GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Among the more than 125 World War II veterans in the Triad who departed on the WFMY News 2 Honor Trip to Bedford, Va., Friday morning is 87-year-old Wallace Denson.
Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
Denson said at age 16, he wanted to "be a man" and serve his country, so he lied about his age and voluntarily joined the U.S. Army.
In the spring of 1943, he began base training at Fort Leonard Wood and eventually deployed to Europe, just a few weeks before D-Day.
He recalled one of the children in England, where troops were stationed before their order to head to France, asking him, "'How do you feel going to France to get killed?' I often thought about that... but I survived."
Denson said D-Day was his first combat experience. He remembered sitting in the bay near Omaha Beach for days leading up to the invasion.
"Everything was blackout. You drive in the dark, you don't light no cigarettes, no curtains, nothing. We didn't know where we was going. It was almost like a secret, until it was time to go," he said.
"We was dozing off and then all of a sudden, we was going," he said.
While men parachuted down to the beach, Denson's 1106th Engineer Combat Group drove onto shore, where he said carnage was immediately evident.
"You could see the guys floating out in the water. They weren't alive," he said. "Once we got up to the head rows, that's where I see that the gliders had crashed. The guys in the chutes--they never got out of the chutes. They were still in the chutes dead," he said.
Denson said for the next several days, there was neither silence nor reprieve from death. He said he and his team were clearing out a mine field when he fully understood the atrocity of what had happened.
"There was nothing but ashes... Just gone," he said.
As a combat engineer, one of Denson's duties was to temporarily repair destroyed bridges, so American tanks could pass. He said this skill made him a valuable German target.
"Smoke units come out and put up smoke screens, but you still wasn't safe. They knew exactly where you was at," he said.
Denson said he does not know how he survived.
"It was just something. 'Cause we had no protection. Nothing but the sand. There was no trees. Nothing but sand. Just a regular beach, " he said.
Upon preparing to deploy to the Pacific, the war ended, and Denson said he found himself back on American soil. But, his sense of duty did not wane, and he joined a division of the 555th Parachute Infantry--the "Triple Nickles"--and fought in Korea.
This Friday, he will see the national D-Day memorial for the first time.
He said, "It feels good. I look at some of the guys and think how blessed I am. I'm 87," he laughed.
Join Triad community members at Hanes Mall at 5 p.m. Friday to welcome home the veterans from their Honor Trip to Bedford.