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As D-Day Anniversary Looms, World War II Vets In Fort Worth Remember Their Service

Saturday is the 71st anniversary of D-Day. That’s when Allied troops stormed the shores of Normandy, in a turning point battle that claimed almost 20,000 lives on both sides.

Two veterans now living in Fort Worth weren’t on that bloody beach in France, but their memories of World War II are indelible.

As he shows off his father’s dog tags and gives the nickel tour of his apartment, it’s clear Sidney Achee is a patriot. Memorabilia is everywhere. Old photos, model helicopters and service medals lovingly preserved behind glass.

Sidney was 20 years old, a member of the ROTC at Louisiana State University when he was called to active duty. He was an Army aviator and made it to Europe six months after D-Day, just in time for the Battle of the Bulge.

“I was a combat engineer and we did building bridges and supporting the troops as they advanced, clearing mine fields and all,” says Sidney.

30 Years, 3 Wars

Sidney went to Japan after his tour in Europe, and ended up in Waco for flight school in 1950. He flew helicopters in Korea and went to Vietnam in 1967.

Five years later, he retired as a Colonel who’d spent three decades in the military.

“I enjoyed every minute of it. There were moments of stark terror, but all in all it was a good life and I enjoyed it,” Sidney says. “I’d go back today if they wanted me.”

Joining Up At 17

Sidney’s friend Bob Lawson only served 18 months. He enlisted in the Navy as a 17-year-old.

“I went then to the Naval Training Center in Great Lakes Illinois. While there, they called us all together to make the big announcement that the war in Europe had ended. So I wasn’t even out of basic training by then,” says Bob.

He was in San Diego waiting to be assigned to a ship when victory was declared in Japan.

“So by the time I left the United States as an enlisted man, actually the war was over,” says Bob.

He did spend some time in Hawaii and on other Pacific islands working as an electronics technician. Even though he wasn’t in the thick of things, the losses around him made an impact.

“That really impressed me as a 17-year-old kid, and it still impresses me to this day to realize that we live in this freedom that we live in due to the sacrifices of those people during the war,” says Bob.

Life After The Service, In Fort Worth

Bob and Sidney are both widowers now, and live in Fort Worth at a retirement community called The Stayton. It’s a sleek high-rise in the cultural district, light-years removed from World War II. Sidney recalls what it felt like to fight with the whole country behind him.

“It was a war that we lost a terrible amount of troops to accomplish. Everybody in the states at that time was supporting the soldiers,” says Sidney. “Not so with Korea and Vietnam.”

Sidney and Bob had dramatically different experiences in the military. For one man, it was a career. For the other, his short-term duty as a young American. Still, the lessons are universal.

“Going through basic training lasted you the rest of your life. You knew how to make beds, how to treat people,” says Sidney.

“And how to respect authority. It’s kind of like getting married, you never forget that either!” Bob chimes in.

Sidney is 92 now. Bob turns 88 in August. When they kid around, it’s easy to picture two young soldiers reporting for duty.

Courtney Collins has been working as a broadcast journalist since graduating from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2004. Before coming to KERA in 2011, Courtney worked as a reporter for NPR member station WAMU in Washington D.C. While there she covered daily news and reported for the station’s weekly news magazine, Metro Connection.