Written by Sue Tone
Second Petty Officer Jerome S. Welna, U.S. Navy, survived five battles and 17 engagements during World War II, including the Normandy Invasion in June 1944, on the coast of France. Also called Operation Overlord, the invasion by 175,000 troops from 12 participating countries took place on five separate beachheads: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. Casualties numbered 210,000 Allied troops; a total of 425,000 lives killed, wounded or missing – including German soldiers and 3,000 French civilians – were sustained during the Battle of Normandy.
World War II began in Europe on Sept 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, Welna, 98, explains. “We, as a nation, attempted to stay out of the war until 1941 when the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, and Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.” He had just completed four years with ROTC when he joined the Navy in 1941.
Welna served as a crewman aboard the USS Barton, a destroyer providing close artillery support of American troops at Omaha Beach. He later served in the South Pacific on the USS Sterett during the battle on Okinawa and the liberation of the Philippines. In April 1945, a Japanese kamikaze suicide pilot sent his airplane crashing into the ship which resulted in an enormous hole in the ship’s side.
“World War II ended with our freedom ensured,” Welna said.