Believed to be just one of four survivors remaining from the first two waves of the D-Day invasions at Normandy, Carl Anderson of Carroll County will serve as Grand Marshal of the Veterans Day Parade on Nov. 14 in Hillsville.
Anderson, of Galax, made it back home in 1945 after three intense years of fighting overseas in World War II, including the defining moment of the six-year campaign, the D-Day invasions of the French coastline on June 6, 1944. His presence will highlight a new format for this year’s Veterans Day Parade, which is designed to get the Galax and Carroll County communities together to honor veterans. Despite his many military decorations and role in D-Day, Anderson, now 93, was humbled by the honor when asked Tuesday by Grover King VFW Post Senior Vice Commander Marty Rivera.
“I feel awful little. I will do it, but I have been in the war and I think I am no better than the next one,” Anderson said. “We had a lot of precious boys that never came back. There were so many over there, 19, 20 and 21 years old. They gave their life. It could have been us.”
Rivera said it was an honor and privilege to ask Anderson to be the Grand Marshal for the Nov. 14 Veterans Day Parade.
“He feels little to be able to do it, but yet it is a great honor to have him be part of this and to have him serve as grand marshal,” Rivera said. “From (D-Day), there is quite a few left from the third wave on, but from the first and second wave there are only four veterans still alive and Carl Anderson is one of the four. That is what made it a great honor to have him as part of the parade.”
The parade will start at 2 p.m. in Hillsville and go from the courthouse area to the VFW Post. Float judging will begin at 1 p.m. at the courthouse area. Rivera said plans are to make this year’s Veterans Day Parade bigger than ever as those invited include area churches, the ROTC and JROTC programs from Carroll County Middle and High Schools, dance studios, fire and rescue squads, area police and sheriff’s departments, high school bands, Carroll County athletic teams and groups from both Carroll and Galax. He said the JROTC program from CCMS will perform a 15-count drill setup with rifles in front of the old courthouse.
“We are trying to do more to recognize the veterans who have served from World War II to present time, and those who are still serving,” Rivera said. “We want to say thank you to all the veterans, past and present.”
Ten months after Japan brought the United States into World War II with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Anderson joined the Army on Oct. 15, 1942. Ironically, during his three years of service, he said D-Day, also known as Operation Overlord, was not the worst battle he faced. That moment came a couple of months after D-Day in the Battle for Brest, also in France.
Although it was 71 years ago, Anderson still vividly remembers the events leading up to the Normandy beach invasions. For him, it started when members of his 83rd Division of the Army took the train out of Atturbury, Indiana en route to Camp Breckinridge, Kentucky, where the unit was working on training maneuvers. After marching 125 miles into Tennessee, the unit was asked for 35 volunteers to join the 8th Division.
“My friend, Harry McConnell from Pittsburgh, said, ‘We’ve got to go anyhow, let’s just join. So we joined, we got a three-day pass, and we got on the ship,” Anderson said. “We were 14 days going over and we didn’t know where we going. We landed in Ireland, where we took an amphibious train. And General Patton come and he said, ‘There is no more dry runs. This is real. We will be hitting Normandy Beach before long.’”
Anderson remembers getting terribly seasick on the two-week ship ride to Normandy as his units faced terrible storms. The waves were so tremendous you couldn’t even think of going to the deck, he said. After coasting inland, Anderson’s unit was dropped off in about two feet of water.
“When you jump off you go this way or that way so they can’t pick you up in their sights. People were laying everywhere dead,” Anderson said. “But we made the beach and we just kept on fighting. We would knock them Germans back three head-rows and they would knock us back three head-rows, just back and forth, until General Patton come. And boy when he come, he split that place wide open. And then there were horses and wagons for miles and miles, beautiful horses just lying there dead, men in half with no skin, just bones where they burned them. I saw it all.”
Anderson remembers seeing awe-inspiring tanks at Normandy and thinking the Americans were in for a world of trouble. That was, of course, until he quickly found out the tanks were led by General Patton.
“I said, ‘Who in the world is in them tanks? If that is the German division they will push us right back into sea,’” Anderson said. “And they said, ‘That is Old Blood and Guts (one of Patton’s nicknames). Honest to God, I have never seen anything like it in my life. We could see for miles and miles, those P47 Thunderbolts, and (the Germans) were getting away from us in horses and wagons. And he (Patton) was going down through there with them tanks blasting everything coming along. We creamed them. We had to have our own trucks just to keep up with them.”
As a “dough boy,’ Anderson was one of the soldiers with the unenviable task of going in ahead of main units and feeling out areas before the big guns were brought in to fight. Ironically, he said a battle following D-Day was the worst battle he saw in WWII. The Battle for Brest was one of the fiercest campaigns fought on the Western Front during World War II, taking place in northwest France.
“The hardest battle we were in was the Battle for Brest. The general of the German army come out to us with a white flag and he said, ‘Save your men. It would be a suicide mission,’” Anderson said. “And then he said, ‘Grab back your men, we are coming at you.’ And we took a beating. I think we had 208 men went on that hill, and I think only 15 of us walked off. A lot of us were wounded, a lot of them were killed. We had battle after battle, but that was the hardest battle we’ve seen.”
During his three years in World War II, Anderson saw action in Normandy, Northern France, the Rhineland, and Central Europe. Later, because of his unit’s intense action, Anderson and crew had earned the most points and were allowed to come back home on a 30-day leave before they were to be shipped to Japan for more action in the Pacific Theater. After a 10-day journey back home on the Queen Mary, Anderson and his fellow troops arrived in New York.
“We got into New York and the train stopped. The MPs (military police) came through the train and said ‘The war is over,’” Anderson said. “And boy oh boy, we got off that train and I have never got so many hugs and kisses in all my life from the women. I don’t think anybody knew what they were doing. Everybody was just so happy.”
Looking down the barrel of death on multiple occasions, Anderson made it back home from World War II relatively unscathed. He was injured on one occasion when he was hit in both sides while running across the field. It was just enough to bring blood.
“I thank the good Lord I am here. I have had the shrapnel go past by ears. They would kick up the dirt around my head where they were shooting at me, but thanks to God I never got a scratch but that one time,” Anderson said. “Now one time there was a big bomb come down and if the shrapnel had hit me it would have killed me, but the shrapnel went another direction and the concussion threw me clear in the air and knocked me out.”
Perhaps the defining moment in Anderson’s life came in the Battle for Brest. Anderson and other soldiers had carried another man about a mile-and-a-half to a clearing station. After returning to their previous spot, the Carroll man experienced his closest call in the war.
“There was an old building and a big piece of shrapnel come down and hit right between my legs. If it had hit me, it would have killed me,” Anderson said. “So I just said right there, ‘Lord, I could die here. But if you take me back to the United States and call me to preach, I will preach the word.’ And a voice came to me and said, ‘I will take you back.’ And they fell to my right, they fell to my left, but nothing came near me. He brought me back.”
Anderson ultimately joined the ministry in West Virginia. Later, his family moved to Carroll County, where he became pastor of Galax Church of God of Prophecy. One of Anderson’s five children, Titus, began to pursue his ministry license while in high school, and soon thereafter took over as pastor at the church. Titus still pastors the Galax church, while Carl currently serves as bishop.
Even after the war ended, Anderson credits God for keeping him safe and sound mentally.
“You think we didn’t pay a price? You go across the Ohio to the mental institution there. I have seen men crack up in there and they didn’t even know where they were at. They lost their mind,” Anderson said. “I thank God he helped me keep my mind.”
Allen Worrell can be reached at (276) 779-4062 or on Twitter@AWorrellTCN