Local vet to be honored for D-Day

June 5, 2009 8:46:28 PM PDT
A Houston veteran is one of roughly 30 World War II veterans traveling to France for Saturday's 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Clyde Combs will be recognized by President Obama and other world leaders in a special ceremony. Before he left, Eyewitness News sat down with him to talk about his WWII experiences.

Combs, 84, enlisted in the navy in March of 1943. He was just 18-years-old.

"So then they asked for volunteers for PT boats. Well, what in the world is a PT boat? I volunteered for that," said Combs.

The quartermaster quickly learned it stands for patrol torpedo. They originally received orders to head to the Pacific, then there was a change of plans.

"It was the most well-kept secret of the war, the date of the invasion," said Combs.

Combs was responsible for plotting the chart of course for their crew.

"Number one, we didn't have GPS," said Combs.

There were no buoys, no channel markers.

"So what I'm saying is the only navigational aids we had were dead reckoning and prayer," said Combs.

Morse code was their communication.

"Da da dit. Something you'll never forget. Like typing. Some things are embedded in here somewhere," said Combs, pointing to his head.

They staged in Scotland and southern England at the beginning of June of 1944, until the call to move in to the English Channel.

"We were a line of about 30 boats strung along there, about 500 yards apart," said Combs.

The PT boats first escorted mine sweepers, then established a line of defense along the western flank of the invading forces.

"Just to have been a small part of the greatest armada in history: 5,000 ships, thousands of planes, tens of thousands of men," said Combs.

After losing his wife, Leta, of 58 years in 2008, Combs spends much of his time working on artwork, his naval history never far from his mind.

Saturday will be his third trip to France since D-Day. Last fall he was on the beaches of Normandy for the dedication of the first U.S. Naval Monument, and he emotionally recalled a meeting with a three star admiral.

"Medallion in his hand, he said, 'Thank you, Clyde, for what you did on D-Day.' Whew, I can't believe it all," said Combs.

Combs will be honored this weekend and recognized by current leaders of the allied countries.

"It's just such an extreme honor for me and unbelievable," said Combs.

He said he is making the journey to remember and to remind all not to forget. Combs is not the only Texan being honored. He and a veteran from Paris, Texas, will receive the Legion of Honor, a prestigious order created by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte back in 1804.

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