Sears at Omaha Beach during D-Day invasion
Veteran's Day Tribute
Joining the Navy at age 17, Earl Sears worked as a medic for two years before being shipped out to be part of World War II's D-Day invasion.
The Madras resident, now 87, said he was born in White Clay, Neb., just across the border from Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. His mother was a Lakota Sioux, and his father was Caucasian.
When he was a child, his parents took the family out West. "My folks started traveling and picking fruit for a living. I worked as a fruit tramp all over Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California," he said, noting he had one older and two younger sisters.
"In those days, kids picked strawberries, peas, or whatever, right along with their folks," Sears said.
"Wherever we were at, I went to school. I attended 12 different schools in one year, and went to high school off and on," he recalled.
When he was 16, he branched out and got a job on a highway department crew. "I dug ditches and ran a wheelbarrow during work from Crown Point down around through the loops," he said.
On Nov. 30, 1942, 17-year-old Sears joined the U.S. Navy and was sent to boot camp at the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho.
"They put me in medical school in Farragut, and I was a pharmacist's mate first class when I left the military," he said.
Next, he worked as a corpsman in a hospital in Portsmouth, N.H., then drove the ambulance for a first-aid station in Portland, Maine.
His first overseas assignment began when he was part of a group sent to Chicago to pick up their vessel -- a Landing Ship Transport, or LST.
While there, he was unexpectedly recruited by a professional photographer to be in a photo shoot advertising war bonds.
"I was waiting in the USO -- a huge hotel there where they had dancing 24 hours a day -- and the photographer picked me, I don't know why," Sears laughed.
"We took the LST down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where they put a conning tower (armored pilothouse) on the ship," he said, noting it would have been too tall to sail under bridges with the tower on beforehand.
With the ship complete, they headed overseas to Londonderry, Northern Ireland, then Plymouth, England.
"We left Plymouth loaded with tanks, trucks and ammunition. Then all of the sudden, the captain said all lamps and lights were to be out. All the motors stopped and we coasted by an island where the Germans were," he said.
It was the D-Day invasion of June 6, 1944, and they had been sent to land on Omaha Beach, France. Sears described the LST as a "big floating tub, 365 feet long, where the bow of the ship goes down and the vehicles drive off."
He said the Navy personnel stayed onboard to take care of the ship, while Army infantrymen stormed the beaches, and the Air Force did bombing runs.
"I was on the main deck in the captain's office. I was a medic aboard the ship and the ship's crew was my only medical responsibility," he said, explaining, "Fox units drove the tanks off and they had their own medical officers." (Fox was the code name of one of the seven units landing on Omaha Beach).
Wounded soldiers were transported back to England on the lower deck of the LST, but were cared for by their own Fox unit medics.
As their LST backed out into the open ocean away from the invasion scene, Sears recalled, "There were bodies in the water from where ships had hit mines or been bombed before they got to the beach."
On the return trip, they sailed right past the island where they had been so careful before. "We learned that while we were doing the invasion, the Air Force had bombed that island and gotten rid of the Germans," he said.
Back in England, he was transferred onto another LST, which headed back to New Orleans.
During the Atlantic crossing, he said, "We borrowed pumps from every ship we came across because that LST was leaking so bad."
After returning, Sears was transferred to Trinidad Naval Base, off the coast of Venezuela, for rest and recuperation. The base did ship repair, had fuel depots and a 150-bed Naval hospital.
"I was on R&R for a while, then the captain put me in charge of the hospital at night time for all of the patients," he said.
There was one problem, however. "The Trinidad hospital's workers were all conscientious objectors, which made it awkward with those who had been in war," Sears observed.
"I transferred, by request, to a large rescue and repair ship, the USS ATR 82. It was a large tug and we towed barges from one island to the next, all over that area," he said.
He served in that capacity until the ship was sent to San Francisco to be decommissioned. "By that time, my four years were up and I was discharged in Seattle on June 19, 1946 -- at age 21," he said.
After the war, Sears returned to his job with the State Highway Department, doing maintenance between Portland and Cascade Locks, and in the Milwaukie area, before becoming the supervisor of the paving crew based in Portland.
"In the winter, I worked out of Government Camp running the snow blower up at Timberline," he said.
Sears met his future wife while working in Government Camp. June Adam's mother had run the Little Onion restaurant in Hood River, then her folks opened Hills' Place Restaurant in Government Camp.
"There was a barracks for single guys up there, and we all ate at the restaurant. We only got paid once a month, and June's mom gave us credit until pay day," Sears said.
While patronizing the restaurant, he and June started going together, and they were married in 1958.
They lived in Portland, where they raised their daughter, Doeshia, through her high school years. Another daughter, Thelma, lived with her father in Washington.
Then, in 1973, Sears transferred to Warm Springs Junction to finish out his 35-year career with the highway department.
Located in the mountains at the junction of Highways 216 and 26, Warm Springs Junction consisted of four apartments for workers and the foreman's house, where the Sears lived.
After he retired, they lived in a trailer traveling all over the U.S. for six years. "We wintered in Yuma, Ariz., and summered in Madras," he said, noting they had been "snowbirding" in Arizona for 23 years.
In 1987, they decided they were done traveling and bought a home on Cowden Drive in Madras, where they enjoy birdwatching, keeping up with yard work, and visiting with family.
The Sears' daughters are Doeshia Jacobs of Madras, and Thelma Chapman of Everett, Wash.; they have one grandson and one granddaughter; and three great-grandchildren.
After all his years on the road, Sears admitted, "I'm 87 and my wife is 90 -- it's time to settle down."