This newspaper article appeared on Sunday, 27 May 1945 in the Owensboro Messenger. It is courtesy of the Kentucky Room, Daviess County Library, Owensboro, Kentucky.
First Owensboroan To Receive Distinguished Service Cross Home on 30-Day Sick Leave
Owensboro’s first soldier to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in World War II has arrived home from the battle-front for a 30-day sick leave which is being spent with his wife and five-year-old-son.
He is Lieutenant John Spalding, son of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Spaulding known to hundreds of Owensboroans for his interest in athletics and the many sports articles that appeared under his by-line in the Messenger and Inquirer before he entered the army.
When John enlisted on Feb. 13, 1941, he was a carefree young man, bearing lightly on his shoulders the worries and responsibilities of life. He came back to Owensboro a week ago, his brow furrowed deeply because of the responsibilities those same shoulders carried through nearly 12 months of fighting.
It was difficult to get the young soldier to tell of his experiences, his answers always the same, “I didn’t have any unusual experiences. I didn’t do a thing. My men did it all.” Nevertheless, John, as he is affectionately known to his friends, led the first wave of men that hit the Normandy beaches on D-Day last June. And it was John’s group that opened up a gap in the channel wall that Hitler had said would hold the armies of the Western Allies out of Europe.
John is reticent to talk about it all. But a summation of the answers given to repeated direct questions revealed that for months John and his outfit trained for D-Day. John himself was sent to a special battle school. “I went there for two months—no I mean two weeks. Two months of that training would kill a man.” It was the most rigid training he had during his entire three years of military life. It was for a group of selected officers. After he came back from that school there were repeated practice landings. A portion of an English beach had been fortified and resembled the Normandy beaches as much as possible.
“Time and again we’d break camp, pack up, get on our boats and go out to sea only to make a practice landing 200 or 300 miles down shore.” John explained. “However, finally one day we packed up and finally closed down camp. As we marched through the village, the people were out waving. Women were crying. Although we hadn’t been told, we knew right then that this was it. This wasn’t just another practice trip. Those English people are smart. They sense things. How they knew we were on our way I don’t know but they did. We were taken to a marshalling area and for several days stayed on the boats. We had been briefed for H-hour but of course didn’t know when H-hour would arrive. Then finally at 10 p.m. one night we were called together and told that H-hour would be the next morning. We didn’t do much sleeping that night, in fact we hadn’t done much sleeping since we passed through that little English village and saw the tear-stained faces of those village mothers, wives and sweethearts of the Tommies that worked with us.”
John explained how the boats in the invasion fleet crosed the channel, and how at 3 o’clock the next morning the men left the mother ship and boarded the LVCP’s and rendezvoused at a given point an hour later. “The sea was rough and that didn’t help matters any. We were coming closer and closer to shore. Yes, there was anxious anticipation. Of course, there were lumps in our throats, but we had a job to and we were going to do it. Finally 200 yards from shore, the Navy ‘dumped’ us and we landed in water waist deep, on what happened to be an unexpected sandbar, and when we walked off of it, we hit deep water and had to swim for it. Some of us lost our Carbines there. After swimming for 50 feet, we reached shallow water. All the while the Navy, and the Air arm were softening up the beaches, and trying to make things as easy as possible for us. There was a 400-yard flat open beach before the hills where the Hermans (Germans) were entrenched.”
Asked if he ran for cover, John explained: “We couldn’t run. With packs that ranged from 30 to 100 pounds, and all of our clothes and equipment waterlogged making it much heavier we at least couldn’t do much running.”
Everything that happened on that eventful day, John doesn’t remember. The Army, though, revealed that John’s work was so outstanding that General Eisenhower himself pinned the Distinguished Service Cross on the young soldier for his achievements.
There was shot and shell on all sides, John’s buddies fell, one by one as they tried to inch across that 400 yards of open beach, being perfect targets for the enemy in the hills just beyond. Two German Divisions that happened to be on maneuvers in that area added their weight to the power of the defending forces.
John and the 32 men with him made it across the beaches. Finally the young officer and his little group forced a wedge into the channel wall. The wedge became deeper and deeper and finally the group breached the wall, the first breakthrough on D-day. After the small group of men got through and attacked from the rear, the other soldiers fighting for their lives down on the beaches had an opportunity to reach the hills. And so the army that landed on that section of Normandy succeeded in scaling the hills, all because of a determined young Owensboro officer and his 32 men who knew no fear of death.
“I didn’t do that. The men did it all. Don’t give me the credit,” John insists.
[The article, written more than two months before V-J Day, concludes…]
Asked if he had any plans, John replied, “No, I don’t know what I want to do. There is still a big job ahead, and you know, if they want me to go over there, I’ll go. Men that have been through more than I have are going so why can’t I? It’s a job that has to be done before our homes, our wives, and our children are secure. I don’t want my son to have to do my job all over again 20 years from now.”