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Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion, otherwise known as D-Day. My father, John F. Nunes, was among the American infantrymen who landed at Omaha Beach.
What he did that day blew me away.
Dad rarely spoke about his service during all four years of WWII, other than infrequent, brief references. Certainly never in detail. When reaching his mid-sixties, Dad started talking about travelling to Normandy and visiting the vast graveyard of those who died on the beaches of Normandy while battling the Nazis.
Over the years, I learned about his heroic deeds from my mother.
When Dad passed away 14 years ago, I scraped together what I learned about him through Mom and news accounts. He never did make it back to Normandy. Below is an obituary I drafted for the San Diego Union. It was publicized, virtually unchanged, and ran as a news story, meaning it was not paid advertising. Below is the obituary and photo that accompanied it.
**Would appreciate hearing from you about what your close relatives accomplished during wartime.**
World War II hero John F. Nunes of San Diego died of natural causes on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7, 2000.
Nunes was 81, a disabled veteran and a retired grocer. He had spent the past ten years in area medical facilities, suffering from Alzheimer’s.
A recipient of the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, Nunes distinguished himself as an Army Staff Sergeant during the Normandy Invasion, the Battle of the Bulge and other major battles as a member of the Army 1st Division, 16th Infantry Regiment.
Nunes saw action from the time 16th Infantry landed in North Africa in 1942 as part of the first U.S. forces to combat German and Italian troops.
When wounds knocked him out of action just weeks before Germany surrendered, he held all eight U.S. campaign stars for WWII action in Africa and Europe.
Featured on the front page of the San Diego Tribune in 1984, to commemorate D-Day’s 40th anniversary, Nunes said his “old wounds” prevented him from returning to Omaha Beach and climbing the Normandy coastal cliff where he and a handful of comrades helped stop the slaughter.
Nunes was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for setting up a mortar and opening fire on the German positions overlooking Omaha Beach, then joining the first assault troops that neutralized a German pillbox.
Eleven months later, he was wounded during the final bitter battles inside Germany. Under enemy fire, a blaze broke out next to a weapons arsenal. Nunes dove on the fire and smothered it with his hands, saving the lives of 30 Americans, his hometown newspaper in Pawtucket, R.I. reported. For this act of heroism, he received a Silver Star.
At the time, Nunes was suffering from shrapnel in his left arm and other parts of his body. Last week, on his deathbed at a local hospital, he still carried fragments of that shrapnel and scars from that fire.