By Jennifer Martin
It was July of 1943 when Harrell Byrd was drafted into the Army.
"Everybody that was 18-year-old was drafted. I wasn't aware of what I was going to face."
Immediately after training, he was sent to Europe as part of the Medical Corp. He started with the 29th Field Artillery. "They were the first to hit Omaha Beach."
As Byrd arrived in Normandy, he helped set up a hospital to treat the wounded soldiers. It wouldn't last long. "When the 29th arrived in St. Lo. they were massacred. I mean, there was nothing left to them. So they disbanded the hospital." From there, he was reassigned to the 83rd Infantry. "I was with a watercooler machine gun outfit."
They moved slowly through France, in scenes Byrd said were eerily similar to those in the movie 'Saving Private Ryan'. He remembers clearly the carnage that surrounded him. "As we walked by, here are men stacked up waist high." He was injured for the first time around Thanksgiving. The military sent his family a telegram, saying he was dead. He was ok, but not for long. Less than two months later, he nearly lost his life at the Battle of the Bulge.
"There was a sudden air burst over me and the shrapnel went down my shoulder. They removed one piece off my sciatic nerve that paralyzed me and there was piece that was near my heart."
Byrd was paralyzed for more than three months. He was sent back across the Atlantic on the Queen Elizabeth, a trip made perilous by German U-Boats, severe weather, and engine trouble.
"The Lord was sitting right on top of my shoulder there." His first stop was a Jackson hospital. An infection had softened his vertebrae where he had been injured. It collapsed. "I was in a cast from right here all the way down. I wore that for about 12 months."
He continued his recovery at the Green Briar Hotel in West Virginia. "I had the privilege of fishing there, catching rainbow trout. I had a really good string of them and I realized that over there on the bank was a man and woman watching me and it turned out to be Maime and Dwight Eisenhower."
He gave the fish he caught to the future President and his wife. Byrd made a full recovery and went on to work 36 years repairing electric organs. He says it's vital for the U.S. to keep its military strong.
"It seems to me there is so much meanness and so much devilness going on around the world that somebody needs to be prepared and I think we're the country to do it."
IF YOU HAVE A STORY IDEA CONTACT WLBT/WDBD AT (601) 960-4426 OR EMAIL US AT News@WLBT.COM.
715 South Jefferson Street
Jackson, MS 39201