Memorabilia recalls D-Day experience

by W. Winston Skinner


This shadow box is centered with a World War II photo of Clair Lockard, who was part of the D-Day invasion, surrounded by patches, dog tags and a spent bullet from the beach at Normandy. 

Clair Lockard spent his retirement years in Coweta County.

He grew tomatoes at his home on Jackson Street and enjoyed being a member of the Newnan Kiwanis Club. The Pennsylvania native and his Coweta-born wife, Hazel, enjoyed singing with the Swingin Singin' Seniors choir at First United Methodist Church.

Lockard was part of a significant day in the history of the world – the D-Day invasion of Normandy. The invasion of Europe, which led to victory for the Allied powers in World War II, took place 70 years ago today.

Lockard rarely spoke of his World War II experiences until Newnan High School teacher Steve Quesinberry asked him to share with his students. Lockard died in 2007, but his role in that pivotal event is recorded in memorabilia and a scrapbook prepared by a friend when he was named Coweta County Veteran of the Year in 2006.

There also are photographs Lockard used in his talks to students. On the back of each photo are words explaining the significance of the moment in Lockard’s neat, bold handwriting.

When Lockard was honored as Veteran of the Year in 2006, local veteran leader Dick Stender praised him as “a beacon for our continued faith in America.”

Lockard enlisted in the Army on June 20, 1940 – for a salary of $21 per week. He went through basic training at Ft. Benning and was assigned to the 4th infantry division – the same division in which his father served during World War I.

He graduated from Officer Candidate School at Ft. Benning on May 14, 1943, and was shipped overseas to join the troops in England. The troops were training along the shores of the English Channel. Lockard later recalled the troops knew little other than that they were simulating beach landings in their training.

The D-Day invasion was originally planned for June 5, 1944, and Lockard and others in his unit were briefed on the plans on June 4. Inclement weather delayed the action a day.

In a 2006 interview, Lockard remembered the Higgins boats packed with more than 100 soldiers each. The boats stopped off the French shore, around 30 yards apart, waiting for the orders to storm the beach.

The tide was in, Lockard said, and the beach was fortified with "steel girders" to impede the Allied forces. Battleships were behind the Higgins boats, firing onto the shore, he said.

The soldiers waited nearly eight hours. Lockard observed planes flying overhead with paratroopers.

"I never saw the sky so beautiful in my whole life," he said in 2006. Seeing the sky dotted with planes, he knew there was support for the troops heading ashore.

The Higgins boats began to open, lowering their fronts to create ramps for the soldiers to exit. The men were wearing 80-pound packs, and some men sank into the water and drowned.

"You don't really know who's around you. You don't really care, as long as they're not shooting at you," he said, remembering stepping onto the shore.

It took the soldiers four days to gain the high ground from the beaches. From there, Lockard's platoon moved toward one of two German artillery placements. The 22-year-old first lieutenant encountered a rainy, muddy Normandy.

In the rural dairy district, farmers had planted hedgerows for fences. The hedgerows not only kept cows where they belonged, they also slowed the advance of soldiers. Blades were fastened to the fronts of tanks to cut down the hedgerows.

In the next few weeks, Lockard received three wounds. At St. Malo and St. Pierre Eglise, he was treated for what were termed "light weapon wounds."

Then in the fight for the fort at Cherbourg, he was at St. Lo when a piece of shrapnel lodged behind his right ear, scarcely an inch below his helmet. He spent the next three months recovering in a British hospital.

On his return, Lockard was reassigned to a military intelligence battalion. He spent the remainder of the war guarding supplies and weapons en route via train to the front lines out of Chalon sur Marne, France.

Lockard was awarded three Purple Hearts for his wounds in combat. "No one earns a Purple Heart," he once said, and explaining that to earn something, you must want to work for it.

After the war ended, Lockard went to Army Language School and studied Polish. He worked with military intelligence at Vienna, debriefing refugees. While in Austria, Lockard was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency.

After moving to Newnan, Lockard put together a display of his military awards and photographs on a wall in his home. Still there are his Veteran of the Year plaque and a shadow box with memorabilia from D-Day.

There also is a framed piece that was treasured by his mother. It features a photograph of youthful Clair Lockard in his uniform behind a mat with images of Pres. Franklin Roosevelt and Gen. Douglas MacArthur.

After his Veteran of the Year honor, Lockard received a scrapbook with clippings and images from the day prepared a gift by his fellow Kiwanian Joe Ann Hanson.

Clair and Hazel Lockard also traveled to Normandy – retracing some of his wartime steps – with fellow Newnan residents George and Irma Jarrard. “You leave there with a heavy heart,” Hazel Lockard remembered “It’s beautiful.”

Clair Lockard was one of four consecutive generations in his family to serve in combat – his grandfather was in the Civil War, his father in World War I, he in World War II and his son served in Vietnam.

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