William R. Goodwin, 91
War zone: Europe
Years of service: 1941-45
Rank: Private first class
Most prominent honor: European Theater of Operations Medal
Specialty: Supply engineer
By Lou Michel
News Staff Reporter
William R. Goodwin is a modest man who was thrown into one of the biggest days in American history during World War II. By no means is he a war hero, he says, but he is willing to talk about the challenges the Allies faced on D-Day, June 6, 1944, so that the heroism of fellow soldiers will not be forgotten.
His story begins with a hardscrabble life that toughened him up for the military. Goodwin worked as a painter and paperhanger but says he was willing to do any kind of backbreaking labor if it would help his family pay the bills.
“We were going through the Great Depression, and you did anything to make a buck,” he says.
He was drafted in his late teens, and the work Uncle Sam had in mind for him was arduous and put his life on the line.
Goodwin served in the Army with a supply unit, and in the months leading up to the invasion of Normandy, he and fellow troops practiced in the rough waters of the English Channel, never knowing when the invasion would begin, since it was top secret.
“We were out on the channel for days at a time practicing,” he recalls, “and we lost some ships because the Germans would fly over and bomb us.”
During one of those practice drills, he says, his unit received word that it was heading to the French coast.
“There was an announcement that came over the speakers of the boat from some general telling us this was not a maneuver, that it was the real thing,” he remembers.
How did he feel?
“It’s hard to say how I felt when I heard that.”
He was, however, certain he was in harm’s way, but took comfort in knowing that Allied warplanes were showering Normandy with bombs to soften up the enemy before the ground forces landed.
Now it is one thing for the infantry to charge onto the beaches – a deadly duty, given the entrenchment of the Germans in their bunkers and pillboxes. But for those tasked with bringing in the supplies, including Goodwin, it was a job they performed over and over during the invasion.
“We came over in big barges filled with gasoline, ammunition, vehicles and food. We filled these cargo nets and lowered them with a crane into smaller landing crafts. Then we would climb down rope ladders into the crafts and head for the shore and unload the supplies,” Goodwin says of the work he and other supply engineers repeatedly performed at Utah Beach.
He said he felt fortunate to be at Utah, rather than next door at Omaha Beach, where casualties were especially high.
Still, he was in the thick of it on the morning of June 6.
“The airborne paratroopers were the first in. The infantry was next, and not much later than that, around 6:30, we landed and started bringing in the supplies,” Goodwin says. “We were strafed occasionally by German airplanes.”
Supply engineers, he explains, had to work with the tides, as they rose and fell, to deliver support vehicles onto the beach.
“We’d have to wait for high tide to raise up the landing crafts after we’d delivered vehicles,” he says. “Then we would go back out and get more.”
Throughout it all, he marveled at the bravery of his fellow soldiers and never wanted to forget their courage and sacrifice. He said his job, at this late moment in life, is to recall that.
And with his mission accomplished, he ended the interview.