While Ervin "Erv" Pinnow's memory was not as sharp as it once was about the details of D Day, it was still very good – impressive, in fact.
His recollection of his interactions with soldiers forced to fight in the German army 75 years before was as clear and poignant as if it was yesterday.
As we celebrated the anniversary of D-Day in June and continue to discuss this unforgettable moment in world history today, the listener to today is shocked to hear how grateful many of the enemy were to be captured by the Allies.
These were non-German men captured by the Nazi's and forced to fight for them. They were thrilled beyond words to leave their "combat from captivity."
This is what Erv Pinnow explained to me when we spoke in June, only a day after the 75th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy (D-Day). By way of disclosure, Erv is my great-uncle. He was open about his encounters with the European POWs transported after D-Day – a story we will get back to later.
At just 21-years-old, Erv was a Motor Machinist in the United States Coast Guard stationed on US LST-262. He had landed on Omaha Beach while the Allies were invading German-occupied France in 1944.
Now, at age 97, Erv was patient enough to explain to me exactly what an LST was and his role on the ship.
An LST, or Landing Ship Tank, was developed in World War II to support amphibious operations by transporting tanks, vehicles, cargo, and landing troops.
Erv's son, Jeff Pinnow, a U.S. Navy veteran, explained that his father never talked about his actions on Omaha Beach because, according to Erv himself, he "didn't do anything," or what he did do "wasn't a big deal."
According to Jeff, his father explained, when you enlist, "you don't know where you're going to go," and Erv, "doesn't want [the glory]" of having served in the D-Day Invasion just because he was ordered to go to Normandy.
Yet, without support from men such as my great-uncle Erv, how else would the Allies have been able to successfully invade Normandy and turn the tides of World War II?
The men who were on the ground, famously storming the beaches, were, and are, no doubt, heroes. Much has been told about their stories, which have been revitalized in movies such as the 1998 Oscar-winner, Saving Private Ryan.
But there are many unsung heroes of D-Day that deserve to have their story told, as well.
Like all of them, Erv Pinnow deserves his own story.
Born Feb. 23, 1923 in Wisconsin, Erv did not originally have plans to join the military after high school.
When he was around 18-years-old, Erv befriended another boy at the factory where they worked. After some time, the boy, whose name Erv did not remember, convinced him to join the Coast Guard.
Why the Coast Guard? No particular reason. That is just the branch where his friend enlisted.
While in basic training, Erv heard about LSTs and became interested in serving on one. So, he volunteered.
After his LST training, Erv and his fellow sailors assembled in New York, where they waited to travel to Africa in a convoy.
Erv and LST-262 then travelled to Italy, where they loaded the hull with French troops and more equipment on their way to England.
Then, somewhere off the coast of Portugal, the main engine of LST-262 failed. While the rest of the convoy continued on to London, Erv's ship was stuck in open waters frequently prowled by German submarines known as Wolfpacks.
"We had never worked so fast," Erv told me about he and the other machinists fixing the engine.
As a lone American ship without a working engine, the crew was very nervous about being torpedoed by the Germans. Luckily, within a couple of days, the engine was back to fully functioning, and LST-262 successfully joined their convey in England.
Leaving in the middle of the night, LST-262 made the four-hour ride across the English Channel to Normandy.
"There was a lot of firing, a lot of activity," Erv said of his first impressions at Omaha Beach, adding that so much was happening he "couldn't really tell what was going on."
Erv also remembers the "big black cloud" of American and Royal Air Force bomber planes flying over the beaches and the flashes of gunfire and explosions on land.
As one of only 10 manned LSTs to participate in the D-Day invasion, LST-262 had the task of transporting troops, tanks, and equipment to the station at Omaha Beach.
Eventually, LST-262 started to transport German Army Prisoners of War. Although these men were wearing German uniforms, many of the soldiers were not actually German but conscripted soldiers from European countries Hitler had seized from 1939 on.
There were "so many prisoners," approximately 200 to 300 at a time, that were transported to England, Erv told Newsmax.
"They were so glad to be captured," he explained about the non-German men forced to fight for the Nazi's.
"They'd be willing to do anything you'd want them to do . . . to help," he added. "They were so glad to be rescued from the German Army."
But a majority of the prisoners of war were Germans and fighting for the Nazis. Erv explained that these men were kept under close supervision by the American soldiers, and, while he did not have as much interaction with them because of the close watch, they seemed more cocky to him.
After serving in the European Theater moving troops and equipment where needed, LST-262 made its way back to the United States in a convoy. While some LSTs still exist, LST-262 was scrapped for parts after the war.
For no more than nine months after leaving LST-262, Erv served on a "Buoy Tender" boat for the Coast Guard, which was tasked with patrolling and repairing buoys in the Gulf of Mexico.
In 1946, Erv had received enough "points" to qualify for a discharge and decided "it was time to go home."
Back in his home state of Wisconsin, Erv married Marjorie "Jean" Hillen and had seven children. He served 27 years as a detective for the Milwaukee Police Department.
Reflecting back on his service on LST-262, Erv spoke of possible dangers while serving. The ship, with around 100 crew members, was struck twice, but never with fatal damage. Because they were often in waters with German Wolfpacks, Erv explained the crew "[got] used to" the possibility of being struck.
"We were very lucky, we didn't lose any men," Erv commented about 262s tenure in the war.
Ervs son, Jeff, explained his father did not really talk about his role in World War II until about 10 years ago, and it took a lot of convincing for Erv to accept an Honor Flight to go to Washington, D.C.
Finally, accompanied by his other son, Dave, Erv travelled to D.C. with other World War II veterans from Wisconsin.
Erv might think his service in the Coast Guard was not "that big of a deal," but his contributions in the United States military cannot be appreciated enough. He volunteered for the sake of his country and the protection of the people within it.
While his deployment might have only lasted four years, the impact of Erv’s service to protect our freedoms cannot be fully understood or appreciated enough. Erv's actions, like all those who have served in the United States military, are nothing short of heroic. We, the heirs of the "Greatest Generation," salute them.
(Clare Hillen, an intern at the Newsmax Washington Bureau this summer, is a sophomore at George Washington University).
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