Earl Stuart — reflections on the Navy

Published 7:59 pm Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Believed to be the last man in Pearl River County to have participated in the Normandy, France invasion Earl Stuart reflects on his time in the Navy.

Stuart shared a tale of an invasion on D-Day, the perils of water based mine fields and the honor he received nearly five decades after his service.

After joining the Navy in November of 1943 at the age of 17, Stuart was told he would not be sent overseas before he turned 18. However days before his 18th birthday Stuart said he arrived at Normandy.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

On his birthday he joked with the captain that he should be sent home because he was now old enough to sign up for the draft. Stuart said the captain wished him happy birthday and then instructed him to keep his eyes on the compass.

One of Stuart’s missions involved dropping off Canadian forces, at Juno Beach on D-Day. Stuart said he recalled a steep hill on Juno beach with hedge rows. To cover the Canadian forces Stuart’s ship, the USS LST-139 Class Tank Landing Ship, focused their guns on the beach’s hedge rows. Still losses were suffered that day.

“A pretty good many people got killed then,” Stuart said.

As forces invaded the beach during D-Day Stuart remembered enemy forces protecting the beach were focused more on shooting infantry instead of the ships and boats.

From the day of the D-Day invasion Stuart and his fellow crew members participated in 55 trips from England to France, called shuttle runs, until the Germans gave up, Stuart said.

During his service Stuart manned one of the 40 millimeter guns in addition to his duties at the helm. He said the noise from the large gun affects him to this day.

“I got an ear that’s been ringing ever since,” Stuart said.

While on the anti-aircraft weapon he was the pointer and trigger operator. Stuart said he was unable to wear earplugs since he had to listen to and work with the other four men manning the gun.

Stuart recalled another incident where a number of men were lost; this time due to water based mine fields. Stuart said during a trip to Plymouth, England nine ships, including his, ran into such a mine field. In the group of ships were four LSTs and five Liberty Ships. All five of the Liberty ships hit mines, four of them went to the bottom. Stuart said he remembers witnessing men jumping from the sinking ships into the water. As he watched he knew no one could stop to rescue the men now in the water. That image sticks in his mind as much as the invasion of Normandy, he said.

“I can still see them bailing off the ship, sometimes at night,” Stuart said.

For his service during the war Stuart said he was honored with a certificate from the French government, which he received by mail in 2003. On May 3, 2007 it was officially presented to him at an event at the Hattiesburg campus of the University of Southern Mississippi.

After nearly three years of Navy service at the helm, from Nov. 20, 1943 to April 1, 1946, Stuart left the military. For 51 years he made a living as a brick layer; some of his brick work can be seen in the Westchester subdivision, he said. Stuart has been a resident of Pearl River County for about 40 years. He and his wife have five sons, one recently died in a vehicle accident, 14 grand children and 16 great grandchildren.