CHRISTIANSBURG — Days earlier than his 96th birthday, Earnest Fulcher appeared comfortable to share a few of his World War II tales with a customer. Lots of people need to speak about these days, he mentioned.
“It sticks in my mind,” Fulcher mentioned final month, reclining in a chair in his front room. His daughter, Becky Coffey, was shut by, often prompting him with a date, or a reputation, or a reality she gleaned from her personal analysis into her father’s navy profession.
“I think Becky knows more about this than I do,” Fulcher mentioned, laughing.
Fulcher, who served within the US Navy from 1942 till the tip of the battle three years later, hunted German submarines within the Atlantic and Mediterranean. He was current in any respect Italian Allied invasions, Coffey mentioned.
And Fulcher might be the final individual residing in western Virginia to witness the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion of France, mentioned John Long, the director of training for the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford. If there are different D-Day veterans residing within the space, Long mentioned, memorial employees are unaware of them.
People additionally learn…
Fulcher mentioned he grew up in McDowell County, West Virginia. His mom died, his father remarried to a girl with youngsters of her personal, and Fulcher was usually alone. Sometimes he stayed along with his grandfather, who ran a “sandhouse” the place sand was dried to be used on railroad traces. Fulcher recalled making a mattress within the heat sand.
“I didn’t really have a home. I just stuck with who I could,” Fulcher mentioned. “…I stayed with an aunt, but she had 14 kids, she had three sets of twins — I didn’t have a lot of space.”
Coffey mentioned her father determined to be a part of the navy “to have food and a place to sit”.
Fulcher mentioned he first tried to enroll when he was 14 years previous.
“They said come back in a few years, and I went back in six months,” he mentioned.
On Fulcher’s second try at age 15, he discovered he weighed solely 99 kilos, which was under the minimal of 104 kilos required for draft. Fulcher mentioned he had 25 cents and spent all of it on bananas, which he ate with peels and all. When he returned for a brand new weigh-in, he discovered he had gained 3½ kilos, which introduced him shut sufficient to the load restrict to be despatched to Charleston, West Virginia, after which to Norfolk for Navy coaching.
Fulcher was skilled as a prepare dinner and ready meals for all of the crews of the 66-man crew of PC 624, a patrol boat which, like others of its class, had no identify however was recognized solely by its quantity. The ship’s officers had their very own prepare dinner, Fulcher mentioned.
In his free time, Fulcher—who may sing and was proficient on the guitar and mandolin—discovered different musicians. “We had a little band on the ship…just hillbilly music,” he mentioned.
His battle station was positioned on the stern of the ship, the place he dropped depth fees throughout battles with submarines or fired anti-aircraft weapons when the ship got here into contact with enemy plane.
Fulcher recalled a combat with a U-boat the place he noticed a torpedo narrowly miss the ship and drive by way of the water immediately behind. Crew members used sonar to find the submarine lurking beneath the floor, and Fulcher mentioned he rapidly dropped a depth cost from both sides and two extra behind the ship.
“I’m pretty sure I got it,” Fulcher mentioned.
A historical past of World War II Navy patrol boats discovered by Coffey credit Fulcher’s ship with destroying a German U-boat on July 30, 1943.
At numerous factors, Fulcher served on patrol boats, a submarine chaser, and a minesweeper. One of his ships was wrecked in Palermo, Italy, when a storm drove it into coastal rocks. According to navsource.org and uboat.web, it was the PC 624. The crew managed to land safely, he mentioned, then lived on the immobilized vessel for a time, returning to the ship through cable every evening, a peak on shore.
During the D-Day invasion, Fulcher’s ship helped information touchdown craft stuffed with infantry, he mentioned. “We kind of directed it,” Fulcher mentioned.
Fulcher’s station was off Omaha Beach, the most important and best-defended of the 5 touchdown zones. US troops waded by way of the surf in a storm of bullets and mortar shells, struggling some 2,400 casualties in what is taken into account the bloodiest battle of the day.
Fulcher mentioned his reminiscence of the invasion had pale, however he nonetheless recalled watching in horror from his ship as “a bunch of them were slaughtered on the beach.”
He mentioned he additionally remembers the unbelievable noise of all of the weapons, which completely broken his listening to and left a ringing in his ears that also persists.
When requested if he was scared then or through the different adventures of his battle years, Fulcher laughed.
“I was too young to be afraid,” he mentioned.
Fulcher left the Navy on the finish of the battle and returned to West Virginia. He labored in coal mines for plenty of years, performed in bluegrass and gospel teams, and recorded a couple of ’45s with fiddler Curly Ray Cline. He went to the West Coast and labored on the Southern Pacific Railroad.
In 1950 he married Maraveen Porter. Their marriage lasted 68 years till her demise in 2019. He grew to become a minister of Pentecostal Holiness Church, a touring tent evangelist, and finally based the Christian Fellowship Tabernacle on US 11 between Christiansburg and Radford. Work within the ministry took him overseas many occasions.
“I was kind of here and there and a little bit from everywhere,” Fulcher mentioned, smiling.
Fulcher mentioned he is saved up with a few of his World War II shipmates through the years, “but not for long.”
Coffey mentioned that over time she searched on-line for males who had served together with her father, however “they’ve all gone that I could find.”
The thinning of the ranks of World War II veterans can be clearly felt on the D-Day Memorial, Long mentioned. World War II veterans have usually given excursions of the memorial in recent times, however now it has develop into uncommon for a veteran of that battle to even go to, he mentioned.
The memorial has collected oral histories from about 100 veterans, together with Fulcher, however none have been lately interviewed.
“It’s been a melancholy time in recent years,” Long mentioned. “…The day is not yet, but fast approaching, when we shall not have them.”
This 12 months, World War II veterans attended the Memorial’s annual commemoration of the invasion. But for the primary time for the reason that memorial opened in 2001, no Normandy veterans had been in attendance, Long mentioned.
“It was a melancholy turning level for me. … We’d like to have dozens of them subsequent 12 months, however they’ve handed,” Long said.
Adding to the effects of the passage of time was the pandemic, Long said. It hit WWII veterans hard, both because their age made them more vulnerable to COVID, and the isolation designed to help them avoid illness.
“I really feel like we had been cheated out of some vital years with these males to thank them for his or her service,” Long said.
With the inevitable demise of the generations who lived through direct experience of World War II, the memorial’s mission becomes even more important, Long said.
“It’s up to us now to carry their tales ahead,” he said. “We inform it within the third individual, not the primary individual.”