Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there

Reporter Jacob Granneman spoke with D-Day vet, Joseph Meiners, on the 75th anniversary of the WWII invasion  

Note to readers: Hi there, my name is Jacob, and I am a reporter and filmmaker with ClarkCountyToday.com. Last week, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, myself and my good friend Alex, were commissioned to shoot a short documentary about one of the last surviving veterans of D-Day. This is the account of that day through the eyes of Joseph Meiners of Nezperce, ID. I write about Joe and the time I was blessed to spend with him because you and I need to remember what these men sacrificed on June 6, 1944. We need to remember why we have what we have. Thank you for reading and God bless.   

NEZPERCE, Idaho — Before the sun rose on a gray Tuesday in the summer of 1944, hundreds of thousands of men from countries across the free world prepared to invade the continent of Europe.

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
Joseph Meiners is shown here at his home in Nezperce, Idaho. Photo by Alex McFeron

Many would never see their homes or their loved ones again.

That morning, 75 years ago this month, one man decided to turn his attention to God. Asking 25 others to join him, he began to lead prayers before loading into the landing craft floating in a nearby river. Over 250 men joined them, and together they prayed and cried.

After loading, he headed downstream in a vessel full of some 200 men. Their journey would take them to the English Channel and across; into battle.

“No talking!”

The order came as the landing craft made its way out onto the channel. All he could hear was the rumble of the motor, a man coughing here or there and occasional sobbing.  

The moment came. The landing craft hit the beach, and the ramp door on the front went down; exposing him and all the men inside. Machine gun fire erupted and many men at the front were killed before even making a move.

He was able to make it up onto the beach, unhurt. Soon, the most terrible part of that day would begin.

“We were going into the unknown,” said the man who had lead the prayers.

The man who had been pulled from his home; from his wife and unborn child, the man who put his faith in a God he could not see but simply know, the man who rode in a landing craft, and hit the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, the man… Joseph Meiners.

Day of Days

Joe Meiners prays with friends in his home on the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion during WWII. Photo by Jacob Granneman

Joe, as he likes to be called even today at the age of 95, served as a tech corporal in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the D-Day invasion of WWII. That day though, he was given responsibilities he was not entirely prepared for.

Shortly after landing, Joe prepared to drive his three-quarter-ton Dodge Power Wagon across the beach.

“There were a lot of guys that were already across the sand, and the sand had turned red. And the water around the landing craft had turned red.”

The only path to the sea wall was straight across the beach, and he needed to get there quickly because of German machine gun fire. The beach was covered in dead or dying soldiers by then, and he simply couldn’t dodge the bodies with the truck.

All the while not knowing if they were dead or alive. It was wartime.

When he made it to the sea wall, a two star General approached Joe and his partner with some unsettling news.

“He said, ‘You boys are medics now,’ and I told him, ‘No sir, we’re motor doctors!’ But I couldn’t argue with him because he had two stars and I had only two stripes.”

For the next eight days, Joe and his partner went up and down the beach, through the maze of mutilated bodies, trying to save those who could be saved.

Eight different times, Joe was carrying a wounded man who was still alive, and the Germans shot and killed the man while he was in Joe’s arms.  

Joe said the memories of the beaches, have never left him.

Miracles in War

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
Joe Meiners stands outside his house in Idaho, showing off his American flag and flower garden. Photo by Alex McFeron

After the beaches, Joe proceeded to move with the rest of the allied force, farther into France and the rest of Europe. Along the way, he was spared from death many times.

Shortly after D-Day, machine gun fire hit in between his legs while he was repairing a bulldozer. His partner was killed, but he was unharmed.

En route to their next position, Joe tried to stop a U.S. convoy he knew was heading the wrong way; towards German lines. The company commander would not believe him. Joe blocked the road, to the great frustration of the mistaken commander.

Out of a nearby tank, a lieutenant colonel arrived, corroborating Joe’s claim and persuading the commander not to take the troops to their death. Later, Joe was told that there was no lieutenant colonel in that area; the field the tank would have been sitting in was mined, it could not have happened.

When Joe took his friends back to the spot, the grass of the field had no tank tracks in it, and no sign of any vehicle at all.

Joe believes the mysterious lieutenant colonel was an angel. This reporter is inclined to believe the same.

My friend Joe

There are so many more stories I could tell you of that day we spent with Joe. So many that they truly do fill books, (and hundreds of poems, written by Joe himself).

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Jacob Granneman (right) films part of a short documentary on D-Day vet Joe Meiners (left) at the community library in Nezperce, Idaho. Photo by Alex McFeron

Joe served through the rest of WWII, fighting in the infamous Battle of the Bulge and being a part of the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp in Weimar, Germany.

Joe is, if you hadn’t guessed, a Christian, and loves Jesus more than anything. During the war, hundreds of men devoted their lives to Jesus because Joe loved them and prayed with them.

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
A photo of Joe Meiners during WWII, is displayed along with his uniform in the Nezperce community library. Photo by Alex McFeron

He has seen things I have only read about. He lived the history I have only been taught. He fought, paid and prayed for the freedom I enjoy everyday. All with the love of God beating in his chest. I cannot even begin to fathom this.

My friend Alex and I spent the better part of two days listening to Joe’s stories and poetry, and filming him interacting with his friends and family in his home town of Nezperce, Idaho — where he still lives today.

It seemed like half the town was his family, and the other half his adopted family.

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
A copy of a handwritten letter from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to allied soldiers during WWII. Photo by Alex McFeron

I have filmed many interviews in the past five years or so, but none as important as this. Why? Because this interview was with a man who has lived his life for God, in spite of living with the nightmares of war and PTSD.

“I always look ahead. Never look back. I would have given up a long time ago, if it hadn’t been for God and Jesus being in my life.”

In the small town of Nezperce, within the living room of Joe’s home, I was filled with awe and respect for another human being that I have never known.

As we walked around, (well, Joe actually drives a John Deer Gator around), and ate our meals together, Alex and I truly felt we had made a great friend.

As we prepared to leave town; packing up our camera gear and sleeping bags, we had one last moment to say goodbye to our friend Joe. What he said to us … to me, I will remember forever.

“You are both my dear friends … my lifelong friends. I love you guys.”

Commentary: Spending D-Day with a man who was there
(From left to right), ClarkCountyToday.com reporter Jacob Granneman, WWII and D-Day veteran Joseph Meiners, and Vancouver photographer Alex McFeron. Photo courtesy of Jacob Granneman

I hope you feel like you too got to know Joe Meiners through this short article, and most of all you too realize the tremendous sacrifice Joe and so many more like him made for you and I during the second world war.

Thank you for reading, and keep an eye out for the documentary that will be produced about Joe. All of us at ClarkCountyToday.com will make sure you know how you can watch it as soon as it premiers.

I leave you with the final few stanzas of the first poem Joseph Meiners ever wrote:

“You cannot see the scars of man, that you can see by day,

But you can see the moon and stars, in God’s great milky way,

So when the darkness enfolds you, have no fear,

For the loving hand of God is always near,

And when you turn towards home, and the lights bright and fair,

Remember our Lord, who guided you there.”

We'd love to hear your comments!

About The Author

Jacob Granneman is a filmmaker and writer from Clark County. He is a recent graduate of Washington State University’s Edward R. Murrow College, where he studied media production. He has produced documentary stories all over the Pacific Northwest and in Argentina. His passions range from loving people, to cinematography, to going on adventures in the most beautiful place on earth, i.e. his backyard. He lives with his wife in Vancouver, WA.

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