UNEEDA – He is unofficially Boone County, W.Va.’s only living survivor of World War II’s D-Day.
“That’s what they tell me,” said Bob Peal of Uneeda. Peal talked to the Coal Valley News in an exclusive interview about the day he said he would never forget.
June 6 marked the 71st Anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy. The D-Day attack was one of the largest in history.
It marked the beginning of the end of World War II, and the first step to liberation for many of its victims. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded that day.
Their sacrifice led to the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s regime. On June 6, 1944, Peal was serving in the U.S. Navy with the job of helping unload big transport ships of both men and equipment during the mission.
“I had already participated in three invasions aboard LSTs (Landing Ship Tank), in Sicily, July 10, 1943, in Salerno in Sept. 9, 1943 and in bloody Anzio on Jan. 22, 1944,” Peal said. I thought I was going home after that, but then I was told we were heading to England in April of 1944.”
By June of 1944, Peal found himself aboard an LST at Normandy.
“I am proud of my service and honor every man that served in that war,” he said. “I am not interested in telling blood and guts stories or being boastful. I will just say I am a proud veteran and proud to be from Boone County, West Virginia.”
Peal said the scariest moment for him in the war was not on June 6th, but was aboard a Coast Guard-manned LST 327 on Aug. 27, 1944.
“On our 13th trip to the Normandy beachheads to supply some of the troops that the 327 had brought in weeks prior, a tremendous explosion rocked the ship directly under the crew’s quarters,” Peal recalled. “Because an ammunition magazine storage area was located directly under the crew’s quarters, the explosion was amplified by both the powder charged in the then-thought mine and the ammunition stored in the locaters below the crew’s living quarters.”
The attack on the boat killed 21 and seriously wounded 26 others. After 55 years, it was determined the boat had actually been attacked with an acoustic torpedo.
“It was hot that day, so most of the men were up on deck and I think that saved many or a lot more men would have been lost if they would have been inside the ship” he said.
There were other times he was scared, Peal said, but he prefers to remember some of the good moments he had while serving overseas in the war.
“I saw a guy I went to high school with, Hubert Hughey, and then in Naples I saw his brother-in-law Winfield Epling,” he said. “Those was happy moments during a difficult time.”
Peal is a Class of 1941 graduate of Sherman High School. He was born on Nov. 16, 1923. He also attended Morris Harvey College, which is now the University of Charleston, and West Virginia University. He earned a Master’s Degree in Education in 1953 and he and his wife Jewell Peal (Blake) both worked in the Boone County school system.
He and his wife have been married for 66 years and have two children, Mary Jewell Cox and Robert M. Peal.
“We are getting older, but we used to love square dancing contests and I still enjoy speaking to students when I can,” Peal said.
Peal said when he speaks to students about going overseas during World War II, he always tells them he had a rich relative that sent him on a cruise. Then he asks if they know who his rich relative was.
“There is always a student that will say ‘Uncle Sam’ and I tell them they are right,” he said with a big smile on his face.
Peal was named the “Grand Marshal” for the 2015 West Virginia Coal Festival. The West Virginia Coal Festival Grand Parade took place on June 20 this year.
Peal said being connected with the 29 victims of the Upper Big Branch disaster that were named “Parade Marshals” for the same festival parade is an honor.
“It was a terrible tragedy and we must never forget these brave miners, just as we must never forget the brave men and women who serve our country in all the branches of the service to keep our country free,” Peal said.
Fred Pace is an editor for Civitas Media. He can be reached at 304-369-1165, ext. 1661, in Madison; at 304-752-6950, ext. 1729 in Logan; by email at [email protected] or @fcpace62 on Twitter.