BAKERSFIELD, Calif. — D-Day, Omaha Beach, 1944.
E.T. Roberts was one of the thousands of men who took part in the invasion of Normandy on that fateful day. A moment in time that is still vivid in his memory 75 years later.
He listened to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower tell his group that it was going to be rough. Later, he called it the understatement of the second World War. E.T. was deployed with the 29th infantry, on a small landing craft crossing the English Channel in high seas. He was part of the 2nd wave coming ashore and could see the first group being pummeled by German gunfire from the cliffs above.
Roberts was the first soldier off the ramp and fell into the water, as the weight of his flamethrower pulled him down. Turns out, it was probably what saved his life. Another soldier was carrying his pack off the craft, but he never saw him again. By the time he reached the beach, the dead and wounded were everywhere.
He crawled forward and grabbed another man's gun. The water was solid blood. He can't remember how long he was there, but the terror left some soldiers immobile. "Guy told me to shoot him in the leg," said Roberts. "I told him I can't, we gotta go, we gotta fight!"
Roberts got off the beach and was one of only a handful of the 70 soldiers on his landing craft to survive. He pushed on over the next four weeks until he was wounded, and nearly killed, while saving his friend's life at the battle of Saint Lo. He was shot and bleeding, when a German soldier walked up on him. As he waited for the final shot, the enemy turned and motioned for him to continue on. E.T. pushed on through France, Belgium, Holland and finally, into Germany. He said it was rough to see that many people die, but he had a job to do, and he gave his country all he had.
His modest mobile home in south Bakersfield is adorned with pictures of family and memories, experiences that he didn't share with his own kids until they were out of college. His son Randy, a retired high school football and baseball coach at North High School, remembers a conversation with his Dad before a game, when he was pumping up his team. "Dad waited until I was done and said, don't use words like war or battle when talking to these kids, they don't know what war is all about," said Randy Roberts.
It's been 75 years since that day on a bloody beach in France. A moment that defined a nation and revealed the character and spirit of a young man, who still refuses to quit at 95 years of age.