David Fleming Jr. spent D-Day in an English foxhole.
He didn’t even know the name of the Army Air Corps unit he was assigned to in Southern England in the weeks before June 6, 1944. Inducted in February 1943, the young airman had spent the previous year in Northern England repairing heavy bombers returning from runs over France and Germany.
“Oftentimes, they would come back all shot up, with wounded on board,” he recalled last week from a car headed to Austin where the World War II veteran — and centenarian — would be honored.
Today marks the 75th anniversary of the Normandy landings in Northern France by the Allied powers that led to the eventual defeat of Nazi Germany.
Fleming recalled being “mysteriously transferred” south, where his first assignment was to dig his own foxhole in one of two fields that would be base for the new unit.
“We had no idea of the outfit we were in until a couple weeks later when D-Day occurred,” he said.
The mystery unit was below the path that German medium-range cruise missiles — known as “buzz bombs” — followed on their way to London. British Spitfires, flying at 4,000 to 5,000 feet above the incoming missiles, represented their own danger from friendly “overfire” heading his way.
Fleming once had to dive for his life.
“That was a pretty close call,” he said. “I just fell to the ground and rolled up in a ball to make as small an imprint as I could.”
That experience brought home to him that this was war.
“I started to take it personally,” he said.
The outfit was the 9th Air Force of the 406th Fighter Group, which joined Gen. George Patton’s Third Army after D-Day, once engineers bulldozed landing strips on the mainland.
“Our mission then was to support his infantry with P-47 fighter airplanes,” Fleming said. “And we strafed and bombed and fired .50-caliber machine guns at troops and tanks and anything that was an asset to the Germans. We lived in pup tents that we carried on our backs. And we lived on C-rations.”
Patton wanted the fighter plane group close to the front line of his advance toward Paris. The general moved his force so fast it ran out of gas Aug. 3, 1944, and had to wait for “ten-by-tens” — transport trucks on 10 wheels — to arrive with fuel from Omaha Beach.
There wasn’t time to be scared during the push through France.
“We were all so busy. No, there wasn’t time to be scared,” Fleming said. “If you’re going to be hit, you’re going to be hit. All the troops I was with were galvanized. This was a war that had to be won.”
That victory, secured in large part with the liberation of the Paris, brought Fleming an overdue honor last week.
On Friday, the Hon. Alexis Andres of the French Consulate in Houston was in Austin to present Fleming with the French Legion Medal of Honor. Established in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte, the award is the highest French honor for civil and military achievement.
The same ceremony in Austin brought retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Kenneth Eichmann to Austin to award Fleming the National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution Silver Good Citizenship and War Service medals.
“We finally did get over to Paris and liberate Paris,” he said, recalling the ensuing citywide celebration as surreal after the long and violent march.
The mission soon continued.
By mid-December 1944, Fleming and the P-47 fleet were socked in by freezing weather and heavy fog. They were 16 miles from Bastogne, Belgium, powerless to support the troops losing the Battle of the Bulge.
They cleaned their engines for three weeks while the battle raged. Then the fog lifted.
“(Patton) put the German army back in retreat,” Fleming said. “And the rest is history. ”
Fleming mustered out in October 1945 after a 33-month deployment. He had a career with Armored Mechanic and Foundry Co., living in several major U.S. cities before he and his wife, Donna, settled in Longview, where four of their children lived. The wife he’d been with since before he was inducted passed on in 2013.
Fleming said his greatest accomplishment of the war was being part of Patton’s push across Europe.
“Adolph Hitler wanted to dominate the world,” he said. “If he’d been successful, we’d all be speaking German now. ... We felt very sincerely and deeply about it. It was something we had to do for everyone at home. It was our country. We had to preserve the freedom that the country represents. That was our mission, our personal mission. And that was it, and that was it.”
The Longview Public Library is the likely resting place of a time capsule to be buried during the city’s sesquicentennial celebration in 2020.
Members of the city’s Historic Preservation Commission tentatively settled on the site Tuesday after learning that two more preferred locations — the Gregg County Courthouse and the future Longview Police Department station — were turned down.
Preservationists for the city and Gregg County are planning to fill a time capsule with items nominated by the community that will be buried for the next 100 years as part of Longview 150, the city’s sesquicentennial next winter and spring to commemorate the city’s founding in 1870.
District 1 Councilman Ed Moore, who serves as council liaison to the Historic Preservation Commission, has asked residents to suggest items that could go into the time capsule.
Suggestions should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org .
“What kind of things would we want people in the year 2120 in Longview to know about us living here in Longview today?” Moore said at a May 23 City Council meeting. “If you have any suggestions whatsoever … We want to try to fill this up with things that are typical of our life today in Longview.”
The city’s centennial time capsule was buried on the courthouse south lawn in 1970, commission member Andy Khoury said.
In April, commissioners considered burying the capsule at the courthouse, but a subcommittee dedicated to the time capsule decided last month that the capsule should be buried on city property.
Subcommittee members then decided that the top three municipal grounds considered for burial were the front lawn of the planned Longview police station on South Street, the library or the former municipal building that now serves as the Central Fire Station.
The police department didn’t want the capsule buried at its new location, Moore said, so he and Historic Preservation Commission Chairman Jim Cogar suggested the library as the next best choice.
Commission member Mike Smith asked Moore, “What’s the police department’s problem with it?”
Moore answered, “They just don’t want it. My guess is this time capsule is community-wide and it should be in a broader location than the front yard of the new police station.”
Cogar then said, “I recommend the library because that was our second choice.”
Khoury said Wednesday that burial at the Longview Public Library is tentative pending approval by library and other municipal leadership.
The subcommittee must decide how large the time capsule will be, what will go inside it and how to pay for the endeavor that Cogar has said will likely incur a four-digit cost.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” Cogar said. “Do we give (residents) the size and hope they find stuff or do we put out feelers saying we’d like this put in there and we’ll go out and find the size that fits all of the things people are enthusiastic about?”
The commission’s next regular meeting is set 2 p.m. July 2 at the city’s Development Services Building at 410 S. High St.
One of two men serving life sentences for the 1983 murders of five people abducted from a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in Kilgore was denied parole Tuesday by the Texas Board of Pardons and Paroles.
Romeo Pinkerton, 60, will be up for parole again in May 2024, the website for the state prison system shows. That’s one year after his cousin and co-defendant, 58-year-old Darnell Hartsfield, gets his next parole hearing in January 2023.
Pinkerton, serving his sentence in the Allred Unit near Wichita Falls, was convicted in 2007 of the five murders. Hartsfield was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison in September 2008.
Pinkerton first became eligible for parole in April 2014.
Both were ultimately convicted of abducting the five people from a Kentucky Fried Chicken franchise, driving them to a remote oil field road and shooting them to death.
A third suspect remains at large in the deaths of Mary Tyler, 37, Opie Ann Hughes, 39, Joey Johnson, 20, David Maxwell, 20, and Monte Landers, 19.
The Sept. 23, 1983, murders went unsolved for decades until DNA testing in 2001 pointed at the two cousins.
Pinkerton pleaded guilty in the third week of his 2007 trial, and Hartsfield was convicted in September 2008.