Watson spoke to the group of Sailors who listened with the utmost respect and admiration as he retold his role in the historic event where an allied force of more than 160,000 troops, 5,000 ships and 1,200 aircraft battled Nazi Germany on a 50-mile heavily fortified stretch of coastline.
According to Watson, his Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM) was making its way to the beach when it hit a Teller mine about a mile from the shore and exploded. Dozens of men were killed instantly and he was sent flying through the air.
“As I headed into the water everything to my left was blowing up and everything to my right was blowing up,” said Watson. “People often ask me what time I got there and I tell them once I hit the water, I looked down at my watch and it was smashed and stuck on 7:27 a.m., so I go with that.”
As a beachmaster, Watson’s job was to keep the troops, material, equipment and vehicles moving up the beach. However, Watson did much more including helping Army medics, firing off rounds on the firing line and operating a bulldozer in order to clear debris and make a road for troops and vehicles.
After spending a total of 28 days on Omaha Beach, Watson was sent back to England. His unit was awarded the Navy and Army Presidential Unit Citation and he was awarded two Purple Hearts during his Word War II naval service.
After seeing Steven Spielberg’s epic war film “Saving Private Ryan” that showed parts of the invasion, Watson said he had the chance to talk to the famous director.
“I told him I was happy that he made the battle only a fraction of what the horror truly was,” said Watson. “Everything thing was on fire and there were bodies piled up to the left and right.”
Watson said he has returned to the beaches of Normandy quite a few times over the past 70 years, usually to mark the anniversary of the landing, but chose to stay home and tell his story to other Sailors this year.
“Bob has committed countless hours to presenting his story and is a truly a Southern California and national treasure,” said Cmdr. Chris Nelson, BMU-1’s commanding officer. “He is a great American and he is really teaching a lot of our guys about their roots.”
Sailors who attended said they enjoyed the opportunity to meet someone who took part in the historic event.
“He is an absolute hero,” said Engineering Aide Constructionman Deandre Kitchen, who served as part of the color guard for the ceremony. “He fought for our freedom and by participating in the color guard I feel that I am paying back some respect he so very deserves.”
Kitchen wasn’t the only young Sailor moved by the firsthand account of the battle.
“It means a lot to me what he did for our country during that amphibious operation that happened so many years ago,” said Boatswain’s Mate Seaman Katelen Norris. “It’s such an honor to meet him; it’s like meeting the president.”