There are few days in world history that meant more to the freedom of the world than June 6, 1944, commonly remembered as D-Day. The day marked what Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower called “The Great Crusade.” The soldiers assaulting the beaches hailed from the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, on beaches codenamed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. It was a military undertaking that opened up a much needed second front against Nazi Germany, which by 1944 was reeling on the Eastern Front at the hands of the Red Army of the Soviet Union.
Thursday marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and while many WWII veterans are no longer with us, there are still those among us who went through one of the most terrible wars in human history and then returned to life as everyday Americans.
One such veteran is Ron duBois, who has lived in Stillwater since 1960 and had a long tenure at Oklahoma State University as an art professor. duBois served in WWII with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry “Blue and Gray” division. He was drafted and inducted into service on June 26, 1943. He entered active service on July 10, 1943, in San Francisco, California, and took basic training at Fort Hood. He was then transferred to a camp in Little Rock, Arkansas, where he was in charge of a sign shop making the signs for the base.
“I was so naive. It was a pretty nice job, but one day, a colonel came in and I didn’t know what to do,” duBois said. “I was supposed to say, ‘Private duBois reporting, sir.’ Instead, I goofed around or something. I had a partner who was smart enough to stand to attention. I’m pretty sure that colonel didn’t like me, so I think he sent me to the front lines.”
He found himself heading to England on a troop transport, arriving on Aug. 5, 1944, two months after D-Day. After going through a replacement depot and being assigned to his unit, joining it on Aug. 13, 1944. His unit was then transported in a landing barge, and disembarked on Omaha Beach. This meant now enemy machine gun and artillery fire as the Allies had faced on June 6. duBois found himself in hedgerow country, a signature feature of Normandy. He and his buddies dug into their foxholes, living in them for a few weeks before being ordered to take part in an assault.
He found himself partially protected by a hedgerow, but German artillery got him anyhow. The shrapnel ripped through his helmet, but the medics came and got him and picked most of the shrapnel out, in his legs, back and his head. He was taken to a field hospital before being transferred back to England, where he spent three months recuperating. He returned to his unit on Nov. 15, 1944, near Baesweiler, Germany and promoted to Private First Class on Dec. 8.
It was around this time that a letter from Headquarters Company of the 115th came calling.
“One day out of the blue, there was a letter for me from the 115th Infantry Regiment, which is a part of the 29th Infantry Division,” duBois said. “The 29th is really being emphasized on Omaha Beach and World War II documentaries. They played a really important part … my regiment was not as famous as the 116th, they took he brunt of it.
“But I got a letter from regimental headquarters that they needed an artist that was to design, and to draw the regimental after action report. That saved my life, because I could watch what was happening on the front lines, see my old company and old platoon turn over three times or so, either killed or wounded for the rest of their lives. I had on my record that I was an artist. At that time, actually the military seemed to have a better appreciation for artists than a lot of civilians who didn’t much value the arts. Certainly nobody wanted to be an artist or a poet or anything because you couldn’t make a living. But the truth is, it saved my life, because when I got shot in hedgerow country, I thought I was a goner.”
With his new occupation, duBois assigned to be the regimental after action artist, recording events as they unfolded while he was on the front line. These would serve as a historical record of what he and his fellow soldiers saw during combat.
His unit then occupied Brenen, Germany, a hub of art and culture in the country. duBois said he was fortunate enough to be assigned to assist two officers who were living in a big German house. This is where he spent the rest of the war, until being shipped back to the U.S. and honorably discharged from the military.
duBois was then able to go to Paris to study art under the G.I. bill, and credits this experience for meeting the woman who would become his wife.
“If I hadn’t been in the Army, I wouldn’t have met my wife,” duBois said. “Because I went to Paris to study art under the G.I. bill. She was Canadian, I never would have married her otherwise if I hadn’t had the military support to go study art in Paris. She had a scholarship to study piano in Paris. Then one thing let to another.”
duBois managed to never have to fire his weapon in combat, but was still on the front lines where he would see his former unit turn over a few times in terms of amount of personnel being replaced. He said he didn’t understand how the soldiers on the beach on D-Day managed to accomplish the goal of kicking down the door to Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” He said there were many parts of the plan that hampered the Allies, such as tanks sinking once they were off the landing craft and foggy weather making the jobs of the USAAF and the Royal Air Force much tougher.
The events of World War II have been passing further into history with each year that comes and goes. But the outcome of what became one of mankind’s bloodiest wars helped shape the world we live in today.