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Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Mich. D-Day vet: Things ‘seemed to go our way’

Richard Crum was one of the 156,000 Allied troops who crossed the English Channel and landed on the French coastline to begin an assault that ultimately would result in the end of Adolf Hitler’s dream of worldwide German domination: D-Day.

Although thousands of Crum’s fellow 1st Infantry Division soldiers were captured, killed or wounded during the assault on Normandy’s beaches, time has taken a much bigger toll. ...

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Richard Crum was one of the 156,000 Allied troops who crossed the English Channel and landed on the French coastline to begin an assault that ultimately would result in the end of Adolf Hitler’s dream of worldwide German domination: D-Day.

Although thousands of Crum’s fellow 1st Infantry Division soldiers were captured, killed or wounded during the assault on Normandy’s beaches, time has taken a much bigger toll.

The 90-year-old Lansing-area retiree is one of the
select few still around seven decades after taking part in the largest amphibious invasion in human history.

“On June 6, 1944, there were about 220 of us in Company C that waded ashore on Omaha Beach,” Crum said. “And today, by my count, there’s only four of us left. So, I don’t think I have much future ahead.”

What Crum does have, however, is a “pretty good memory of everything that went on that day.” And he recently shared his recollections with The Associated Press during an interview at his home in Williamston.

A recent high school graduate who had never ventured far from his native Ohio, Crum enlisted with the U.S. Army in late 1942 and served throughout Europe and North Africa as a private first class in the famed “Big Red One.”

By the time Gen. Dwight Eisenhower gave the final go-ahead for D-Day – code-named “Project Overlord” – Crum was a battle-hardened 20-year-old who was among the forces that invaded Sicily the previous summer.

Crum and members of Company C, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, sailed from Plymouth, England, on a vessel known as a Landing Craft Infantry. They arrived around 7:30 p.m. and represented the third wave of the invasion.

Thanks in part to the efforts of those who stormed the beaches that morning and afternoon, Crum said he and his fellow soldiers didn’t face much German resistance as they stepped off the ramp of the LCI.

“That’s where a lot of the men in the first and second wave were cut down, because they didn’t have any protection as they came ashore from small-arms fire and artillery and mortar fire,” he said.

The worst thing that happened to Crum’s unit was that they got wet in the neck-high water while wading to shore. That is, until they made their way inland.

“A couple Germans had apparently been following us. And when they saw the opportunity, they hopped out from behind their cover and started firing on us and killed several of our people and wounded others,” Crum said. “I heard and saw tracer bullets flying all around me. That was our first night (after the D-day landing).”

Crum fought the German army elsewhere in France and other European locales before completing his service in October 1945. He eventually moved to Michigan, where he raised a family and had a long career as a technician in the plant pathology department at Michigan State University’s agricultural experiment station.

He’s been back to Normandy with his wife and kids, but has no plans to attend this week’s 70th anniversary observances.

From time to time, someone new will learn of Crum’s military exploits.

“Most often they will say, ‘Thank you for your service.’ I usually come back with: ‘I didn’t have much choice,’” he said, laughing.

Looking back on his role on that pivotal “longest day,” Crum displays the kind of humility that has become a trademark of his generation.

“Things just seemed to go our way,” he said.