Comrade Al Turner
December 12, 1921 – December 19th, 2011
A D-Day medal for ‘Mr. Patriot’
Janie Nafsinger – 07/08/04
Al Turner of the Tualatin VFW receives a medal honoring him for his part in the Allied landings at Normandy in the summer of 1944
D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Al Turner, a 22-year-old U.S. Army medic from Portland, stepped off the Rhino Ferry into the English Channel and sank into water over his head. Loaded down with gear, he found his way to shore in the Dog Green Sector of Omaha Beach in Normandy.
Dazed and rendered partially deaf by the thunder of combat, Turner moved inland from the beach with a group of other soldiers. They made their way to the village of Vierville, where they took up what they believed was a secure position in an orchard across from a church.
The next morning, Turner awoke to the sight of a German rifle pointed at his face. “We thought we were behind the lines and came to find out we were the line. That was a shock,” recalled Turner, now an 82-year-old Wilsonville resident and a member and past commander of Tualatin Post 3452 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.
Turner and 40 other soldiers were taken prisoner and marched 150 miles to the French city of Rennes. Along the way, half of the prisoners were killed by Allied planes that strafed the area.
When the Germans learned that he was a medic, Turner was put to work as an orderly in a Rennes hospital, where the patients included Allied POWs. He remained there until Gen. George Patton’s Third Army recaptured the area in late August 1944. Turner returned to military duty and was discharged from the Army in August 1945. End of story? Not quite.
Last week, Turner – known as “Mr. Patriot” to his VFW buddies – received the Jubilee of Liberty Medal honoring him for his part in D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Normandy that changed the course of World War II.
The regional council of Normandy first presented the medal in 1994 during the 50th anniversary of D-Day. Anyone who took part in the Allied landings that occurred between June 6 and Aug. 31, 1944, is eligible to receive the medal. Turner was assigned to the 121st Combat Engineer Battalion, 29th Infantry Division.
He was in the second wave that landed on Omaha Beach as part of the First Army, 116th Regimental Combat Team, Force O. The opening scenes of “Saving Private Ryan” depict the deadly combat and chaos that swept up Turner, who has seen the movie. “The beach scenes were good and real,” he said of the movie. “The rest was Hollywood.”
A medal in the mail
So how did Turner – who has never attended a D-Day anniversary in France – receive the Jubilee of Liberty Medal? He has an acquaintance named Bob Everroad to thank for that.
A former Portlander who lives in Scotland, Everroad attended the 60th anniversary of D-Day last month in France and apparently made some inquiries about obtaining a medal for Turner.
At Everroad’s request, Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith’s office sent Turner an application form for the medal. To make a long story short, an envelope containing the award arrived in the mail a few weeks ago at the home of another friend of Everroad’s – Col. Stiles Jewett, a Wilsonville resident and chief of plastic surgery at Madigan Army Medical Center at Fort Lewis, Wash.
Jewett presented the medal to Turner during an informal ceremony Friday afternoon at the Wilsonville Senior Center. “I hate these things,” Turner said with a grin after Jewett pinned the beribboned gold medal on his shirt pocket and the small audience of family and friends applauded. Looking back, “I consider myself lucky,” Turner said. “The only thing I lost was my hearing and 40 pounds – and my youthful stupidity, I think, at least part of it.” It turned out that Turner also suffered a concussion on Omaha Beach – his injury was discovered after he was liberated from the Germans. He was treated at a hospital in England.
Later, Turner came down with tuberculosis and battled the disease for a number of years until a cure was found. “So I was lucky again,” he said. He believes his mother suffered more than he did during the D-Day landings, Turner added. “I knew I was OK, but I was missing in action, and Mom didn’t know where I was. I apologize for putting her in that position.”
His mother, 100-year-old Calla Turner of Wilsonville, was in the audience Friday afternoon. So was Turner’s wife, Evelyn, who hadn’t worried about him a bit during D-Day because they didn’t know each other then, Turner explained with a smile. Calla Turner, though, remembered that telegram she received 60 years ago notifying her that Al was missing. “We didn’t know how to think about it,” said Calla, whose other son – Al’s younger brother Jack – also was fighting in France. “It doesn’t matter how old they get, they’re still your baby.”
Al Turner doesn’t talk much about his World War II experiences, and D-Day seems unreal to him now.
“After so many years, you get to the point where you think you’re talking about someone else,” he remarked. He has never returned to France and doesn’t plan to, he said. His friend Bob Everroad had arranged for Al and Evelyn to attend the 60th anniversary of D-Day last month, but they declined.
“I don’t want to leave the United States. I’ve been out of the United States – been there, done that,” he said, smiling.