Born in 1923, Roland St. Amour spent three years in the U.S. Army during World War II and was one of many who landed on Omaha Beach during the Normandy invasion.

After the war, St. Amour returned to his hometown of Lewiston, where he worked at Pepperell Mill as a dyer for decades and raised a family. He is now a resident of the Maine Veterans’ Home in South Paris.

St. Amour and Rena, his wife of 72 years, have four children. Their oldest son is the head of a reform school in Texas, their daughter is a former teacher, their next son is an engineer at Bath Iron Works and their youngest son runs his own business in Poland. They have four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

St. Amour’s younger brother and sister are deceased.

In a first-person account, St. Amour spoke with Sun Media about his upbringing in Lewiston and his military service during World War II.

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I grew up in Lewiston. My mother was from Canada. She was one of nine children. My father was born in Lewiston. He worked at Bates Mill all of his life. He supervised the people who made the bedspreads. I learned French and English, but we always spoke French in our house all the way through.

I went to Holy Cross School. I walked a quarter of a mile there and back and brought a lunch my father made for me.

My younger brother, who was born completely blind and who could play the piano, got a brain tumor when he was young. He died once, then woke up and said, “I almost died this time. Next time, I am going to die.” He did. He was 8.

After that, they found out my younger sister also had a brain tumor. They brought her to Boston and took out the tumor, but they did not put the piece of skull back. My sister became a nurse. She worked for the city of Lewiston and then taught nursing. When she was in her 30s or 40s, she had a car accident. She got hit where the skull was missing and died.

My grandmother on my father’s side was Irish. She was brought up by an uncle in Canada. My grandfather, Alphonse St. Amour, was a tailor for W.T. Grant Department Store on Lisbon Street. He fixed hats, too, and made good money. He went for a shave at the barbershop every morning. He bought himself a Model T Ford, but he never drove it. He had a chauffeur. Every Sunday he would take the whole family to the ocean for a shore dinner. I was the only one who would go into the restaurant and eat. The rest didn’t want to eat fish. Imagine that.

I was drafted into the Army as soon as I graduated from high school. I was 19. I was proud to go. Everybody felt that way after the Japanese attack. It was not like it is now.

I did basic and then commander training in Texas. Then I was sent to a camp in Georgia. I was the smallest one in my outfit. When I went on the obstacle course, everyone would carry me around.

I went to North Carolina for a few weeks, and then they sent me on the Queen Mary to England where I stayed there until the Normandy invasion. I was a gunner. I shot down quite a few German planes.

When we were heading to Omaha Beach, they put me on a boat for an overnight. A sailor there gave me his bunk and a gun. He said, “You will need it when you get down there. Get a good night’s sleep.” It was the first time I ever had white blankets.

We landed in the dark that next morning. I was with the Spearhead. We were in anti-aircraft vehicles, which were attached to the armored division.

We were there for six days. There was a lot of rifle fire with the Germans. There were 25,000 plane sorties from 8 in the morning until 5 at night. Our tanks came in and opened the hedgerow. We took off and went to Cologne. We stayed in Cologne overnight, where planes were dropping bombs and there was still a lot of fighting. A lot of the infantrymen died.

I was in another anti-aircraft vehicle. We were the first ones to cross the river between France and Germany. Then we went to Breton to relieve the infantry. I stayed there for a few days. By this time, I was sick. They evacuated me and brought me to the hospital where everyone was half dead. It was Christmas Eve. I went to midnight Mass.

When I decided to go back to my division, I wore a different outfit and walked. It took me two weeks to get back to where I had been. When the captain said I was AWOL, I told him I wanted to come back to him. He said it was all right, I put on my combat suit and I went all the way through the end of the war.

We were the Spearhead so we were always in front of the infantry. We did not have any say. We did not know even what was going on. We went all the way to Berlin.

On the way, we got to a concentration camp, which was the first to be liberated. To see the people who were just skin and bones, trying to get out of the camp, and all the dead bodies everywhere and the big ovens they put them in is something I can’t forget.

In 1995, I went back to see some of the people who had been in the camp. Three years ago they wanted me to come again. They said if I could not afford it, they would pay for my passage, but I could not go. They still send me holiday cards, though I can’t read them.

We all lost a lot of friends. Most of the guys I was with got killed, even the ones who knew the ropes. I did not have shell shock, though. In three years of service, I did not get a scratch. The only thing I lost was my hearing. I used to fire my gun all the time on this side. I was lucky. I came out pretty good.

I met my wife Rena at a dance soon after I got out of the service. We got married, I was 25. We had my first son, Bobby, one year later. I worked at Pepperell Mill as a dyer. I also sold medicine and other products for Rawleigh at night and on Saturdays and Sundays. I kept busy.

I used to like to meet people. I met a lot with big families. I gave them medicine if they needed it without asking them to pay. In the spring, they would pick up nickels and dimes and pay me. I never lost a penny.

My wife wrote articles and worked in Lewiston for Fairchild. When they closed, she went to Boeing Aircraft in Portland. She helped with assembly. She also made clothes and all kinds of other stuff. She never stopped.

My daughter was carrying her baby brother when she dropped him on the floor. I went to the church and called the doctor. He said, “I am sure he is OK, but I’ll be there in the morning. Don’t tell your wife.” Well, I did.

He came the next day, and he examined all the kids. We had a TV, he sat down and watched something. When I asked him how much I owed him, he said, “I looked at the TV. You don’t owe me anything.” He probably had one of his own, but he just told me that. That was the old-time way.

I bought a house on the GI Bill in 1955 for $10,000 while I was at Pepperell. It had five bedrooms and three baths. We paid $50 a month. I paid it off in 10 years.

After I retired at 65, I worked at Shaw’s supermarket for 15 years and then stopped to take care of my wife, who has dementia. I kept her at home from 1985 to 1990. Then she started getting up at midnight. She would pack a suitcase, dress up and take off. I couldn’t go after her.

Rena has been in a nursing home for the last three years. I moved to my own apartment so I could be near her and see her every day. I liked having my own place. I did my own breakfast, but I had someone come in for an hour in the morning and an hour at night to help me. Then, I started falling all the time. The last time I fell, they told me I had to go to a nursing home. I have been here at the Veterans’ Home one month.

War is not something you ever forget.

Though I like to say I am 39, at 95, I am still alive and thankful for it.

Roland St. Amour was 19 in 1942, when he was inducted into the Army and sent to England.

Roland St. Amour holds a collage of photos, medals and a cord commemorating his three years of World War II service. (Photo/Pamela Chodosh)


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