WWII veteran remembers D-Day, June 6, 1944

World War II and the beginning of the final Allied campaign – D-Day - have long ended.

But there are some nights when decorated war veteran Richard Comer relives the horror in his dreams.

Now 78 and in a wheelchair, Comer has a twinkle in his eye when he talks of his 34-year-marriage to his constant companion and second wife, Marne, or his only child, a daughter who is a deputy sheriff in Shelbyville, Tenn.

But there is a different tone in Comer's voice when he talks about those times, 58 years ago, when he was a soldier in the 4th Armored Division of the U.S.

Army.

While he speaks with pride of the ultimate victory over the Axis powers under Gen.

George S.

Patton, there is also a catch in his voice as he remembers how it was to fight, and survive, in the most devastating war in history.

"We were the meanest outfit out there," he said.

"Don't ask me how I got back alive.

I don't know."

Many soldiers did not return from the conflict that involved every major power in the world: On one side were the Allies (chiefly Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union) and the other side the Axis powers, including Germany, Japan and Italy.

The U.S.

was catapulted into the war when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor Dec.

7, 1941.

Just 20 when he enlisted in the Army on June 4, 1942, Comer and other 4th Armored Division soldiers began their combat training at Pine Camp in New York and then went on to maneuvers at Fort Knox, Ky.

After a short stint in Brownwood, Texas, they were sent to England where "we did maneuvers and waited for Patton," Comer said.

Although one of Comer's duties in the army was listed as "bugler" with the 22nd Armored Field Artillery Battalion, it didn't take long to become a "real soldier" as the combat division became immersed in bloody combat in France.

That is where they took back one town after another from the Germans.

"I got sick a lot of times," he said.

"It's a lot to see a man killed, or blown up.

The mines would blow and they would lose their arms and legs.

I got hardened after a while."

Comer said prisoners on both sides were a common sight throughout the war, as were concentration camps.

"It was something you would never get used to," he said.

"A lot of guys got sick."

On June 6, 1944, known thereafter as D-Day, Comer's division was deployed for the beginning of what would be the final Allied campaign: the landing of troops in Normandy, a region in northern France heavily infiltrated with German soldiers.

In the aftermath of Normandy, Comer said the battalion landed at a place called Utah Beach, to clear out an area still rife with German forces.

"There was heavy fighting on both sides.

A lot of lives were lost," he said.

But the war was not yet over, and as they made their way through France, Comer's duties varied from reading strategy maps to tank deployment, as he fought to stay alive through mine fields, cold weather and, oftentimes, hunger.

He can still remember when the soldiers where treated to freshly baked bread with cheese, but more often then not they were given C rations from home: pre-packaged boxes containing "two cigarettes, crackers, some kind of meat, enough instant coffee for two cups and a candy bar."

"It was just enough to exist on.

I didn't smoke the cigarettes.

A lot of guys got killed lighting their cigarettes," he said.

"They (the enemy) saw the flash when they were lighting up."

But the candy bar just may have saved Comer's life at the Battle of the Bulge at the Ardennes in December 1944, where many soldiers lost their lives.

"It was snowing and extremely cold at the Bulge.

The snow of the ground made us all the more visible, and snipers were picking us off one by one," he said.

"So I traded a German guy a candy bar for a white sheet to camouflage me."

Comer received an unexpected present for his 22nd birthday that year when he captured an enemy soldier who had jumped out of an airplane.

"He was about to blow us up," he said.

WWII ended in 1945 and Comer was discharged from the Army.

He is nervous now, and can't hear very well, and there are the nightmares, said his wife, Marne.

But Comer, who is a member of VFW Post No.

3516 and Disabled American Veterans, recently received an honor from the French government of which he is clearly proud: a certificate of appreciation to "all American veterans who took part in Normandy landing and the following combats for the liberation of France."

Comer received the certificate at a Memorial Day ceremony at Centennial Park last week.