Home News Local News Roswell man recalls ‘D-Day’ service during World War II

Roswell man recalls ‘D-Day’ service during World War II

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Hilario “Larry” Montano, 95, of Roswell poses for a picture in his home Thursday. Montano, as a member of the U.S. Army, took part in the Invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 and was later a prisoner of war. He now resides in Roswell. (Alex Ross Photo )

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Much of the world Thursday paused to reflect on the sacrifice and bravery of allied forces 75 years ago during the Invasion of Normandy, what is commonly known as D-Day.

In all, about 156,155 troops from the U.S. and other allied countries took part in the Invasion that became a decisive allied victory and a key moment in World War II. A total of about 6,939 ships and landing craft and 10,440 aircraft took part in what would be the largest amphibious operation in history, according to the D-Day Center, an online guide to D-Day.

For Hilario “Larry” Montano of Roswell though, D Day is much more. Montano heard the guns of battle and felt the cold water off the beaches of northern France as an anti-tank gun crewman. He now says the consequential nature of the invasion in terms of the war was not something he gave much thought.

“It didn’t even come to my mind,” said Montano, now 95 years old.

Biographical information about Montano provided by Orlando Padilla, former commander of American Legion Post 28, states Montano — born in Logan, New Mexico — was drafted into the U.S. Army Feb. 24, 1943. Montano’s ship landed at Normandy Beach and went ashore at Utah Beach.

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Montano was part of the Third Battalion 60th Regiment and 9th Infantry Division. Though not part of the first wave of troops to reach the island who engaged directly in the bloodiest part of the invasion, he recalls that he waited on a ship on the English Channel as a reinforcement and prepared to unload.

“I was just thinking about the unloading and trying to put my feet on some land,” he said.

Montano was called in as a reinforcement on the second day. He recalled how when the ship came ashore and it was his turn to jump onto the barge with his rifle and all the equipment on his back and get onto the beach, the water was over his head.

Despite the depth of the water though, Montano was able to reach land. He said that he does not remember much of the rest of the invasion.

The biographical data on Montano states the 60th Regiment, which Montano was a part, of split into three battalions and cut through the peninsula and into the town of Barnesville-Sur Mer.

For Montano, another defining moment in the war came in Sept. 17, 1945, when he and his gun crew were captured and taken prisoner in northern Germany.

Montano and his men were held along with other military forces from other allied countries at Stalag II-A in Neubrandenburg, Germany, north of Berlin.

The Germans reserved their worst treatment for the Russians. Russians and Jewish prisoners were often targets for the German guards who would sometimes kill them for no reason at all.

“They hated Russians,” Montano said of the Germans.

Prisoners were often given only one bowl of soup and a piece of black bread each day and sometimes tortured, but the prison population as a whole never witnessed it. Prisoners were assigned to one of 50 work groups, each working on projects in forests, or on farms or railroads.

Montano worked the railroad crew unloading coal from trains. However, even as a prisoner, he found ways to get back at his captors. The biographical information states that Montano would put coal dust in the wheel bearings of the train, which would cause it to slow down as the dust would burn the bearings on the wheel. He did so at great danger to himself.

Montano recounted how he used to have to walk to work in the camp. He was worked so much by the Germans that at one point, his shoes wore out from the bottom and his feet froze. As far as medical care, the prisoners were often left to their own devices. Fellow prisoners were often the ones to administer medical care to prisoners.

“I don’t even know if they were doctors or not but they pretended to be,” Montano said.

As a prisoner, the thought of dying in captivity would cross his mind, however, it was the hope of being liberated by allied forces and the thought of returning home to his young family that Montano said helped sustain him.

In April, Russian forces liberated the camp. A Russian soldier had knocked down the fence around the camp, liberating anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 Russians, Indians, Italians, Brits, Czechs and Americans.

German guards lacking vehicles were in a frenzy and could be seen jumping off the guard towers and onto bicycles as they attempted to flee the scene.

“We were close to Berlin and waiting for the Russians to liberate us and they did,” he said.

Montano went on to receive five bronze battle stars for five different campaigns and a Prisoner of War Medal.

After he left the military, Montano did what so many young American soldiers did — he returned back home. Montano and his wife Josephine went on to have five children. Montano also used benefits from the GI bill to become a trained barber. He would work as a barber from 1949 to 1995.

His time in the war is something that Montano said he did not often talk about.

He also dedicated himself to improving the lives of his fellow veterans. He would serve as a post and district commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2575 in Roswell.

Montano is also a life member of the American Legion and in the past, served with the Veterans Honor Guard. Despite his service in the military, Montano insists that he is not a hero.

“I wasn’t a hero, but I was here to help,” he said.

From time to time when he wears his cap that identifies himself as a World War II veteran, he said that he is still often thanked for his service, something Montano said he appreciates. However, Montano said he feels the real pleasure is his.

“It just feels good to know I defended my country,” Montano said.

Breaking news reporter Alex Ross can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 301, or at breakingnews@rdrnews.com.

 

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