D-Day vet to lead Driver paradePublished 9:52pm Friday, October 11, 2013
Robert J. “Jack” Ewald is proud of his efforts to turn back the Nazi tide when he landed on the Normandy coast during D-Day, but he wouldn’t say he’s a hero.
“I’m just one of those poor suckers that came out alive,” the 88-year-old Sleepy Hole resident said. “The heroes are all buried somewhere. They are the ones that gave their lives for their country.”
In 2010, Ewald traveled back to France with his daughter and granddaughter, and paid his respects at the grave of one hero, an Army buddy who charged ashore with the then 19-year-old but never returned stateside.
“I shed a few tears in the cemetery,” Ewald said. “One of the bravest guys I knew is buried there.”
Ewald said he is honored at being selected as grand marshal of the 2013 Driver Days festival, the village’s 20th annual celebration.
“I’m proud of my service,” he said. “I can’t help but be proud of it. I’m just thankful that I got through it alive.”
Ewald, who was promoted to sergeant, said he had been in Normandy 42 days when Germans from the 9th SS Panzer Division captured him and a couple of his men as they tried to help a wounded soldier.
His time in four different German prisoner of war camps spanned nine months. He lived on a little bread that on some occasions, he believed, had been baked five years prior.
“Seven of us had to share a loaf every day,” Ewald said, adding that they would bicker over how it was sliced and distributed, until he volunteered to slice and have last dibs every time.
“The end of the bread was pretty good,” he said. “There was a little more chewing, and it lasted longer.”
When the Allies won and Ewald returned to the United States, he worked for the Chesapeake and Potomac Telephone Company for 36 years.
He married, and designed the house on Bennett’s Pasture Road where he has lived alone since the death of his wife.
Ewald said one of his proudest episodes was when a nephew with the Virginia Department of Veterans Services organized for him to receive — very belatedly — his Combat Infantryman Badge. “I never got one,” Ewald said.
The then chapter commander of American Legion Nansemond Post 88 arranged for a general from Fort Monroe to present it to him during a ceremony on Dec. 3, 2010.
“I thought that was the greatest thing in the world — I finally got it,” Ewald said. “I guess I’m more proud of that than anything else.”
These days, Ewald gazes out from his deck to the Nansemond River and ponders his D-Day experiences and the craziness of war.
“I don’t really hate the Germans,” he said. “They were hoodwinked by the idiot Hitler. They needed someone to pull them out of that mess after World War I, and he did it.
“He (Hitler) had a lot of things that were brilliant ideas — you can’t fault someone for doing things for their country. But, then, he got carried away. Power’s evil. If you let it be absolute, power’s just the ultimate evil.”
Ewald, who himself had a knee replacement, also volunteers at Sentara Obici Hospital to help patients recover from orthopedic surgery with physical therapy.