Local D-Day veteran says best memories are humorous ones

Paul Strevy, of Huntington, holds a framed collection of the medals he received as a result of his service in the United States Army during World War II. He was stationed in Great Britain, France, Belgium and Germany.
Paul Strevy, of Huntington, holds a framed collection of the medals he received as a result of his service in the United States Army during World War II. He was stationed in Great Britain, France, Belgium and Germany. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

Not even out of his teens, Paul “Gene” Strevy found himself in the middle of World War II. But even in the midst of war, his best memories are of some of the more humorous moments he found himself in while serving three years in the U.S. Army.

Now 94, Strevy, a native of Andrews, remembers vividly his time – with a bit of perceived fondness – for the more humanistic duties he performed, once he got out of boot camp after he was drafted to serve. It was 1943 and he was 18 at the time.

Strevy says his main job in the army was a “sailjer.”

“I was a soldier, but I was on a boat,” he says. “I’ve got a lot of stories.”

Strevy, like so many other soldiers, was sent to England to train for the D-Day landing and he was assigned to the 328th Harborcraft Company, stationed in Feasey Farms outside of Liverpool. In one of the most vivid memories of his activities during the war he was actually unconscious – asleep, in fact – while on guard duty.

“I think I’m 19, and when you go overseas you exchange money. We would give our dollars and they would give us British money. Well, the first or second night I was there I was on guard duty,” he remembers.

“I said, ‘I can’t go on guard duty – I’ve got hay fever.’ I want to tell you, there was at least an inch of snow on the ground. Now you can’t have hay fever if there’s snow on the ground. …

“So, they put me in this room where we exchanged money, and locked me in. So, I started writing a letter home, and went promptly to sleep. It was nice and warm in there. … It took them four hours to wake me up!”

Once he was awake, Strevy found himself under armed guard for sleeping on duty. There was no guardhouse at Feasey Farms, and to his luck, the soldier assigned to guard over him was one of his buddies.

“All he had to do was watch me, so we went all around the camp. So now here we come to horseshoes and we’re going to pitch horseshoes. So how do you pitch horseshoes if you’re holding a gun?” he asks. “He handed it to me! So, he held the gun while I pitched, and he handed me the gun while he pitched.”

Strevy was under “armed guard” for only a week, he says. He was then made an engineer on an MTL (marine towing launch) named the “Mary Turrell.” His next stop was Utah Beach, one of the five sectors of the Allied invasion of German-occupied France in the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.

“On D-Day, I was on a ship someplace in England. I had seen a burial at sea, and we were waiting for them to clear it (the beach) so when we went in we wouldn’t be shot at,” Strevy says. “There were 344 killed the first day. We landed on Utah, ‘Sugar Red’ Beach. That was the name of it. We walked from there on into Cherbourg, and there I spent a few months.”

While on Utah Beach, he said the greatest danger was from artillery strikes. At one point he hid himself under a German machine used to dig holes he called a “Pan.”

“A German bomber came over and he hit an ammunition dump, and that scared the heck out of me,” he says.

Strevy was stationed at Cherbourg, France for most of his service, doing pretty much whatever he was told to do, from helping haul in large ships to guarding the coast from German raids. But there was also some free time to blow off some of the steam and stress of war.

“One memory I’ll never forget – we were all wanting to go swimming. I told them, ‘I can’t swim,’” he recalls. “He (a buddy) says, ‘Don’t worry – the water is saltwater and it will hold you up.’ Well, it didn’t. It held me up about one foot below the surface.

“The water was knee-deep; it wasn’t very deep, but as we walked out, we walked into a big hole where a ship had been sitting. They moved the ship but the hole was still there. And I walked into that, and I can remember looking up and I was below the water about this deep (holds his hands to measure about a foot or so).

“I remember looking up and it was a pretty green, you know. So, I started walking. I could hit the bottom of the ocean and then I jumped up and caught my breath. I was just getting to where I could hold my head above the water. Along come this guy and knocked me back in – he was going to save me! He got a good cussin’, I’ll tell you. …

“I was scared, but not too scared, because after that we had a jumping contest and I got out of the water, and I threw up a gallon of water, and I was ready to go again.”

Strevy also guarded German prisoners while he was at Cherbourg. He said the prisoners were “awfully compliant.”

“We let them loaf a little bit, so there was no danger,” he adds.

Other memories include sleeping in the hold of a fireboat along with friendly rats, and the time he got “yellow jaundice” – which turned out to be hepatitis, spending a week in a hospital before going back to his unit.

After the war ended, Strevy, still on duty, found himself driving a truck for the army, mostly in Germany.

“You couldn’t in a million years guess what I was doing,” he says, with a twinkle in his eye. “I was hauling booze from Reims, France to Berlin, Germany!”

He says the government gave the occupation soldiers a bottle of cognac and a bottle of champagne for Christmas. It was Strevy’s job to get the cargo to its destination.

“My discharge papers say that I led as many as 22 trucks loaded with booze into Berlin. That was false,” he recalls. “I didn’t lead them – I was playing catch-up. I was behind them.”

One of the trucks had a wreck and Strevy was sent out to salvage all the loose bottles. With some help, he got the unbroken bottles loaded onto his truck. The private found himself and another soldier on Germany’s Autobahn, a motorway with no speed limit restrictions, trying to catch up with the convoy.

“The Autobahn is like it is here. Every mile or so they’ve got a bridge,” he recalls. “So there we are; we’ve got a truckload with booze (he laughs). We’d come across a bridge, we’d take the number (of the bridge) down and we’d hide four bottles of booze. And on the way back we picked them up. We got away with 12 bottles.”

After Strevy finished his service he came back to the States, got married, raised four children and went to work as a purchasing agent for Warner Corporation in North Manchester, and had his own egg business for 22 years.

One of his daughters, Diana Streevey, who spells her surname differently, says to hear her father talk about his time in Europe would make someone think he was one of the Keystone Cops, “bopping around France and Germany, never experiencing anything that caused him concern or consternation.”

However, she adds that every war veteran is a hero, including her dad, who likes to proclaim he is the “worst soldier in the army.”

“In my mind, the definition of a hero is not someone who is fearless or reckless or loves an adrenaline rush,” she writes. “In my mind, the definition of a hero is someone who acts selflessly, regardless of their fear, regardless of the logic, regardless of what it might cost them.”

Strevy looks at the framed picture where his medals are displayed under glass. Among them are four battle stars, a Good Conduct medal and a sharpshooter designation. He says he is telling his story after so many years of being what his daughter calls a “silent soldier” because he wants what he did to be remembered.

“I guess I remember things now that I didn’t think of when I was middle-aged. I didn’t think it was important. When you get older, you realize I was just lucky. I never got hurt … and I can’t ever remember being afraid. I didn’t know enough to be afraid,” he says. “But you know what they say – the worst thing that can happen to a veteran is to be forgotten.”