NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) –The morning of June 6, 1944, Jerry Neal boarded a B-24 sitting on a runway in England, started the engine and headed for France.
Minutes before he had gotten his orders – he and his crew were going to be part of Operation Overlord.
“We were all young kids, my commanding officer of my group, we called him an old man and he was 25 years old,” said Neal, 75 years after D-Day.
Now 98, Neal says it’s still hard to grasp the significance of that day.
“At the time we didn’t realize how important it was because we were just doing what we were supposed to do. We didn’t consider ourselves heroes; we were just doing what we were supposed to do. We just did the work.”
Neal was honored Thursday at a ceremony at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. An estimated 441 Tennesseans, including Neal, were part of the Invasion of Normandy.
“I did see the invading fleets as I flew over, like what they said, seven to 9,000 ships, that’s a lot of ships, looked like you could virtually walk across the Channel as they were invading,” remembered Neal.
“I had a ringside seat.”
After Neal completed his mission, he headed back to England. He ran out of fuel over the English Channel and like the bombs he dropped, the B-24 barreled toward the water.
“I bailed my crew out on the way down and landed on the rock bar out in the Channel, tore up the plane. I survived that, my crew didn’t.”
Neal was rescued by an English fisherman and before heading back to shore, he says they spent time looking for his crew.
His losses were part of thousands that day.
Neal remembers the men he served with and those who never made it home. He honors their service and hopes future generations realize the scale of the sacrifice made on June 6, 1944.
“We have a great country, wonderful country, I’ve been around the world enough to know there is no place better, as many problems as we have, no better place to live than we are here so we want to protect it.”