D-Day survivor tells his story

Published 9:03 am Thursday, November 12, 2015

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT D-Day survivor Art Staymates speaks to the media Monday at the American Legion Hall in Buchanan.

Leader photo/CRAIG HAUPERT
D-Day survivor Art Staymates speaks to the media Monday at the American Legion Hall in Buchanan.

No matter how many times World War II survivor Art Staymates tells the story of landing on Omaha Beach during D-Day, it never gets any easier.

The 91-year-old Maryland native still remembers the sound of machine gun fire hitting the door of his landing craft infantry (LCI) as it approached the sand.

“I told my guys, ‘I’m going over the right side, you guys can go down the plank if you want to, but I don’t think you’ll have a chance,’” he said during a meeting with local media at the Buchanan American Legion Hall Monday. “That was an awful, awful day. The first division alone lost 2,000 men on the beach that day.

“You are going to be frightened. You are going to be scared to death. That is just the way it is. Some guys were blessed with being able to fight their way through and do what they had to do… other guys just froze… they couldn’t handle it. There were terrible things that happened that day.”

For the past several years, Staymates has traveled around the world to speak about his experiences serving in the U.S. Army in World War II — a pact he made with two of his fellow soldiers as a way to remember those who did not make it home. Staymates is doing three speaking engagements this week in southwest Michigan, including two in Buchanan, for Veterans Day week.

Staymates, who was drafted in 1943, said he knew he was going to die the moment he hit the beach with thousands of other soldiers on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He stayed scared 24 hours a day until the war was declared over 11 months later.

“I haven’t been scared since. There is nothing to be scared of in this world after that,” he said. “I was fortunate enough to get through it.”

When asked why he thought he survived, Staymates said he used to say he was just “lucky” before realizing it wasn’t a great answer.

A minister once told him that God had blessed him, but Staymates did not like that explanation either.

“I thought why would he bless me and not the boy beside me?” he said.

The answer finally came to him after playing a round of golf with a pastor.

“He (the pastor) said it’s easy,” Staymates said. “He said you had nothing to do with it. It is by the grace of God.”

That’s the answer he still gives today.

Those wanting to hear Staymates tell his story can do so today at Michigan Lutheran High School in St. Joseph. He is scheduled to speak at 7 p.m.