NB resident and WWII veteran Lloyd Nelson
recalls D-Day at Omaha Beach as the nation observes Veterans Day
North Branch resident Lloyd Nelson was in his late teens with a wife and child at home when he landed on Omaha Beach in the Normandy Invasion of World War II.
His unit was part of the third wave to land at Omaha, the second beach from the west among the five landing areas of the invasion. The objective: to secure a beachhead of about 5 miles in depth to help link British landings to the east with an American landing to the west at Utah.
The invasion began on June 6, 1944, otherwise known as D-Day, and Nelson dodged enough bullets and relied on his training to survive a battle that ultimately claimed around 3,000 American casualties and 1,200 German losses. Many in the U.S. 29th and 1st infantry divisions drowned during the approach from ships offshore or were killed by defending fire from German troops placed on shore.
“We arrived by boats, and you had to swim to shore if you didn’t get far enough,” recalled Nelson, who will celebrate his 89th birthday next month. “You did what you had to do. I was never wounded, but I did step in a shell hole and tore the cartilage in my knee when we had to cross fields and take cover. My knee still bothers me.”
Nelson reflected back on his service as the nation prepares to observe Veterans Day on Nov. 11. A federal holiday that honors the service of all U.S. military veterans, it coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day and Remembrance Day, which are celebrated in other parts of the world.
“It’s something everybody should remember, the bad times, too,” he said of what Veterans Day means to him. “We should remember, so we don’t do it (war) again.”
Nelson was born and raised on a small farm with horses and cattle in Isanti County’s Oxford Township. It was a life without electricity, telephones and much money, and even Nelson’s schooling was in jeopardy when his workload at home increased to include milking 15 cows a day due to his father’s experience with a stroke.
Realizing his pupil’s situation, the superintendent of North Branch schools made accommodations to keep him in class. Nelson eventually received his high school diploma after returning from service.
Nelson married his high school sweetheart, Lucille, and spent the next 66 years together until her death four and a half years ago. Wedding bells sounded in 1942, and they had their first child later that fall. Nelson didn’t find out about his second child, born May 11, 1944, until about five months later because of his deployment and the communications of the time.
“We didn’t have cellphones back in those days,” he said with a smile.
While he had followed family out west to Portland, Ore., to work in the shipyards, Nelson’s introduction to the Army came in 1943. Still a permanent resident here, he was drafted in Minnesota and entered active service days later on Sept. 3 at Fort Snelling in St. Paul.
“It was nothing,” he said of being drafted. “I knew it was coming.”
After completing basic training in Oklahoma, Nelson served under the United State Army’s 314th Infantry Regimen, 79th Division, in Kansas before his unit was deployed overseas. They set out for war on April 7, 1944, and arrived in Liverpool on April 19.
A few months later, his unit was off to join the Normandy Invasion, where U.S. Army troops were responsible for taking Omaha Beach with transport and artillery support coming from the U.S. Navy and parts of the British Royal Navy.
And they faced fierce opposition by the German 352nd Infantry Division, which was mainly comprised of teenagers along with some veterans who had fought on the Eastern Front. Improvisation was key during the landing at Omaha, as challenges in navigation caused many landing craft to miss their targets throughout the invasion.
Ultimately, groups of surviving soldiers were able to penetrate the German defenses and secure areas farther inland.
“After the Germans were captured, they did our cleaning and were happy to help us out,” remembered Nelson, presuming they were pleased to be separated from Nazi Germany authority. “Some were 14 to 15 years old, and we became friends with some of them.”
He also pointed out the pay he received during his service. “My salary was really good,” he said, again, with a smile. “It was $21 a month, and I got $6 a month when I first started. The rest was sent to my wife.”
Nelson returned to the States on Dec. 8, 1945, and was honorably discharged on Dec. 14.
Following the war, Nelson moved back home and made a life in North Branch, where he has lived since. He and Lucille had three boys and girl, which has led to many grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren. He is a retired postal worker, and he is proud of his 67 years with North Branch American Legion Post 85.