Seventy-six years ago, on the morning of June 6, 1944, Charles Fenley and the crew of Landing Craft Tank (LCT) 528 landed at Normandy’s Utah Beach. By then, more than 21,000 Americans had stormed that beach, and 197 perished. Fenley and his LCT crew were fortunate, he told the Modesto Bee in 2017.
“By the time we hit the beach, we owned it,” said Fenley, 95 years old and still living in Modesto. “We caught no German fire. We really lucked out.” The same couldn’t be said of Omaha Beach, just to the east where 2,499 Americans of the 4,413 Allies who died on that day.
Fenley is among the fewer than 1,000 D-Day veterans believed to be living today among the estimated 300,000 surviving World War II veterans, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.
While the push across Europe to destroy Hitler’s German armies began that day, Fenley and his crew remained at Utah Beach for more than a year. They moved soldiers, supplies, and ammunition across the English Channel, and carried wounded back to England. He even caught a glimpse of one of the war’s most famous generals.
“One day on the beach, I ran into an MP from Stockton,” Fenley said. “We’re talking, and all of a sudden he jumps to attention. There was a general standing in a Jeep, and he wore a pearl-handled pistol. It was General Patton.”
A new chapter was added to Fenley’s story, literally, several years ago. A neighbor, who knew he’d been at Normandy, had come across a book titled, “Assault on Normandy: First-Person Account From the Sea Services.” He took it to Fenley, unaware that it contained a photo of Fenley’s LCT-528 and one of a small group of crew members. Fenley, 20 years old at the time, stood in the center of the group.