Friday, April 4, 2008

D-Day vet visits WHS

When World War II began, Bernard Doucette wanted nothing to do with it.  But as he told Ms. Lopez's US History class earlier today, "All my friends were gone.  I didn't wanna go in.  I wanted to be home.  All of a sudden, I'm drafted."

So he got to work, because complaining about the situation would have been out of character.
"Whatever job I get, I gotta do the best I can."
He joined a reconnaissance group, the 30th Division.  He uncharacteristically learned how to use the Thompson submachine gun, even though he always opposed the use of firearms unless necessary.  One day, a general  - Eisenhower - walked in and introduced himself.
"If you have anything you want to tell me, feel free," he told Mr. Doucette.
Shortly before the group went overseas, Mr. Doucette reported to the lieutenant's office, where he received a shipment of guns from General Eisenhower.  It came with a note.
"Good luck, B.D."
The group arrived in England, making its way to Normandy in time for D-Day.  His group's mission was to "go in a night and get as much information as [they] could."  He put his training to use in battles with the Germans.
"I got probably more barbaric," Mr. Doucette says of his attitude after his first kill.  "I couldn't wait to use the weapon in my hands."
Still, Mr. Doucette was, for the first time, seeing dead bodies around him, and struggled to keep himself together.  His memories continue to affect him - he got emotional a few times during his speech, but his post-traumatic stress is not as severe as that of many of his friends.
"Some of them went real mental."
On multiple occasions, Mr. Doucette himself came close to dying.  One day, he was spotted by a German, who shot at him.
"I get hit.  I could feel the blood going down my leg."
At that moment, Doucette prepared to enter the afterlife, only to realize the truth.
"He hit my canteen."
Doucette served for 11 months in total.  His team got closer and closer to Normandy each day, gathering more information each night.  More battles with the Germans.  More kills.  More casualties.  More friends, dead.  More bodies.
Then, it happened.  His group was captured by the Germans.  He was taken to a POW camp, where they lined up against a brick wall, a firing squad behind them.
Mr. Doucette heard the shots.  He felt them on his back.  Or so he thought.
The Germans shot around him.  The sensations on his back were only falling bricks.  He and his close friend Herbert Stark were spared only because they were German.
The two joined the many other prisoners in enduring the terrible conditions at a cold camp that stretched over 200 miles, Stalag 4B.  They were given little, the bare necessities of survival and pleasure - bread and cigarettes.  Luckily, Doucette was never a smoker.
"The soldiers would pick the cigarettes over the bread."
So Doucette traded his tobacco for their food.  This surely got him out of there alive.  The others?
"A lot of them didn't make it because they starved to death."
Once again, Doucette came close to dying himself.  To this day, he has weak feet due to the gangrene he contracted there.  By the time we was freed by the Russians, he weighed only 72 pounds.
"How could I make it?" he continues to ask himself.  "I figure God was on my side."
Two months after his liberation, he returned to his hometown of Reading.  Eventually, he joined a different kind of force - the working people.  He got married.  He moved to Wakefield.
Today, he humbly tells the comic and tragic stories of his time in Europe.  He repeatedly expressed how he hopes students get something out of his recollections of personal experience.  Don't worry, Mr. Doucette.  Today, you gave us something we could never find in a history book.

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