A Lesson in Living History from D-Day Survivor Irving Locker
Irving Locker, the diminutive 94 year old WWII veteran, took part in the pivotal June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion as a Staff Sgt. with the 116th AAA Gun Battalion, knows first-hand what duty, sacrifice and dedication to country means. Locker is passionate in his mission to share the history of the war in Europe as seen through his eyes and recorded in a book he carries with him that documents every single day of the war for his battalion.
Irving first came to national attention when President Trump invited a handful of WWII veterans to join him as gallery guests at the February 5, 2019 State of the Union address. Trump looked up to the aged veterans perched in the gallery and stated, “On D-day, June 6, 1944, 15,000 young American men jumped from the sky and 60,000 more stormed in from the sea to save our civilization from tyranny. Here with us tonight are three of those incredible heroes, Private First Class Joseph Riley, Staff Sergeant Irving Locker and Sergeant Herman Zeitchiek,” When President Trump called his name, a delighted Locker leaped to his feel, smiling broadly and giving an enthusiastic thumbs up.
Locker believes he came to the President\’s attention because of his dedication to educating young people and civic groups about his experiences as a young soldier during the war. \”I speak to young people, I go to the schools, groups and talk to them about history, I have a Power Point I do, and listen, I tell these young children freedom isn\’t free, many, many people, millions of people have died, given their lives, so you can be free, so that the children today can live free.\”
Locker went on \”I tell these children we slept in fox holes, we couldn\’t sleep in tents, even though we had been issued pup tents because the Germans would use anti-personnel bombs, drums filled with whatever they had, nuts, bolts, pieces of scrap metal. So we had to sleep in trenches, and as a little guy, I got the best night sleep! The kids, they would raise their hands, they couldn\’t imagine, they were horrified by the idea we didn\’t have any privacy, no showers for months, that was the last thing we worried about, believe me. We did what we had to do. You know, I still take medicine every day, because I got frostbite but I\’m lucky, I am lucky to be alive and I thank God every day, every day, I really do.\” said Locker
Locker, the son of a Jewish cobbler the youngest of seven children grew up in New Jersey. By his own admission the family was poor, all the children had to work to help support the family. Irving worked and a filling station and it was there he learned how to drive trucks and tractors. After being drafted right out of high school, Locker initially went to Fort Dix, New Jersey then off to training in North Carolina \”The sergeant asked anyone who could drive a tractor trailer to raise their hand, I could drive a tractor so up my hand went, the sergeant said, \’Go on over to the trucks and tell them you can drive, \’ so off I went and the Lt. there took one look at me, I was a short kid, and he said \’Get out of here, you can\’t even reach the handles on the back door, go on over to the machine guns\’ so I went over to the machine guns, the sergeant on machine guns took one look at me and said \’Oh good, you are Italian, and you\’re a little guy, that\’s good, all my machine gunners are Italian, we stick together\’ I told him, \’No, I\’m not Italian, I\’m Jewish\’\” laughed Locker.
Locker was then sent by the machine gun sergeant to the big guns, the massive 90 mm tank killers. \”At first they laughed at me, they sent me to the worst gun, gun 4, nobody wanted gun 4, it was a mess, the sergeant in charge of gun 4 was in the hospital so they put all the soldiers they didn\’t want on gun 4. but I had the personality, I could tell a joke and people liked me so by the time I was 19, I was a Staff Sgt., with over sixty men underneath me, including the sergeant who trained me. I had everything organized, I started with the worst gun in the unit, and we ended up being the best gun.\” Locker went on to describe how his gun, which held shells that were 3 feet tall and weighed about 45 pounds each could be loaded and fired with such discipline and precision that they could take out enemy targets six miles away.
Locker went on to describe how on D-Day they had to go in at low tide on the Higgins boats, according to Locker they had originally trained to go in at high tide, but during recon they discovered the Germans had planted candle sticks in the surf line, long poles topped with bombs that would detonate on contact. At high tide, these candlestick bombs were hidden under the water, so it was dangerous to go in at high tide, this however, meant they had a much longer trek to the beachhead, an addition 300 yards or so at Utah Beach where Locker and his men landed. \”We were scared, and sick, and we were overloaded with gear, the brass, they called this Operation Overlord, we called it Operation Overweight, I was just 5 \’6\” tall, and we were jumping into the water with a helmet, grenades strapped to us, guns, shovels, a pup tent over our pack, everything, we were top heavy, and it you tripped and fell in the water you were dead, you couldn\’t get up, you had so much gear, about 100 pounds, men were dying just getting to the beach, but that was our mission, what we had to do, and bullets were flying past us, people getting shot before they even left the boat. I always say, \”Freedom isn\’t free, you know?\”
Today, Irving Locker resides in The Villages in Florida along with his wife of over 70 years, Bernice. The Lockers are a happy couple, they still ballroom dance together, a pastime they have shared throughout their long marriage that has kept them both fit and spry.
