Editorial | Little River woman accompanies Navy vet dad to Normandy for D-Day commemoration

Paul Arnone acknowledged he was excited – “Sure I am’’ – about returning to the beaches of Normandy, France, 70 years after his U.S. Navy ship landed tanks and trucks on Juno Beach.

Arnone, accompanied by his daughter Paula Tourtellotte of Little River, is on “Operation Overlord, 70 Years After.’’ It is a nine-day tour for veterans involved in the European Theater of World War II, especially those in the invasion of Normandy, which began on June 6, 1944, to the German surrender on May 8, 1945. Tour activities include placing a South Carolina wreath at the American Cemetery above Omaha Beach.

In June 1944, Arnone was a signalman first class on LST 44. He had enlisted in the Navy on Dec. 12, 1942, and after basic training and visual communication school at Sampson Naval Base in New York he was assigned to the commissioning crew of LST 44 in Pittsburgh, Pa. The landing ship tank sailed down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to the Gulf of Mexico, then to its home port in Norfolk, Va.

LSTs carried tanks, trucks, heavy guns. LST sailors referred to their ship’s designation as “Long, Slow Target,” Arnone recalled. The equipment was carried in the tank deck and on the main desk of the 375-foot ship. LSTs go to the beach between high and low tide, and unload when the ship is on the sand and the equipment is driven onto the beach. Then the “ship is high and dry – a “sitting duck for five hours,” Arnone recalls. “I was on Juno Beach – next to Omaha. There was not a lot of action on the beaches, except for Omaha.”

U.S. troops invaded at Utah and Omaha beaches, British and Canadian forces at Gold, Sword and Juno. A total of 5,333 amphibious craft (such as LST 44), battleships, cruisers and destroyers were involved. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman in his book “On Seas of Glory,” writes: “Omaha Beach was very nearly a catastrophe” because of German firepower on the bluffs over the beach. Of 4,900 D-Day casualties, 2,400 were at Omaha. Lehman notes that “the destroyers paid a heavy price for the assistance they rendered.” Two were sunk and two others heavily damaged by mines and later sunk.

After its initial landing on June 7, LST 44 made more than two dozen trips across the channel – a total of 27, Arnone recalls – to LeHavre and Rouen on the River Seine. After unloading the equipment, LST 44 carried wounded to England on the return trips. After the German surrender, LST 44 returned to New York and crew members had leave (time off). Then, loaded with floating docks, LST 44 made a 30-day trip to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and awaited an invasion of Japan.

When Japan surrendered in August, after atomic bombs devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Arnone’s enlistment was over and he returned to Seattle on the battleship Nevada. He returned to western New York and managed a shoe store and worked in sales.

He was disabled by a heart attack and also is a lung cancer survivor. He and his wife (she died 11 years ago) for several years spent Octobers in North Myrtle Beach and ultimately their twin daughters Paula Tourtellotte and Peggy Hammond of Murrells Inlet moved to the area.

Arnone and a son, Stephen Paul, reside in Jamestown, N.Y., where Paul Arnone sings in his church choir and in the Viking Mixed Chorus. “I’m happy with my life.”

We applaud his service, and that of all the veterans who were part of that critical campaign.