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Kern County veteran survives D-Day

Posted at 10:04 PM, Jun 06, 2018
and last updated 2018-06-07 01:04:42-04

74 years ago today Kern County resident and U.S. Army veteran Ernest T. Roberts landed on Omaha Beach in 1944 for one of the largest Allied seaborne invasions on German occupied France territory.

Some still call it Operation Neptune but Roberts will always remember it as D-Day.

At dawn on June 6, 1944 the first of 156,000 Allied troops stormed the Normandy beaches under a hail of German artillery. By sunset there were 10,000 Allied casualties, but Ernest T. Roberts was one of the lucky ones.

“All that was on that beach is arms, legs, and heads and the water was solid blood,” Roberts said.

Roberts still remembers the smell of blood and gun smoke that day in France on Omaha Beach in 1944. As a young 18 year old infantry Army solider at the time, Roberts was trained to defend our country against any threat by land. In this case it was to reclaim European soil from Nazi Germany control.

"The tide came up under my helmet like it broke my neck and I laid out on the beach and finally got my neck straightened up to where I could go. I crawled around on the beach until I found a rifle," Roberts said.

At the time the Germans had an advantage over Allied soldiers like Roberts because they were positioned in concrete reinforced bunkers, with 50 caliber machine guns located on the cliffs above Omaha Beach. The Germans also had heavy artillery in place. The only ground troops were Allied forces which were made up of the British, the Australians, and the American Army invasion forces.

Roberts eventually made his way past his enemy but he did so strategically and slowly, "Whenever they start shooting at you.. you gotta lay down if you don't you are going to get killed," Roberts said.

Unfortunately his luck started to dwindle fast, "When I turned around there's a burp gun, a German with a burp gun shot me. One went off my helmet, one went through my shoulder and three went through my field jacket," Roberts said.

After that Roberts laid in a fox hole for 30 minutes until he realized he was dying from his injuries. Dripping in blood Roberts eventually got up but he was greeted by another German, "I thought ooooh this is it now for sure, I got no rifle no nothing."

That's when his luck returned quickly, "He put down his gun and let me walk right by." Before he reached safety Roberts saw many things no one should ever see, "I could see his intestines from the rear he was blown up that bad."

Once Roberts reached safety he was airlifted to England, patched up and sent back into battle. After six total weeks in combat he was sent back to his home in Nebraska. Roberts and six others were the only survivors from his infantry platoon on that day.

He later decided to settle into a painting job in Bakersfield with his wife and two kids, but every June 6, there's only one thing on his mind, "That the good boys is left over there." Roberts said.

Roberts is 94 years-old and he is still super sharp. He said the secret to his battle against post-traumatic stress is living a sober life.

The Americans eventually liberated Western Europe after a few months of combat. Roberts received a number of awards after his time serving as a sergeant in the Army, including a two purple hearts and four bronze stars.