Seventy-five years ago, in the midst of World War II, thousands of young Americans stormed the beaches of Normandy in what would become known as D-Day.
Guy Whidden is considered the last World War II veteran in Frederick County, Md. He recounted that day with vivid memories.
Whidden grew up as a young boy in a military family in Pennsylvania. His father had fought in World War I, and when the time came, Whidden stepped up to serve in World War II.
“I felt that I wouldn’t get killed,” Whidden explained. “It was very exciting for me. It was a new adventure.”
When the United States was attacked at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Whidden heard about the news over the radio.
Without a breath of hesitation, he decided to sign up for service.
“The very fact that we were, that Pearl Harbor ever happened, which is a tragedy, it came unexpected,” Whidden recalls. “And, of course, that jarred everybody into wanting to serve their country.”
After graduating from high school just months before, Whidden enlisted in February 1942 at 18 years old.
He first began his service as a topographical engineer, creating maps, but it wasn’t a position he was entirely thrilled with. One day, a fellow soldier and friend told Whidden he was leaving for the Airborne.
“I went into the orderly room and there it was: ‘Join the airborne,'” Whidden said. “I joined up, and man, was I out of there! I went to Fort Benning, Ga., to jump school then.”
On June 5, Whidden joined the 101st Airborne Division on its mission to Normandy from England, in what would become known as D-Day.
With a rifle strapped to his right leg and a prayer book in the left pocket of his fatigue jacket, he was the last paratrooper in line to parachute in the middle of the night onto French soil, where German soldiers were waiting.
“When we got to the Channel, just before France, we went up about 1,400 feet and then we got the signal,” he recalled. “We all stood up and hooked up. It was like a roller coaster. From 1,400 feet, you’re going down gradually. And by the time we started jumping out the plane near Sainte-Mère-Église, we jumped at 300 feet.”
Whidden said he landed, but was immediately knocked out by a parachute carrying supplies. He woke to the chaos of battle.
“It was dark and planes were crashing and everything. And then everything would light up like the Fourth of July, and then it was dark again,” he explained. “Our mission was to go to Utah Beach and knock out the guns along the beach there, so that when the troops came in six hours later, around 6:30 a.m., they’d have less of a problem. We were fighting Germans the whole time. Germans were all mixed in with us. You’d be surprised just how close we were together.”
Whidden said he remained in Normandy for the next 35 days, carrying out a mission that eventually led to the liberation of Western Europe.
Decades later, he continues to be honored for his efforts. The Frederick County, Md. Government honored Whidden, and dozens gathered at Winchester Hall to offer their own reasons for what his presence in the community has meant to them.
Whidden never fails to point out those who fought beside him that are no longer alive.
“[World War II veterans] made the commitment knowing their lives would be changed by that event,” said Fred Schumacher, a member of the Frederick County, Md. Veterans Advisory Council. “Guy has taken that message and is keeping it still alive to portray the sacrifices, but also what the hope is for the next generation.”