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D-Day veterans deserve to be remembered, local historian makes it his mission to ensure that

Becky Campbell • Jun 5, 2019 at 5:53 PM

Allen Jackson wasn’t even born when thousands of American and Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, but he is a walking dictionary on the lives of dozens of those men, particularly the two dozen or so with ties to Washington County.

“I can show right now, 28 from Washington County that either landed on the beaches, parachuted in or flew in, on D-Day,” Jackson said. By his account, only one man from Washington County died that day — 1st Lieutenant James Burton “JB” McKamey, who was born in Bluff City but grew up in Washington County.

McKamey was 22 years old when he was assigned to the 497th Bomb Squadron, 344th Bomb Group, 99th Bomb Wing, 9th Air Force and flew a bomber called “The Bad Penny” over Normandy with his crew.

“The plane was hit by flak over Utah Beach and exploded over the English Channel near Montebourg,” Jackson said. Three crew members had bailed out of the plane, but as they parachuted down, they were were killed by German soldiers. McKamey went down with the plane and his remains were never recovered. There are memorial markers for McKamey at Arlington National Cemetery and Monte Vista Memory Gardens as well as at the Tablets of the Missing, the Normandy American Cemetery and the Colleville-sur-Mer in France.

Another 22 of the 28 confirmed Washington County residents who were involved with the D-Day invasion made it through that day, but didn’t survive the war. Most of them were killed or died from injuries over the next couple of weeks.

“For me it’s not just Washington County,” that played a big role win the war, he said. “It’s the free world ... if they didn’t step up …. it’s hard telling where we would be.” If the U.S. and allied troops had failed in the war, it’s likely there would not be a U.S.A., he said.

Germany and Japan had plans to attack America from each coast and take half the country for themselves.

“The plan of Germany and Japan was for Japan to invade the U.S. from the west and Germans from the east. Germany was taking the east coast to the middle of the U.S. and Japan taking the west coast to the middle,” he said.

But the soldiers, Marines and airmen who served, whether killed in action or survived to return home all paid a price for the freedom America enjoys today.

“We lost more than 405,000 servicemen,” during the war, Jackson said. “It could have been a whole lot worse. The strongest point the Germans had was Omaha beach. That’s why 2,500 Americans died on Omaha. On Utah beach, we lost 197 men.”

Jackson said it’s the 1st Infantry Division that gets a lot of credit for taking Omaha beach, but it was actually 116 A Company from Bedford, Virginia, that hit the beach first.

“A lot of the 116th were men from Bedford, Virginia, where the national D-Day memorial is located. Nineteen men from Bedford died that day. One was a set of brothers and one of a set of twins who died,” he said.

Of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, about 425,000 still live.

Jackson, who retired from the Air Force, has spent much of his life chronicling wars, remembering those who died and honoring those who survived.

It hasn’t come cheap, either. Many of the records he finds are free, but he estimated he’s spent upward of $10,000 of his own money for military records so he can document the stories of each veteran possible.

Many of the veterans of that war were so young they didn’t have families of their own, so their legacy won’t get passed down to the children they never had, but Jackson works diligently to ensure those stories are documented and preserved.

“They gave their lives (and) most didn’t leave a legacy. My job is to make sure none of these veterans are forgotten and the names are passed on to the next generation (so) nothing is ever truly forgotten. We remember,” he said.

For more information about East Tennessee WWII veterans, visit www.etvma.org.

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