By Nick DukeMay 27, 2014
FORT BENNING, Ga., (May 28, 2014) -- With the observance of Memorial Day May 26, people throughout Fort Benning and the surrounding communities took time to recognize the sacrifices made by those who have fought and died while serving the United States.
Among those pausing to reflect was Charles Maupin, a 94-year-old veteran of World War II, who stood on the beaches of Normandy the day after Operation Neptune, better known as D-Day, on June 6, 1944.
D-Day served as the beginning of the invasion of German-occupied western Europe and is widely recognized as one of the major turning points of the war.
At the time, Maupin was a radio operator for the battalion commander of the 3rd Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. He said he followed the battalion commander everywhere he went, including the beaches of Normandy.
While Maupin was not a part of the initial landings, he said standing on the beach the next day was overwhelming.
"The Soldiers who landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day showed courage and determination that you can't imagine," Maupin said. "I can't imagine exactly how they felt. I landed on the second day when the beach area had just been cleared.
"It was the most dramatic moment of my life. The whole operation was so overwhelming that it was hard to absorb everything that was going on. There were ships all over carrying thousands of troops toward Normandy, thousands of planes flying over and battleships firing their guns. It was all so awesome. It's indescribable, really. If you weren't there and didn't see it, you really can't describe the scope and immensity of it. It was the greatest amphibious operation in military history. It was something to be a part of."
After landing at Normandy, Maupin said he was in a combat environment for the next 11 months, all the way until Victory in Europe Day on May 8, 1945.
"There were a few days where I was on leave in Paris where I might have been out of danger, but other than that danger was constant," he said. "Even in the rest areas, we got shelled and had shells hit pretty close. Without being very fortunate, I wouldn't be here today to talk about this. ... You get to the point where you feel like the law of averages is going to catch up with you. That's the way I got to feeling near the end of the war."
Despite that prolonged danger, he said the Soldiers he served with were mostly able to control their emotions despite fear running rampant.
"Fear breeds fear," Maupin said. "The more you let fear control you, the more afraid you're going to be. That's what happened to a lot of the Soldiers during the war. Fear got the best of them. Courage is not the absence of fear - it's overcoming fear and acting and doing your job in spite of your fear. Everybody was afraid. I doubt there was a Soldier during the war that wasn't afraid. That's inherent in human beings when your life is in danger."
Maupin left the Army in October 1945 as a corporal after more than 34 months of service, all of which he said he spent away from home.
"I spent 34 months and eight days in service, with 28 months overseas," Maupin said. "In all those 34 months, I never went home. I left home on December 8, 1942, and I got home October 17, 1945. But, I got home. A lot of guys didn't."
With the recent observance of Memorial Day, Maupin said he spends a lot of time reflecting on the sacrifices made by the Soldiers he served with 70 years ago and the events that occurred on D-Day. His wall is adorned with certificates from World War II, and a display case in his apartment holds sand and rocks from Normandy's Omaha Beach.
"D-Day is something we ought to always remember," Maupin said. "It was one of the greatest, most dramatic events in the history of the world. We should never forget it. If we forget history, we're bound to repeat it, and that's something we never want to repeat. We came very close to defeat on D-Day. If certain events had happened, our forces would have been pushed off and we couldn't have gained a foothold on the continent of Europe.
"We should remember the veterans who were involved, the courage they showed and the fact that they preserved freedoms that people today are enjoying. We lost more than 400,000 young Americans during World War II. ... When you think about those people and what they could have contributed to this country in science, math, culture or arts, you realize what a terrible thing it was."
And while he said he often thinks of World War II, he also said today's Soldiers deserve just as much gratitude as those of 1944.
"I think they're the greatest Soldiers in the world," Maupin said. "There are none better anywhere. We owe a debt of gratitude and so much that we never can repay, especially to the wounded warriors. ... I have the utmost respect for them. We just need to support them and do all we can to take care of them."