Honoring local veterans who fought on D-Day 75 years after the Normandy Invasion
Over the last six years of the Price of Freedom we've had the honor of talking to several local veterans about fighting during the Normandy Invasion.
This week we take a look back at those stories and honor these heroes.
June 6, 1944, 75 years ago, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. Soddy-Daisy's Russell Pickett was there. This week he traveled back to France.
We talked to Mr. Pickett just before he left.
Russell Leroy Pickett was in 29th Infantry Division, First Battalion, Company A.
He was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach.
Four days before the invasion one of his officers gave a speech to the men about to go into battle.
"He said if you don't want to go, you have any reason you don't want to go, you can walk up here nothing will be said to you," Mr. Pickett said. "We'll put you up until we leave and not a thing will ever be done to you. In other words if you really don't want to go just get up and walk up here. And it was none of them not a one got up."
I asked Mr. Pickett what he was feeling the morning of June 6, 1944.
"You wouldn't really call it fear at that point, you know, but realization. You see, in other words, it was my job to carry a flame thrower to land. That I knew was a suicide job. Now that would be on my mind. Something like that would bother you a little bit, but I didn't try to get out of doing the job," Mr. Pickett said.
He says the job was dangerous because the flamethrower did so much damage the German soldiers would want to take out that threat first.
"Somebody had to do it, and it might as well as been me as my buddy," Russell Pickett said.
The morning of the invasion he was in a small boat approaching Omaha Beach
"I was landing on the right hand end. Our beach was about a 6, 5 or 6 thousand yards wide," Mr. Pickett said. "We moved in in a company front. Six boats."
His boat was hit. He was knocked out and landed in the water. He was pulled back into another nearby boat, and eventually back to safety.
His first objective if he could have made on the beach was to take out a pill box. That was a fortified position that had a 50 caliber machine gun.
"if i could have burn that out there would have been a whole lot difference in the death anyway." Mr. Pickett said. 'That's bugged me all my life that I couldn't get there."
Right now 75 years after that day Russell Picket is 94 years old, and today he is back in France.
This is the third time he's been back to Normandy since the war ended.
"The first time I went back over I went on the 50th anniversary too." Mr. Pickett said " Walked back out on the beach about where I was laying. I don't know what hit me, but I started shaking just like I was having a hard chill. Couldn't think or anything you know, and it took me oh I guess five or six minutes before I finally got back hold of myself a little. So it does things to you. Believe me."
After D-Day he was taken back to the front lines, and it took him six days to meet back up with his company.
He was one of the last of company A to leave the war, and this week he learned he is the last living member of company A.
His trip to France was funded by an organization called the Best Defense Foundation. You can see pictures from the trip on that organization's social media pages. Here is a video of Mr. Pickett with President Trump and France's President Emmanuel Macron from the Best Defense Foundation's Facebook page.