The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

June 6, 2014

D-Day more than just history for Edward Hick

RICHMOND — For many of us, D-Day, June 6, 1944, is an important date in 20th Century, but for Edward Hicks, of Richmond, who lived the Normandy invasion, it’s much more.

Hicks, 91, recalls jumping into a landing craft on that fateful date, and wading onto Omaha Beach in the “sixth or seventh wave” as enemy fire crackled around him.

“I remember wading in chest-deep water to the beach with a full field pack, a rifle and a gas mask,” he said.

About nine out of 10 soldiers in the first wave were killed, but more and more survived in each successive wave. A permanent beachhead was established by night fall, according to historical sources.

Hicks said he made it to the beach safely with another group of soldiers and spent the night there before being reunited with his unit, the U.S. Army 459th Anti-Aircraft, which was attached to the 29th Division.

Although he was never wounded, despite all the action he saw, Hicks recalled some close calls. Once, an 88 mm field artillery shell landed directly into a foxhole near him, killing a friend and comrade instantly.

He recalled another time when an Allied plane, shot down by the Germans, came crashing from the sky so close that he feared it would land on him. He made it to safety by running to a farmhouse, opening a door and plunging into a water-filled basement.

Hicks, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday in October, can’t recall all the specific battles for which he won five bronze stars, but the Battle of St. Lo, 23 miles from the invasion beaches where the Germans put up fierce resistance, is one he’ll never forget.

“I recall the ground a-quivering under my feet from the bombs falling on St. Lo a mile away. St. Lo was a great big town, but there was nothing left after the bombing,” Hicks recalled.

Hicks said his primary job was to be part of a seven- or eight-man team manning 40 mm and 50 caliber anti-aircraft guns in support of infantry and field artillery units. He also served as a radio and telephone operator.

 Born and raised in the Jackson County community of Maulden, Hicks was drafted by the Army in 1942 at the age of 20. The war took him away from his wife Mary Lou, to whom he was married for 61 years, until her death 11 years ago. He also had a son, Jerry Lee, now an Indiana resident, when he was shipped off to England.

After the Normandy landing, Hicks said he saw action not only in France, but in Holland, Belgium and Germany.

Besides his five bronze stars, Hicks was also awarded a silver star in recognition of his service in the Battle of the Bulge, a D-Day medal and a good conduct medal.

“I believe I had 329 days of front-line combat duty,” Hicks said.

He still feels the echoes of the hellish and bloody war to this day.

“There were so many bodies…there were all kinds of things going on,” said Hicks, who still revisits the war in his dreams.

After Hicks’ unit fought its way into Berlin, he was promoted from corporal and T5 technician to mess sergeant, in charge of supervising the feeding of troops with whom he was stationed. He served in that capacity for five and a half months before the Army sent him home and back to civilian life, his tour of duty having lasted from Dec. 22, 1942, to Oct. 29, 1945.

In addition to his son, Hicks and his wife had a daughter, Janet Cole, who resides in Richmond.

In civilian life, Hicks pursued a career as a businessman, leasing and operating a tobacco warehouse in Lexington. He also owned People’s Farm and Building Supply in Annville.

He spent most of his civilian life in Kentucky, moving to Richmond from Jackson County about three years ago. After a bout with double pneumonia, he wanted to be near his daughter while he recuperated.

He moved to Arcadian Cove about two years ago.

Civilian life did not mean the end of service for Edward Hicks. He served for more than 20 years as a member of his local draft board and has commendations signed by presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He is a member of the disabled American Veterans and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

Today Edward Hicks resides in an apartment at Richmond’s Arcadian Cove retirement community. His walls are decorated with photos and certificates of recognition for his service.

He had no special plans to mark today’s 70th anniversary of D-Day. But he mused about his experience and memories of that history-making day so long ago.

“There aren’t many of us left,” he observed, reflecting on that very special but diminishing fraternity of D-Day veterans to which he has belonged for so many years.

 

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