HOUSTON (AP) — The clouds were low. The sea was rough. A cacophony of shouting men and the constant boom of exploding shells filled the air. Waves of American, British and Canadian soldiers landed on Normandy's beaches. The hospital ship filled rapidly with the injured, and the USS Texas began taking on casualties.
Through the battle smoke, they gazed from the landing craft and saw security: an enormous red, white and blue flag.
In honor of the 70th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, invasion, the flag that was aloft will go on public display Friday for the first time since World War II in an exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science thanks to a crewman who gifted the flag.
"It was a firsthand witness to one of the most epic battles in history," said Andy Smith, manager of the vessel that is now a memorial in the Port of Houston called the Battleship Texas. The USS Texas also was present when the American flag was raised at Iwo Jima in 1945.
The USS Texas' 17-by-9 foot battle flag was raised on its mast June 5, as 156,000 Allied soldiers prepared to cross the English Channel and face the Germans. The USS Texas, which already had fought in World War I, was tasked with drawing enemy fire so the troops could land, Smith said.
The flag told the other Allied powers this ship was a friend. Working in unison, the crew fired more than 255 rounds of 14-inch shells in just 34 minutes. The rounds came so fast and so furiously, the troops on the beach were relieved when they saw the USS Texas and its constant barrage, Ernest Hemingway described as a correspondent for Colliers magazine.
"She's firing, and she's moving, and she gets as close to the shore as she can," Smith said. "Part of her mission is to be a target."
The days pass in a blur of fighting. By June 25th the USS Texas, flag unfurled, is at Cherbourg, battling to capture the port city. On the bridge is navigator Emil Saul, helmsman Chris Christiansen and dozens of crewmen. Suddenly, there was an explosion.