Winthrop resident Ernest Deeb observed the 70th anniversary of D-Day on June 6 in a very personal way. For the 91-year-old Deeb was a member of the 150th Engineer Combat Battalion that began its training at Fort Devens in Ayer.
He and the other members of this New England-based force were activated in February, 1943, and assigned to the U.S. Third Army under the command of General George S. Patton Jr.
They fought long and hard as soldiers through Europe in five major campaigns of World War II including Normandy, an effort that led to a victory for the Allied forces in what many historians consider the turning point of World War II and one the most important events in world history.
Deeb is a highly honored soldier, earning well-deserved recognition of his heroic efforts and the heroic efforts of the entire 150th Combat Battalion at Normandy. He has received the Presidential Unit Citation from President Harry Truman. He received a Certificate of Meritorious Service and had a day named in is honor by the Boston City Council on June 6, 2007.
â€œI was drafted in to the U.S. Army when I was 19,â€ said Deeb. â€œWe spent six months in training at Fort Devens. We went to Camp Edwards on the Cape and built a mock village and then we attacked it like we would do in the Army. Rocky Marciano was in my outfit as well as Congressman Mike Capuanoâ€™s father, Andy Capuano, who was a lieutenant.â€
Following their training at Camp Edwards, the unit moved on to Fort Dix in New Jersey. They boarded the Queen Mary,Â which had been convered in to a troop ship, and traveled overseas to England.
â€œWe got orders to go over to France to be part of the invasion of Normandy,â€ said Deeb. â€œMy outfit was stationed on a landing barge in Normandy. We had landed at Angers [a city in western France] but they wouldnâ€™t let us off until the next day because they were bombing the seashore. We were shooting across the river and the Germans were shooting at us.â€
It was at that point in his military service that Deeb realized he was in a real war with real bullets.
â€œWe were just 19-year-old kids. All we knew was cowboys. So all of a sudden the kid beside me got hit by enemy fire and he said, â€˜Iâ€™m hit.â€™ All of suddenly we realized that the war was real. That changed everything.â€
Deeb said 80 per cent of his fellow soldiers died in the fighting. â€œYou just had to live with it. It was tough. Thank God I had a great attitude. I held on very well. I was pretty calm in the face of some terrible situations. I think that attitude helped me when I became a firefigher.â€
Deeb said visibility at Normandy was very difficult. â€œYou couldnâ€™t see across the river yet the Germans were shooting at us. And then they were bombing us from up above. Thatâ€™s when we knew this was serious business.â€
Deebâ€™s assignment was on the bazooka and the 50-caliber machine gun. He and the other soldiers were called upon to build roads and bridges to advance Gen. Pattonâ€™s group.
â€œThe enemy was trying to halt us and they were firing at us because we were building roads and bridges to help Pattonâ€™s troops,â€ remembered Deeb. â€œWe were spearheading 100 miles into enemy lines for Pattonâ€™s troops. As we were going up to the road in to the Bulge our battalion saluted Gen. Patton.â€
He had a close call with death in the battle. â€œMy whole squad got wiped out. I was the only one left and the only reason I escaped serious injury was that the lieutenant had told me to get on the radio. The next thing I know my squad was in the gulley and the bomb fell in there.â€
Deeb was asked whether he considers himself a hero.
â€œNo. I just wanted to do my part for the Army and the country and come home,â€ said Deeb.
After the war was over, he gathered with the member of the 150th Army Engineers for annual reunions for 61 consecutive years.
â€œThere were about 40-50 veterans who would get together,â€ said Deeb. â€œBut today Iâ€™m the last one still living in the New England group among the 150th Battalion.â€
Congressman Capuano always greets Deeb with tremendous respect when the two meet. Capuano issued a congressional proclamation at one of the reunions honoring the 150th Combat Engineers and their service.
Deeb had a distinguished career in the Boston Fire Department and saved a life in the line of duty. He continues to work at Boston City Hall for the Elder Commission.
Itâ€™s been a life of heroic action that began when a young 19-year-old helped the American forces win a battle and ultimately the war.
Mr. Deebâ€™s four sons, Ernie Jr., Billy, Bobby, and Sammy are understandably proud of their father as are the Deeb grandchildren.
Mr. Deeb resides in Winthrop, memories of his military service still fresh in his mind.
Courtney Creamer wrote an essay about Mr. Deeb a few years ago. She said: â€œErnie is a wonderful man full of numerous stories about his life and how it changed during and after the war. It is important to thank our veterans for the hard, dangerous work they did to protect our country. If it werenâ€™t for people like Ernie Deeb, where would we be as a nation today? Tom Brokaw hit the nail on the head when he called these men the â€œgreatest generation.â€â€™