‘Seeing It All Over Again’
While black-and-white images of Army soldiers storming the beaches at Normandy remain seared in the American consciousness, the Navy’s role, in contrast, is not so widely known.
Eighty-nine-year-old Paul Arnone, a Jamestown native who was only a teenager when he enlisted in the Navy, is likely one of the few World War II veterans who can truly shed light on the pivotal “Day of Days” from a Navy perspective.
Serving aboard a “landing ship, tank” or LST, a vessel that carried large quantities of vehicles, personnel and cargo onto unimproved shores, Arnone was part of the crucial lifeline of Navy ships that supplied ground forces during the historic D-Day invasion.
“We were carrying the action with us,” said Arnone, with a smile. “If we weren’t there, the (ground forces) wouldn’t be there.”
In total, his LST made a staggering 27 trips between England and France, landing primarily on Juno Beach, which lay slightly to the east of Omaha Beach.
Despite close calls with underwater mines and the pervasive threat of enemy bombers, Arnone – a petty officer first class and signalman – maintained his composure throughout.
“I guess you get so involved in your work and your movements that you don’t stop to realize what danger you’re going into,” Arnone said.
Indeed, the courage displayed by Arnone, his shipmates and all the World War II veterans who helped liberate Europe is legendary.
Seventy years later, it seems only fitting that many are getting the chance to go back.
Thanks to a nonprofit organization, aptly titled 70th Anniversary of D-Day, and Honor Flight Network, another nonprofit organization that transports veterans to various war memorials, Arnone and a group of other veterans will fly in an all-expense-paid trip to France for the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.
The 10-day visit will begin on June 1 and include tours of the beaches at Normandy, the American Cemetery and Paris. The highlight, of course, will be the anniversary ceremony itself on June 6. President Obama and French President Francois Hollande are expected to attend.
“I guess it’s like going back to my beginnings and seeing it all over again,” Arnone mused. “(I’m happy) knowing that I made it, I’m still alive, and I’m still here and able to see it again.”
Arnone, when asked what he’d like to see the most, quickly replied, “the beach areas.”
“I’m not like the Army (that) went from place to place,” he said. “We were right at (the beaches) all the time.”
Indeed, this passion for the sea is ultimately what drove Arnone to the Navy in the first place.
Enlisting in 1942, he refused to wait for the draft to place him anywhere else.
“I was fascinated with ships,” Arnone said. “Ships were my big thing … and being out at sea seemed like a big challenge and an adventure.”
During his four years of service, Arnone traveled to the Azores Islands, Western Europe and even endured a 7,500-mile journey from New York to Hawaii via the Panama Canal.
“We ended up in Honolulu and waited for orders to invade Japan,” Arnone said. “By that time, the peace treaty was (underway) with the Japanese. I got transferred off the ship, and later discharged (in November 1945).”
After completing his military service, Arnone worked a variety of jobs in retail, and even became the manager of his own shoe and grocery stores in Jamestown. He retired in 1975.
On the 50th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in 1994, Arnone was awarded the French Jubilee of Liberty Medal, an honor bestowed by the French government to U.S. veterans.
For the upcoming 70th anniversary, Arnone is just as excited.
“(The D-Day invasion) was a big experience,” he said. “Without a doubt, it was the biggest thing in (my) whole life.”