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William Stafford
91, St. Clair Shores
Omaha Beach

William Stafford was born in Detroit and grew up on the city’s east side with his brother and sister. His mother cared for the family and his father worked for Timken-Detroit Axel, where Stafford also held a job.

He graduated from Southeastern High School the summer before the United States was thrust into World War II and knew he’d be called to serve after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

“I knew I’d be 1-A. I just waited for the letter,” Stafford remembered.

He was already married to his high school sweetheart when he was inducted into the U.S. Army in January 1943. He spent months training to become a soldier and an artilleryman in the 183rd Field Artillery Battalion, destined for deployment to the Pacific.

Stafford arrived at Omaha Beach on D-Day with the U.S. Army’s 183rd Field Artillery Battalion. He was part of a 12-man gun crew that hammered German positions in Normandy and throughout Western Europe.

Photos by
Brian Louwers

Fate turned, however, and Stafford found himself on a ship bound for Liverpool the following December. He waited five months before the men of the 183rd were loaded onto transports in the middle of the night and shipped across the English Channel.

Stafford said he didn’t know when the invasion would begin until the morning before they left England.

He arrived in Normandy at 10 a.m. on D-Day in the second assault wave. The battalion’s “prime movers” towed their 155mm guns from the ramp of the landing ship, through the surf and across the sand of Omaha Beach.

“I saw a lot of soldiers on the beach yet. I don’t know what you call them — they were like motorized barges that were taking bodies off the shore,” Stafford said. “I saw a lot of craters. I saw one pillbox that was blown open. It was on a rise up there. Someone had done a good job on that one.”

He spent D-Day moving off the beach to positions inland. His battery set up in the hedgerows where the battalion’s guns hammered German defenders in the French countryside around Saint-Lô and Sainte-Mère-Église.

“We didn’t realize the danger we were in. I don’t think any of us did,” Stafford said. “As soon as we could get the gun in order and we could plunk it down and we could lob a few shells, we had to help the infantry in Saint-Lô there, and Sainte-Mère-Église. Those places were heavily fortified.”

He said the battalion never really got a chance to see the damage inflicted by its guns, but he said they got a glimpse of the devastated German city of Aachen from a distance.

“We were firing on that town for about four or five days. We damn near leveled that whole town,” Stafford said. “I knew it was Aachen. I assumed we killed a lot of people, or they weren’t in town, one of the two. Whether or not they left, who knows?”

Stafford spent the rest of the war in Europe in combat and was discharged from the Army soon after hostilities there ended in May 1945.  

He returned home to his wife and his job at Timken and retired after 41 years. He had a son with his first wife and later remarried and became a stepfather to two girls.