After 70 years, Carroll Clayton Deitz has gotten special recognition for his service on D-Day.
Deitz, 89, who lives outside Rocky Mount, recently received the Legion of Honor medal. The medal is France’s highest distinction.
Deitz said he saw an item in a newspaper roughly two years ago recommending that World War II veterans who served in the liberation of France apply to the French Consulate for the medal.
According to the consulate’s website, a limited number of Legion of Honor medals are awarded to U.S. World War II veterans each year. To qualify for the honor, a veteran must have fought in one of the three main campaigns of the liberation of France, including Normandy, Provence/Southern France or Northern France; have been honorably discharged from service; and have a distinguished service record.
Two years after applying for the medal, Deitz received it in April, shortly after his 89th birthday.
Deitz well remembers his experience on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944, during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
“I was there when we hit Normandy beach,” he said. “I was there on D-Day, and I was there on V-Day when they liberated the French when the war was over. I was there for both of them.”
Deitz was a first class seaman in the Navy, he said, aboard a Landing Craft Tank (LCT), one of the iconic amphibious vehicles that landed on the beach and issued forth soldiers, vehicles and supplies.
“Churchill said that they couldn’t have won that war if it hadn’t been for the amphibious (units),” Deitz recalled. Winston Churchill was Britain’s prime minister during World War II.
Deitz was one of 16 people aboard the LCT, he said. There were two officers and 14 sailors.
“It wasn’t all that much fun,” he said. “A lot of people think, well, you didn’t get shot or you didn’t get wounded or anything like that. Well, you got your life scared out of you.”
Deitz went into the service at 18, he said. He was supposed to receive eight weeks of boot camp training, but after only six weeks, he was transferred into landing craft training. After that, he shipped out of Long Island, N.Y., to Scotland aboard the Queen Mary, and then was shipped to England to prepare for the Normandy invasion.
“It sounds like a long time, but it really wasn’t,” he said. “They really pushed us through. They knew this invasion was coming.”
One story that has stuck with Deitz, he said, happened after the invasion. After the German forces had been pushed off the beaches of Normandy, he said, the amphibious units would drop anchor at night in the English Channel.
One night, he said, a storm blew in and water surged over the sides of the LCT. There were plates covering the craft’s ballast tanks, but they had not been fitted properly and the tanks began to fill with seawater.
“The man that was on guard duty,” Deitz said, “he woke the rest of us up and said, ‘You better get up and get out of there. This boat is sinking.’”
The LCT lost power. The men aboard had no way of communicating with any of the other landing craft, and the boat was taking on water quickly. If they didn’t act fast, it would go under.
Lacking options and unable to retract the anchor cable, the sailors set upon the cable with a fire axe, chopping it in two.
“The boat was just cut loose and it went where it wanted to,” Deitz said. “The waves just carried it to the beach.”
Deitz said that he is proud to have received the Legion of Honor medal as a tribute to his service at Normandy.
“It makes you feel good,” Deitz said. “So many people congratulate you.”
Although 70 years have passed since D-Day, Deitz said, the medal has made him feel as if everything old is new again.