TERRE HAUTE —
Mass confusion is what Granville Lowe remembers about his initial experience during the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II.
As a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, “Granny” Lowe was dropped into France inland of Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. Looking back on that day 70 years ago, the 94-year-old Lowe told the Tribune-Star that he remembers trying to get regrouped with his outfit so they could keep the roads open for incoming Allied forces while holding off the German defenses.
“There was confusion all over the place,” Lowe said. “We were trying to get all together and find our commander, and it took a little while. The Germans were ready for us.”
Their mission was to secure the beach exits and eliminate the Germans’ secondary beach defenses, capture causeway bridges and destroy a highway bridge near the town of Carentan.
“The Germans fought us real well,” Lowe said, noting that the Germans were well-acquainted with the layout of the area, while the American tanks had a hard time navigating around thick hedges and other obstacles.
Lowe said the invasion mission of the airborne unit was supposed to last only one week, but it was three weeks before they were pulled back out to England to prepare for their next mission.
In September 1944, the 101st participated in Operation Market-Garden, parachuting into the Netherlands and securing a corridor so British troops could advance to breach the German defenses. Getting across the Rhine River was a huge challenge, Lowe said, and he remembers that the Allies put together canvas boats to ferry the British troops across the river.
“A lot of them tried to swim, and they drowned due to the equipment they had on,” he said.
Lowe was attending Purdue University when he entered the Army. He said he was making $21 a month in basic training, but he learned that two airborne divisions were being formed; they would pay an additional $50 per month to those who made it through training.
That training weeded out the weaklings.
“It was tough,” Lowe said. “You didn’t walk anywhere. You ran. You did pushups and sit-ups.”
Having played sports in high school, Lowe was in pretty good physical shape. He made it through basic training with the Screaming Eagles — the moniker of the 101st — who ultimately took flight over Europe.
After being pulled out of Holland, Lowe went with the 101st to Mourmelon, France, in late November. They were to train for their next jump mission, but that jump never occurred. Instead, the division traveled by truck to the town of Bastogne in mid-December.
“It was winter and it was cold. There was snow up to our knees. It was colder than hell, and we couldn’t dig a foxhole,” Lowe recalled.
Lowe soon found himself in enemy hands, captured by German troops.
“I thought, ‘Well, hell, they’re gonna kill me,’” he said. But instead, a German officer called him over and asked him what outfit he was with. Lowe refused to say. The German, who spoke English very well, then asked Lowe where he was from.
“I told him I was from Terre Haute, Indiana,” Lowe said. “And he told me he had been to America to scout out the Eastern seaboard for an invasion.”
His five months as a prisoner of war was time hard spent. Lowe said the prisoners were fed what they were told was turnip soup once a day, but he recalls that he never saw a turnip in the soup. Malnutrition was common. Lowe’s weight went from 170 pounds when he was captured in January 1945 to less than 120 pounds in June 1945, when he was liberated by the Russians.
Rather than go with the Russians, Lowe and another American set out to find their own troops, and they ended up at Camp Lucky Strike.
“I’m one of the lucky ones. I got out with both arms and both legs,” Lowe says of his combat experience in Europe. His bout of malnutrition, though, had lingering effects that followed him for many years. He now makes regular monthly visits to the VA Hospital, and he has a whole shelf of prescriptions to take.
“The VA does take care of me,” he said.
After his military service, Lowe returned to Purdue University, where he earned a degree in physical education. He continues to be physically active, visiting a gym to work out five days a week.
The last time he jumped from an airplane was at Fort Benning, Georgia, at a military reunion when he was 83 years old.
“Now, I don’t even want to get in an airplane, or a boat,” he said. “The farthest I go now is to the doctor and to my daughter’s.”
Lowe still lives in his family home. His son, David, is an attorney in Columbus, Ohio, and his daughter, Barbara, is a teacher at Terre Haute North Vigo High School. Lowe also enjoys his five grandchildren.
On a foyer table just inside his front door, a tray holds five jars of sand given to him by Brian Mundell of the Veterans Memorial Museum of Terre Haute. The labels on the jars indicate Utah, Omaha, Juno, Sword and Gold — the beaches of the Normandy invasion. And nearby are photos of a young Lowe in his uniform, freshly discharged from the Army.
Talking about his D-Day experience was uncommon for Lowe. He said he doesn’t usually like to talk about it, and sometimes he still wakes up and can’t get back to sleep because of the memories. He knows he is one of a dwindling number of WWII veterans.
“There used to be a POW group here that got together to meet, but there’s only two of us left, and I’m the only one still walking,” he said.
Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.