Quad City Veteran Recalls D-Day Service With First Army
June 13, 2013
ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, ILL -- For the first time in 69 years, Emmett Keenan, returned to First Army, the command he served under during the D-Day invasion at Normandy, France in 1944. During his visit, the Davenport, Iowa, veteran, shared memories of D-Day and his World War II service at the First Army Headquarters June 6.
Keenan served with the 745th Tank Battalion which participated in the European Theater of Operations. It was one of five tank battalions which landed in Normandy during the D-Day assault.
The 745th Tank Battalion trained for the amphibious assault for D-Day near Swindon, Wiltshire, England in December 1943. While in England, the battalion was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, which was attached to First Army, then commanded by Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley.
Keenan's battalion served during Operation Overlord, the code name for the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France. He served during the second wave of the invasion at Omaha Beach, one of the most heavily fortified beaches protected by the German Army.
Keenan remembers well coming ashore on Omaha Beach. "We rode in a 'rhino ferry' landing craft with tanks, but we had to wait until the first wave cleared. It was a total mess when I hit the beach," he recalled. "There were still dead bodies and damaged equipment everywhere." When Keenan actually hit Omaha Beach and his battalion's assigned sector known as Easy Red, it was early the next morning and the engineers where busy detonating mines and clearing routes for the troops.
The 745th Tank Battalion participated in numerous combat operations throughout northern Europe until Victory in Europe Day, May 8, 1945. During the Battle of the Bulge, the battalion endured "heavy fighting and our tanks knocked out many German tanks," added Keenan. "That was probably the most memorable battle I fought in." The battalion successfully fought several battles, subsequent to the bulge, including a battle in Belgium which resulted in more than 3,000 German troops captured.
As a D-Day Veteran, Keenan wants today's generation to understand what he went through. "It was a 100 percent effort by the United States compared to today's wars. The war took over everything for three or four years and the people at home totally supported it," he recalled.
"I have a lot of respect for today's Soldiers," Keenan added. "But it's a different kind of war now and on a little smaller scale than what I experienced."
Keenan was born and raised in Belvedere, Ill. He graduated from Notre Dame University in 1942 with a degree in commerce. He entered the Army in 1942 as an enlisted Soldier and processed through Camp Grant in Rockford, Ill., and then went on to Camp Bowie in Texas. Keenan was classified as a communication specialist and was sent to England for nine months of training prior to D-Day. He left military service in 1946 as a Technician Fifth Grade (Corporal) and was out-processed at Camp Atterbury, Ind., a current First Army Mobilization Training Center.
Keenan and his wife Dorothy raised six children in Iowa and have strong ties to the Quad City area. Keenan successfully established his own accounting business, Doyle and Keenan Accounting Service, with a partner in Davenport in 1949. He retired in 1988 and his business has grown to employ 30 people today.
During World War II, First Army was the largest active-duty Army-level command. Today, the mission of First Army is to advise, assist and train Reserve Component Soldiers during pre-mobilization periods. First Army mobilizes, trains, validates, deploys and demobilizes all Army National Guard and U.S. Army Reserve forces throughout the continental United States, providing trained and ready forces for diverse missions worldwide.