On Saturday, June 23, a local hero was laid to rest in the Lewisburg Cemetery.
The World War II veteran was never one to brag about his service to his country, in fact he rarely talked about it at all. Most who knew him didn’t even realize they were in the presence of someone who had landed on that infamous Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day.
J.W. “Jack” Hunt was a simple man, says his wife Marvine of Lewisburg. He loved to play his guitar and work on lawn mowers. Everyone who met Jack loved him from the start, she claimed. But there was one special thing about Jack that very few knew, says his wife of 25 years, and that was what a true hero he was.
Hunt, who grew up in Muhlenberg County, was 18 years old when he landed on Omaha Beach with the United States Army. Marvine said he talked about it very little, even to her, but did tell her it was a day he would never forget.
“He told me he knew something was up the night before they landed because they had fed him and his fellow soldiers steak and eggs,” said Marvine. But he could never have imagined what would follow that good meal, could never have imagined how the next day of his life would go down in history as one of the bloodiest battles ever fought.
Jack landed on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and made it out alive, which was something many didn’t do. Marvine said Jack told her after the Higgins boat opened its hatch and he and his fellow soldiers poured out onto the beach, bodies were everywhere.
“He told me he looked back and the ocean was red with blood,” said Marvine.
Jack fought his way through the bullets and made it to a fox hole near the hedge rows where he was blown out of it landing in a tree.
“He said his lieutenant got his arm blown off, but ordered him to take a jeep,” said Marvine.
Jack loaded seven wounded soldiers in that jeep and drove them across a bridge that blew up right behind them. The next thing he remembered was waking up in a hospital where he spent several days recovering from his injuries. The Army sent Jack back to the front where he was wounded once again.
Jack Hunt received a Purple Heart and Bronze Star among many other medals for his service. Marvine said he kept them in a box in a drawer at home until she took them out and had them put into a shadow box for display. Marvine said she is very proud of Jack and thought those medals needed to be out so people could see them.
When Jack came home from the war, he, like many other soldiers, was very skittish, affected by what they went through, what no one else seemed to understand. Marvine said there were times Jack had told her that when he heard an airplane he would get underneath his bed.
Jack drove trucks for a living when returning from the war. His greatest love, said his wife, was playing his guitar, which he learned how to play at a very young age. Jack played his guitar all over and even had a band called “Jack Hunt & His Playboys.” He also played for the Adairville Senior Center and Slappys in Russellville before he passed away.
“Boy he could make that guitar talk,” said Marvine adding, that Jack could play almost any instrument.
Charlene Gentry, Jack and Marvine’s neighbor, has known the couple for years and says she thinks of Jack as one of the greatest men she has ever known. Gentry said Jack shared with her a little bit of what happened that day on June 6, 1944, once in a conversation they had on the porch. She considers herself very blessed that he trusted in her to tell her.
“He is a true hero and he sacrificed so much for the freedoms we have,” said Gentry.
Jack may not have let many know about what he did for his country or the men he helped save while he was alive, but many people celebrated his hero status when he passed away. Jack’s body was escorted to the cemetery by members of the Rolling Thunder Chapter 3 out of Bowling Green. This motorcycle organization honors POWs, MIAs and veterans of all wars. When Jack arrived at his resting place he was given full military rights by soldiers from Ft. Campbell, including the playing of Taps. A flag was draped over his coffin and folded given to his wife. In life, Jack sacrificed his youth and in death he was finally honored for it.
How many Allied and German casualties were there on D-Day, and in the Battle of Normandy?
“Casualties” refers to all losses suffered by the armed forces: killed, wounded, missing in action (meaning that their bodies were not found) and prisoners of war. There is no “official” casualty figure for D-Day. Under the circumstances, accurate record keeping was very difficult. For example, some troops who were listed as missing may actually have landed in the wrong place, and have rejoined their parent unit only later.
In April and May 1944, the Allied air forces lost nearly 12,000 men and over 2,000 aircraft in operations which paved the way for D-Day.
The Allied casualties figures for D-Day have generally been estimated at 10,000, including 2500 dead. Broken down by nationality, the usual D-Day casualty figures are approximately 2700 British, 946 Canadians, and 6603 Americans. However recent painstaking research by the US National D-Day Memorial Foundation has achieved a more accurate - and much higher - figure for the Allied personnel who were killed on D-Day. They have recorded the names of individual Allied personnel killed on 6 June 1944 in Operation Overlord, and so far they have verified 2499 American D-Day fatalities and 1915 from the other Allied nations, a total of 4414 dead (much higher than the traditional figure of 2500 dead). Further research may mean that these numbers will increase slightly in future. The details of this research will in due course be available on the Foundation’s website at www.dday.org. This new research means that the casualty figures given for individual units in the next few paragraphs are no doubt inaccurate, and hopefully more accurate figures will one day be calculated.
Casualties on the British beaches were roughly 1000 on Gold Beach and the same number on Sword Beach. The remainder of the British losses were amongst the airborne troops: some 600 were killed or wounded, and 600 more were missing; 100 glider pilots also became casualties. The losses of 3rd Canadian Division at Juno Beach have been given as 340 killed, 574 wounded and 47 taken prisoner.
The breakdown of US casualties was 1465 dead, 3184 wounded, 1928 missing and 26 captured. Of the total US figure, 2499 casualties were from the US airborne troops (238 of them being deaths). The casualties at Utah Beach were relatively light: 197, including 60 missing. However, the US 1st and 29th Divisions together suffered around 2000 casualties at Omaha Beach.
The total German casualties on D-Day are not known, but are estimated as being between 4000 and 9000 men.
Naval losses for June 1944 included 24 warships and 35 merchantmen or auxiliaries sunk, and a further 120 vessels damaged.
Over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing during the Battle of Normandy. This figure includes over 209,000 Allied casualties, with nearly 37,000 dead amongst the ground forces and a further 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces. Of the Allied casualties, 83,045 were from 21st Army Group (British, Canadian and Polish ground forces), 125,847 from the US ground forces. The losses of the German forces during the Battle of Normandy can only be estimated. Roughly 200,000 German troops were killed or wounded. The Allies also captured 200,000 prisoners of war (not included in the 425,000 total, above). During the fighting around the Falaise Pocket (August 1944) alone, the Germans suffered losses of around 90,000, including prisoners.
Today, twenty-seven war cemeteries hold the remains of over 110,000 dead from both sides: 77,866 German, 9386 American, 17,769 British, 5002 Canadian and 650 Poles.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 French civilians were killed, mainly as a result of Allied bombing. Thousands more fled their homes to escape the fighting.