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Canton World War II navy veteran Charles Alexander will be among many vets honored tonight by the Orchestra of Northern New York. Photo: Todd Moe
Canton World War II navy veteran Charles Alexander will be among many vets honored tonight by the Orchestra of Northern New York. Photo: Todd Moe

ONNY to honor D-Day vets at Potsdam concert

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The annual summer pops concert by the Orchestra of Northern New York will also honor North Country veterans tonight (Thursday) in Hosmer Hall at SUNY Potsdam.

The performance, which begins at 7 pm, will be led by Music Director Ken Andrews and will include a special tribute to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy. An annual tradition during the concert is a musical tribute to veterans of the air force, army, coast guard, marines and navy.

89-year-old Charles Alexander, of Canton, will be in the Hosmer audience tonight. He was a navy seaman aboard one of the transport ships that ferried Allied troops across the English Channel, and brought the wounded back to England. He shared some of his memories with Todd Moe.

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Todd Moe
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Charles Alexander: I was one of the lucky ones. A lot of them, you know, they’re not here. I was only 19 years old and I was one of the babies. We just did what we had to do, that’s all. I mean, the work was there and we did the best we could. We just—matter of fact I was going to get drafted and somebody told me “Well, if you go to the draft board and tell them you’re ready to go, they’ll put an SV in front of your serial number, that means ‘Set to Volunteer,’ that’s a term. And what it does, if you pass a physical you have your choice of the branch of service. So I did.

Todd Moe: Tell us about D-Day. Tell us about that day. Where were you and where were you assigned?

CA: I was just a seaman on the LSD and it was kind of scary and it was at night; it wasn’t daylight. I guess I was just lucky, that’s all.

Todd: You met a German soldier?

CA: See, I don’t know which trip, I think it was the very first trip. We picked up the wounded and he was wounded. It didn’t make any difference—German, France, American, English, and I was walking by his stretcher and somebody said something. So like a dummy I said “You talking to me?” and he said “Yes, I’m talking to you.” Well I was dumbfounded, because I didn’t suppose he could speak English or that anybody could. He was educated. He was a German dentist and of course he had an officer's uniform. So I talked to him and finally he said all he needed was some cigarettes, so I said "all right" and went and got the cigarettes. I came back and he said “I haven’t got any money," he says, "Let me take your knife and I’ll give you a souvenir off my uniform." And I said “No, if you want to do that, take your jacket off and I’ll do it.” So he did, and it was a little lapel here with a button here, and then it sewed up here. So I cut it off—but I lost it, I don’t know where it is. It was a little silver, and it was dark green uniform. Of course, the officers had kind of nice uniforms.

Yeah, I talked to him, probably for fifteen or twenty minutes after I came back to see him. He was 24 years old, his home was in Berlin and he had three snapshots, pictures in his pocket. He had two little girls. He lived in Berlin and one picture was a big apartment and it was all smashed from bombing. He was scared, he thought I guess they were going to kill him or something. I said no, you’ll go back to England and they’ll fix you up. After the war's over you’ll probably go home. I often wonder, I hope he did make it. Because he said, he didn’t want to be a part of it any more than anybody else. See? You never know. He said he had to go.

TM: Does the Fourth of July, does Independence Day, does that have a special meaning for you?

CA: Well, in one way it does and it doesn’t. They told the story of going back to the United States, I don’t remember how many were in the convoy, probably nine or 10 of us. And we came back, we came into Boston. Anyway, when we left Falmouth, Lands’ End, right on the very southern tip of England, that’s where we left to head for the United States, and of course we were excited going back home, back to our home country--and all of the hats went in the river, went in the ocean.

TM: You remember seeing all of those hats?

CA: Oh yeah. I don’t know about the other ships, but there were over 100 on our crew, so there were over 100 hats and everybody threw their hat in.

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