There will be many Memorial Day services throughout Northeast Iowa. Let's honor our veterans by being in attendance together. Without these soldiers fighting for our freedom, we would not be able to enjoy our special northeast Iowa today. Charles Ira, of Spillville, shared part of his patriotic history with us so we will not forget all the military who served our country.
Seaman Charles Ira once served on the famous USS Texas Battleship during what is known as the greatest amphibious military operation in history, bombarding the shores of Normandy in Northern France during the invasion of Normandy, D-Day on June 6, 1944!
On his 17th birthday, February 25, 1943, Charles went with his father Adolph who had to sign for his son to enlist in the Navy to Decorah. He felt it was his patriotic duty to serve his country. He older brother Virgil was drafted in the army in 1942. Charles was assigned to the battleship in June 1943 at Boston, MA. He was chosen to be first seaman of an eight-man color guard to salute the supreme Allied commander of all forces, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower boarded the Texas to give the now famous speech before D-Day.
The Texas was the flagship for the Normandy invasion which involved 1.5 million Americans and 1,140 warships. Their job was to fire on Nazi land defenses and carry spotter planes for the landing at Omaha Beach. Charles was the anti-aircraft gunner aboard the ship, bombarding above Omaha Beach. Omaha Beach was the bloodiest of the invasion sites where over 2,400 Americans lost their life. The “Longest Day” may have ended, but the war continued. Charles remembers the Texas leading two other battleships, four cruisers, and 11 destroyers June 25 during the bombardment of Cherbourg. They were credited for knocking out one of the gun placements like the fictional book/movie “Guns of Navarone” where the Germans placed large guns on railroad cars and moved them back into a mountain after firing. Charles said the battleship had 65 near misses, but one did hit taking out a steering mechanism. One came close to Charles and killed seaman and wounding ten others. The ship continued on with one battle after another once the ship was repaired.
In February, Charles and the Texas found themselves at Iwo Jima for another bombardment on the shore of an island war. Standing at the deck only a mile out, he saw the famous flag being raised on Mount Suribachi. “There were actually two flag-raisings. The first was with a small flag, and the second was with a much bigger flag that everyone could see. We all cheered in celebration!”
The huge battleship continued from one battle to the next. They were off to Okinawa to fire salvos prior to the Army and Marines landing on April 1. Charles said his guns never stopped firing in the aerial assault when the Texas and other ships became targets of Japanese kamikazes in some of the Pacific’s scariest skirmishes. “We shot down two kamikazes for sure, maybe more. Okinawa was the last invasion of the war, and more sailors were killed there than any other place,” says Charles with his head lowered. For 54 days straight 24-7 they stayed by their post. They ate and slept standing up with the knowledge that Japan was making one very long last effort from losing the war. Two months the Texas remained in the Okinawa waters until May 14 they departed for the Philippines and prepared for the invasion of Japan. “We were on the ship when the news came the second atomic bomb had been dropped and Japan surrendered. We prayed, laughed, and cried!” At nineteen years of age, Charles service to his country was over on March 8, 1946.
Charles attended five ship reunions before the final reunion. Already then, he was the only one there who had ever fired the ship’s guns. Last March Charles and 19 family members went to the final reunion and was given many memorials of his time on the battleship.
Let's salute all who gave their service to our country. We are privileged to live in such a beautiful place and without these soldiers fighting for our freedom, we would not have what we cherish today.