St. Augustine, Fla. – History books share the story of the invasion of Normandy, an attack against German-occupied France in 1944. In a room of the Clyde E. Lassen state veteran’s nursing home in St Augustine, a 95-year-old man shares his story as he stood among the first wave of allied troops during D-Day. Robert Bewsee would make it safely onto the beach, survive enemy fire and months later fall into enemy hands becoming a prisoner of war. He is among the Greatest Generation.
Sheila Bewsee holds on to old articles and letters remarkably still intact 70 years later. She has a handwritten letter sent from her father, Robert Bewsee to his parents as he sat in a Nazi prison camp as a prisoner of war and a Western Union Telegraph dated March 25, 1945.
The Telegraph reads in part, “Based on information received through the provost marshal general the records of war department have been amended to show that your son, Private First Class Robert L. Bewsee is a prisoner of war of the German Government."
As Sheila reads through the decades-old documents, her father Robert can’t seem to hold back his tears. His health is failing but Bewsee vividly recalls certain events including his capture by German soldiers and the countless miles he was forced to walk to the prison camp with his hands up in the air.
"And what happened if you put your hands down,” asked Sheila. “You get shot,” said Bewsee. “They told you to put your hands up or you get killed."
As soldiers fell around him, killed and left behind, Bewsee was forced to march on.
"Oh yeah you could hear the bombs, the riffles and they would fall on the ground and that's it,” said Bewsee. “Leave em' there."
He spent five months in enemy hands, "There were about 25 in the barracks. One bed, a big hall with one bed. We all ate the same stuff; turnip soup one bowl of turnip soup a day. It was in the winter too. Cold. It was the winter. Nobody was hurt much. Only the ones that tried to get away.
150,000 ground troops facing near certain death during the invasion of Normandy, few survived the explosives and gunfire. Bewsee believes becoming a POW saved his life.
"It's a good thing I got captured or I would have got shot," said Bewsee.
As the war drew close to an end German forces recognized their fate. After five months of captivity, Bewsee was set free.
"They brought us to the front line about ten miles and left us there and took off they knew the war was over," said Bewsee. "We didn't know what was going on. We were afraid, afraid to talk. We didn't know if it was real or not. Sometimes when I'm talking about it I cry. Some of them they left them right there. They never got home. I was lucky."
In 2014 Bewsee received the French Legion of Honor's highest award for his service during WWII and he is also a Purple Heart recipient. On October 24, 2017, at 5 a.m. Robert L. Bewsee died. He was 95 years old.