WWII Vet Bickel Shares Utah Beach Landing

by Pat Moynahan on November 29, 2017

Doug Bickel

Doug Bickel

FLORENCE – Doug Bickel’s cap acted like a magnet when he returned to Utah Beach on the coast of France for the first time in 71 years.

The letters on his cap say “World War II Veteran.” Bickel, 95, was among the 24,000 allied troops who hit the beaches at Normandy in 1944 on D-Day. Everywhere he went upon his return in 2015, people stopped to share stories about family and friends during the war and thank him for his role in liberating France.

 “The whole message was “thank you for our liberty,” said Bill Schneider, who helped organize Bickel’s visit.

Bickel, Schneider and Lois Hall presented the Thanksgiving program at the Florence Rotary Club on Monday, Nov. 21. Hall is past president of the Kentucky American Legion Ladies Auxiliary and Schneider is a member of American Legion Moon Post 275, which sponsored the trip.

Bickel, a member of the U.S. Navy medical service, came to the beach aboard LCT-17 855, one of the landing craft transporting tanks to Utah and Omaha beaches on June 6, 1944. When the LCT reached the landing zone in the second allied wave, his crew of 13 was ordered to take to the beach for fear the craft could be hit by an artillery shell.

Although Utah Beach was under U.S. Army control at that point, Bickel and his mates hit the beach under heavy German fire.

“My first endeavor was to find a foxhole and hunker down,” Bickel said. After a 150-yard sprint, he found one dug by soldiers in the first wave of the allied attack. A shell hit nearby and he suffered shrapnel wounds but no serious injuries.

Bickel’s landing craft carried Sherman tanks for the land battle. Each tank was fitted with two propellers and a large curtain that provided buoyancy when released and enabled the tanks to motor to shore.

“Those tanks played a very important role on Utah Beach,” Bickel said.

Bickel, Schneider and Hall were awed by the warm welcome they received in France and how many people shared war stories and tears.

What they all would say is, ““thank you for our liberty,”” Schneider reiterated. World War II instilled in the people around Normandy “how important that liberty was.”