It’s been 69 years since J.D. Satterfield jumped from an airplane over France with other American paratroopers on what was D-Day June 6, 1944, the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.
But the years haven’t made it any easier for Satterfield to talk about it. This last June 6, Genny Satterfield said her husband sat in his rocker with tears in his eyes. When she asked him why he was so blue, Satterfield said he was thinking about his Army friends who didn’t come back.
“I’d been thinking about it all day,” he said. “It bothers me now. Too many were left over there.”
He tears up, and his voice cracks today when he painstakingly dredges up war memories. His 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was the second wave of 101st Airborne paratroopers to drop at Normandy to launch D-Day about 2:30 a.m. June 6. Waiting to jump, Satterfield saw two airplanes shot down, killing all its occupants. Germans fired up at the planes, killing many paratroopers before they reached the ground.
Satterfield made it safely, though he had a hard time finding his way in the dark. Each of the soldiers carried “snappers” that they would click twice to signal friendly troops. Bullets flew around him constantly, but he was never wounded.
A radio operator, Satterfield and his company commander were standing looking over a battlefield when his captain just fell over, having been struck fatally by German fire.
Satterfield, who became a technical sergeant, reluctantly recalls the horrors he saw, including “frozen bodies stacked like cord wood.” Now 92, he wouldn’t talk about the war until he was 90, his wife said. Many D-Day veterans have returned to France to look over the battlefields where so many died. J.D. has no such desire. “He told me he had hard enough time getting away from that place, and he didn’t want to go back,” Genny said.
There were good times, though, as when his unit liberated a village in Holland. Townspeople chanted their appreciation, and a 12-year-old boy who had been hiding in the basement of a building came up and hugged him. The boy told J.D., “This is the most wonderful thing that’s ever happened to me.”
Then there was the highlight of his service, running into his younger brother, Charlie, during the Battle of the Bulge. The battle was about over, but he and Charlie got to spend a few hours with each other for the first time in more than three years.
It was Charlie who inspired his brother J.D. to join the Army. Charlie had been fighting with Gen. George Patton’s troops, and J.D. was working in a defense job in Michigan.
“He didn’t have to go,” his wife Genny said. When he was signing up, they told him he could make $50 more a month as a paratrooper. He said, “Hand me the list,” Genny said, “and he didn’t even know what a paratrooper was.”
Satterfield made 17 jumps, including training, during the war. His first was at Fort Benning, but he and the 101st Airborne trained together as “the Band of Brothers” in Toccoa. They stayed together the duration of World War II.
After the war, Satterfield returned to his home in Buford, where he had to work hard to persuade Genny to marry him. Genny and some friends were waiting for a bus to Gainesville on the side of the road when J.D. and a friend stopped to offer them a ride in their car. They accepted, and J.D. asked to see Genny again.
J.D. lied about his age so the younger Genny would date him. “He must have asked me 40 times to marry him,” Genny said, and she finally accepted.
They celebrated 67 years of marriage June 22. The Satterfields live in Gainesville now, but lived in Dunwoody while he worked at Chevron in Doraville hauling gas. He retired after 32 years of service, and Genny sold her beauty shop.
In retirement, they’ve traveled a lot and used to walk four to eight miles a day until Genny hurt her back playing basketball at age 80. The Satterfields have three children, John of Gainesville, Joe of Cumming and Candi Smith of Duluth, and five grandchildren.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770- 532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.