MATTHEWS – On June 6, 1944, Curtis Outen waded ashore Omaha Beach in Normandy, France during the Allied D-Day landings that signaled the start of the liberation of western Europe from Nazi occupation during World War II.
More than 5,000 Allied soldiers were killed during the initial assault, including many on Omaha Beach, while thousands more were wounded during the bloody battles.
On March 20, the 97-year-old Charlotte resident drove himself to the Americana Restaurant in Matthews for a luncheon honoring local military veterans from the Second World War through wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Several of Outen’s fellow WWII veterans also attended the event, which was organized by Nick DeVenuto.
Here are four stories from World War II veterans about the courage and sacrifice they showed in a war the United States became involved in nearly 78 years ago.
Curtis Outen, U.S. Army
Outen, who has called Charlotte home for nearly all of his life, landed with the second wave on D-Day, and within minutes, a piece of German shrapnel ripped his pants.
Outen then had to climb through barbed wire to reach the bluffs above the beach.
“I thought I had been shot because I was bleeding a lot,” he said. “But I just kept going.”
Outen then saw heavy combat as Allied troops captured the key French towns of Carentan and Saint-Lo. Outen’s company was involved in heavy fighting at Hill 192, which is also known as the Purple Heart Hill, near Saint-Lo. When the battle for Saint-Lo ended, Outen was one of only 18 members of his 100-man company that had not been killed or seriously wounded.
“We tore up Saint-Lo, and they (Germans) did, too,” Outen said.
Outen was later wounded in northern France. After he got out of the hospital, he served with a Military Police Battalion in Europe until the end of the war.
Lucy Gentile, Outen’s caregiver, said one particular story that Outen told her sticks out the most.
“He was in a foxhole and the bombs were coming so close to him that it was shaking the ground in the foxhole,” Gentile said. “He said he prayed and there was nobody in the foxhole with him, but someone said, ‘Pray out loud.’ He swears it was God telling him to pray out loud so anybody in the other foxholes could hear him. It must have been a terrible time, and so many of them didn’t come back.”
Charles Richardson, U.S. Army-8th Air Force
Richardson also was involved in the Allied Invasion of Normandy on D-Day, and he flew two of his 35 missions during the war in a B-17 bomber that day.
Many of his 33 other strategic bombing missions were runs deep into Germany, including one where his plane returned with more than 600 holes in it.
Richardson, who was born in Charlotte, was a gunner and the plane’s radio operator.
What does the now 95-year-old Richardson remember most about his service in the war?
“Getting shot at,” Richardson said. “We grew up awful fast. I was just a kid when I went in, and I was a man when I came out.”
Richardson said seeing the Allied invasion force on D-Day from the air was a sight to behold.
“It was almost unreal,” he said. “The entire English Channel was so filled with boats that it looked like you could walk across them. Every type of military ship you could think of was crossing there. We thought we would rush right in, but we got stopped on the beach. The Germans were very well prepared.”
After the war, Richardson went to work as a parts manager in the automotive industry for Mercedes-Benz.
“It was kind of funny that I was working for a German company after the war,” Richardson said with a laugh.
C.L. Brasfield, U.S. Army
Brasfield, 96, served in the Pacific Theater on the island of Guadalcanal, where he wrote up autopsy reports while working with a pathology unit. Brasfield joined the Army in November 1942 and was discharged in December 1945.
“I was on Guadalcanal for 18 months,” Brasfield said. “It was very somber writing up those reports. You knew what the cause of death was because it was related to the war.”
Brasfield also spent time on the island studying to be a minister. Brasfield is the minister of visitation-chaplain at Charlotte’s Eastway Church of God, which is the city’s oldest Pentecostal Church. He is also a volunteer chaplain with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.
Brasfield said the support the troops received from Americans back home was uplifting to all those in uniform at the time.
“I felt very proud to be part of the Army, and we enjoyed the backing of the country,” Brasfield said. “They were with us and they appreciated us.”
About seven years ago, Brasfield learned he was the last living soldier of his unit.
“There were about 40 people in my unit,” Brasfield said. “I think I was the youngest one.”
Elmer Winterfeld, U.S. Navy
Winterfeld, 92, joined the U.S. Navy in 1944 and served in the Philippines on a PT Boat during World War II. Winterfeld was trained to do every job on the boat in case a fellow crewman on the small boat was injured or killed. The Indian Trail resident was in the Philippines when the war ended.
“We were preparing to invade the southern part of Japan, but Truman dropped the A-Bomb and that took care of that,” Winterfeld said of the conflict’s ending.
Winterfeld was eventually discharged in 1946. The journey back to the United States from the Philippines is one trip that he’ll never forget.
“Seventeen days out of 19, we went through a typhoon,” Winterfeld said. “It was horrible. When we went to unload the ammunition in the magazine, it was all over the place. That was live ammunition.”
After working several jobs after WWII, Winterfeld rejoined the Navy during the Korean War and served on the U.S.S. Salem, a Des Moines-class heavy cruiser. As part of his deployment on the Salem, Winterfeld spent considerable time in the Mediterranean Sea.
Winterfeld chronicled his time on the Salem with a vast personal collection of original photographs of historic sites across the Mediterranean, including a visit with Pope Pius XII and snapshots of actor Errol Flynn and actress Elizabeth Taylor.