Local resident recalls father’s service on D-Day, World War II

Emory Theodore Hopper was a decorated war hero who served in World War II.

He and many others heroically stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day 74 years ago today.

He never talked much about D-Day, his daughter, Shirley Marshall, said.

“He didn’t talk much about it at all,” the Cortland resident said, adding she thought he was protecting her and her four siblings. “Dad was very protective.”

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He and his wife, Audrey, had Marshall, Dale Hopper, Arlene Lange, Sandra Capps and Rhonda Bogard.

Hopper was from a family of 11 and was born in 1917 to farmers in Crothersville. After graduating, he helped on the farm and worked at Morgan Packing Co. to help the family.

He entered the U.S. Army with his brother, Leslie. They were stationed at Fort Harrison, and then he was at Fort Meade in Maryland.

He served in Company A on the 741st Tank Battalion in radio operation and was a second class gunner.

D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history when 130,000 allied troops invaded German-occupied France.

“His tank was able to make it on land,” Marshall said.

Hopper was among a number of Jackson County residents who served on D-Day. Records show that at least one Jackson County resident was killed June 6, 1944.

T/Sgt. Walter Waldkoetter was killed in action in France while on a battalion on D-Day. He left behind his wife, Jane, and a son named after him that he never met.

Serving on D-Day was something that always made the Hopper family proud.

While surviving D-Day was remarkable, it was about a couple of months later this soldier found his biggest challenge. It was a challenge that would leave him severely injured and a long road to recovery.

It was about a couple of months after D-Day on Aug. 1, 1944, when the tank Hopper and his unit were in made its way through Caen, France.

While he was in the tank after everyone landed, there was a German tank waiting for them and blew up the tank from behind, just as Hopper stuck his head out to survey the area.

Hopper’s clothing and body caught fire, and he collapsed by a fence.

A U.S. tank went back to the area to recover any parts from the smoldering tank.

Ed Lucas, who happened to be from Surprise in Jackson County, saw something shiny near the fence.

“They didn’t know each other until the service,” Marshall said.

He went over and saw it was a badly burned American soldier. The burns were so bad they had to identify him by reading his dog tags.

“They went to him and said he still had a pulse,” Marshall said.

It took three days to confirm his identity in France.

The Columbus Republic published a story Dec. 28, 1944, where Hopper was quoted about his injuries.

“My clothing was on fire in an instant,” he said at the time. “I managed to get out through the driver’s hatch. As soon as I left the blazing tank, a Nazi sniper began taking shots at me, but I was too busy to pay much attention to him. I lost consciousness and didn’t regain my senses until after the medics had reached me.”

Marshall said she feels his young wife, who he met in a park while on leave, and his new family kept him alive.

“He had never met me,” she said. “I was born while he was gone, and I think he stayed alive because he knew we were back home.”

She said she was living with her mother and grandparents in Maryland when he returned.

“They said I threw a fit because I didn’t know him,” she said. “And honestly, my mom didn’t, either. She said he was so badly burnt and looked so different.”

He had burns and fresh-looking skin and was missing the majority of his fingers.

“If it wasn’t for his dog tags, I don’t know if she would have believed it was him,” Marshall said. “There were many times she was sitting at the table and she wondered if he was the same guy.”

He was then transferred to a hospital in France for nearly two years, Marshall said. Then he was transferred to Camp Atterbury in Edinburgh and was released.

The time spent in France was difficult for him, she said. He went through countless reconstructive surgeries and skin grafts and rehabilitation.

Some of the rehabilitation involved learning to stitch and crochet to get his hand movement back.

He responded well to treatment, Marshall said.

“He was blindfolded in France,” she said. “A lot of times when he need medicine or water, he couldn’t see them because he was blindfolded.”

After he recovered and returned some two years later, he worked as a farmhand and raised his children.

He was awarded a Purple Heart, an American Heather Ribbon, a Bronze Star Medal, a Presidential Citation, a Good Conduct Medal, a European Heather Medal, a World War II Victory Medal and a Normandy Campaign Battle Star.

Through all of his hardships, she said he never complained or let it limit him.

“He could hold onto about anything,” she said, adding he was an avid outdoorsman. “He never made excuses or let it hinder him in anyway.”

He went through a lot during the war, but he never spoke about it with his children.

“Dad pretty much kept it to himself,” she said.

While he didn’t speak much of that time period, he enjoyed attending the Army reunions each year and meeting with members of his battalion. The Seymour Tribune’s records show he and Leonard Trimpe, Palmer Ude and Ed Lucas, who served on Battalion 741, hosted the reunion at the Seymour American Legion Post 89 in July 1974.

“He went back every year wherever it was,” she said, adding he made trips as far as Virginia to attend. “He went back to meet the guys and had a really close relationship with them.”

Marshall said she and her sister, Arlene, have traveled the same path as their father and saw the places he went.

“Me and my sister have been back to follow his steps,” she said, including going to reunions and areas where her father trained. “Getting into Fort Meade was a trick because it was so confined.”

A quilt that Hopper’s mother, Adelene, made him from his old Army blankets was recovered by her sister. It was in such poor condition, she considered throwing it away, but she called Marshall to see if she wanted it.

“I told her not to throw it away before I saw it,” she said.

The quilt was in poor condition, but Marshall saved it, washed it and gave it a new life when she stitched his name and the names of his family along with his military portrait and an American flag.

“I wouldn’t take a million dollars for this blanket,” she said while holding it up in her living room.

There were some signs the memories took their toll on her father, she said.

Marshall said he would roll his hands together anxiously and stare, making her think he was coping with the aftermath of war. It continued when her late younger brother, Dale, joined the Air Force and served in the Korean War.

Lung cancer took him in 1981 at the age of 63, Marshall said.

“Everybody loved him,” she said. “He was my best friend and took me hunting and taught me a good sense of direction.”

Marshall said her father had a large impact on her life.

“I call him my hero,” she said. “He loved his country, and he loved his family.”

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“Who Is This Man?”

Who is this man

Lying here so grand,

Scars of life seen

On his face and hands,

Those feet, which traveled

Over many a God’s land.

Friend of all animals,

He was no stranger

They ate out of his hand,

For they knew no danger.

His ways were gentle,

But firm when demanded.

All who knew him

Say he is the grandest.

My life has been enriched

By this man on the hill.

His life has not ended

Though the body lies quite still.

You ask me how I know

this man so well.

You see the man lying here

Is the only one I’ll have.

This man I love is my dad.

A poem by Shirley Marshall that appeared in her father’s obituary at his funeral.

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Medals Emory Theodore Hopper received after serving and being severely injured in World War II.

Purple Heart

American Heather Ribbon

Bronze Star Medal

Presidential Citation

Good Conduct Medal

European Heather Medal

World War II Victory Medal

Normandy Campaign Battle Star