In June Irving and Bernice drove over 4 hours to be with us live for Troopathon after having recently returned from France to take part in the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Invasion to liberate Europe from the Germans. Irving brought with him many mementos from his time in service, he shared with us on set and in the green room maps from WWII that show the location of all the concentration camps in Europe and he showed is his WWI issue brass knuckled knife he carried with him every day of the way. Irving was eager to take part in supporting the troops who serve and sacrifice today, he knows first hand how wonderful it was to receive anything from home. \”It just means the world to you, you can\’t imagine what it is like just to get a letter from home. Everyone shared, if you got something, everyone would share it, it just meant the world to us.\”
\”Troopathon was just an amazing event, I was so pleased to take part, you know we raised almost three quarters of a million dollars for the troops, imagine that!\” exclaimed Irving.
Irving and Bernice were so dedicated to Troopathon and our mission of troop support, that not only did he stay for the entire broadcast, but he and Bernice also personally sent their own Troopathon care package, can you image what an honor it will be for the lucky troops who receive a care package from this true American hero and patriot!
Words From the Heart: Troops Share their Thanks for Receiving Care Packages
Mail is the absolute best part of my day.\”Kari R., Kabul, Afghanistan
Yes, we often her back directly from the troops who receive Move America Forward care packages, as you can see from these letters, the packages mean the world to our troops serving far from home. Read More
At MAF, we answer lots of questions from people interested in sending a package to our troops. One we have frequently been asked is if the soldiers ever write back. We like to say that we hope the service member you sponsor will take the time to send you a personal note, and from what we here from sponsors, that is often the case, however, not every soldier who receives a care packages is in the position to write back. Of course, it would be ideal if every package sent did receive a personal thank you, but in reality, the packages going out with your message of support are meant to be thank you\’s to our troops. The troops who sacrifice every day to ensure we stay safe at home.
Troops do send thank you notes directly to us here at MAF as well. Each package that goes out does go with notes of support from sponsors, so in addition to a big box of awesome treats and daily necessities we folks at home take for granted, our troops get a warm fuzzy from you, their sponsor. You can see from these notes, all received here at MAF over the past few month, these soldiers love their care packages and they are more than happy to share the goodies with their fellow troops.
We hope you enjoy reading this small sampling of Thank You notes as much as we have!
Summer in the Middle-East Means One Thing to Our Troops – Sweltering Heat!
Imagine hauling around over 80 pounds of gear as temperatures soaring well over 110 degrees with no relief in sight! Our troops do this every day as part of their normal routine while deployed. Read more.
We all know that this summer has already served up some record heat here in the states, but July and August are traditionally the hottest months in Afghanistan and Iraq with temperatures forecast to reach a sweltering 120° in some regions of the Middle-East this week.
According to an article in Army Times a soldier on extended foot patrol carries an average load ranging from 87 to 127 staggering pounds of gear from weaponry to communications, body armor, tools, and food and water.
Although we can\’t do anything to lighten this heavy burden, we can help lighten their hearts by providing special care package items to help with the grueling summer conditions of heat, dust and blazing sun.
You know how tough it is for our troops overseas serving in the hottest, dustiest battle zone you can imagine. You can help though, because care packages come with lots of great items to help our troops BEAT THE HEAT. Packages include items like anti-antiperspirant deodorant to help control sweat under the hot sun, powdered Gatorade to make staying hydrated more pleasant, sunblock to stave off sunburns, and lip balm or skin moisturizer to prevent dry cracking skin and most importantly a personal note of support for you, our hard-working troops would be grateful to receive.
Local Girl Scouts Spend Their Day Making Care Packages for our Brave Troops
MAF relies heavily on our local volunteers to help pack and assemble our care packages for shipping. Recently the dedicated young ladies of Girl Scout Troop 2353 prepared care packages for the troops for an upcoming shipment.The Girl Scouts also generously provide us with plenty of delicious Girl Scout cookies prized by our troops! Just imagine the happy faces when a soldier opens a box and finds Girl Scout cookies from home coming his or her way! Lucky for you, you don\’t need to use your imagination, just check out these faces when they get their hands on the iconic Girl Scout cookies!
This would not have been possible without your support and donations.
We have many more volunteers scheduled to come help out in the coming weeks thanks to our very successful Troopathon.
Photo of the Month — This Picture Says it All!
To all of our amazing sponsors who have taken the time to send a package, our troops want to make sure you know how much you are appreciated!