Friday: Virginia WW2 veteran to receive medal on 70th anniversary of D-Day
CULPEPER, Va. (WJLA) - June 6, 1944: D-Day. A day Howard Mills says remains vivid in his mind.
He was a U.S. Navy Fireman First Class aboard the U.S.S. Texas battleship just off of Omaha Beach.
"I was in the turret five. I was a shell handler - a 14-inch shell handler," Mills recalls. "I was sending the shells up to the gun room."
The U.S.S. Texas fired on the Germans as allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy.
D-Day also happened to be Mills' birthday.
"It was my 19th birthday, and every shell that came over from Germany had 'happy birthday Howard' on it," he remembers.
Mills recalls targeting a church where German troops were taking cover.
"The Germans were using that," he said. "They could see the beach as clear as anything from where they were and they were picking us off like flies - and we took the church out."
Thousands of American troops died that day - and the U.S.S. Texas recovered many wounded soldiers as well.
Mills says he was extremely fortunate to survive.
"I consider that one of my blessings that I've had in my life," he said.
This Friday, on the 70th anniversary of D-Day - also his 89th birthday - Mills and 29 other World War II veterans will receive the French Legion of Honor medal for their service.
"It's the top award from France," Mills said proudly. "I'm still living that - that's big-time."
And for this sailor, the honor is even more meaningful because it's being presented aboard his beloved U.S.S. Texas battleship.
"It was my home," he said of his time on the ship. "Iit was everything to me."