
On July 12, 1944, I had to take over the tank driver position when our driver got both of his legs blown off by a mine. I was the tank driver for the rest of the war.
August 25, 1944 was my 19th birthday and I was there – near the Notre Dame Cathedral – on that day to help liberate the city of Paris.
We had the major job of freeing all of France and the rest of Europe. It was a big job, but we kept on going, pushing the Germans further and further from France.
The old saying is, “If you keep the back side of a German soldier toward your front side, he is heading toward home.” That was our daily goal.
Soon, all the German soldiers were out of France for good, and they have never been back to recapture France again. We never let up.
We saw to that 71 years ago. What we did has been very lasting and good. We never did look back – all the way from D-Day to the end of the war – or go back to any area that we took from the Germans.
During the war was my first time in France – to fight for freedom before Hitler got complete control. I was there when the invasion started on June 6, 1944 to help give back freedom to the people of France. And I would like to tell you, if you ever get in trouble again, I shall come back, raise my leg up, and kick some butt for you to be able to be free forever.
My second visit to France was last year, when I was invited by the French Government to help celebrate 70 years of freedom. We were here for 10 days and I got to see the people of Normandy for the first time. We did not see any of them when we were fighting the Germans. They were very smart for their safety during the battles.
This is now my third visit to France. I would like to thank all of you and the French government for this high honor of representing the 4th Infantry Division. My tank crew members’ families and I truly appreciate the recognition you have given us for what we did – helping each and every person in France have a happy and good life.
May the world be blessed and safe for a lifetime.
I salute you in silence with a hand salute, and say to you, “Have a great life with your families. Keep France free as you are now, and as you have been for 71 years.
God Bless France and America – and the rest of the World.