D-Day 2024: 80th anniversary is personal for FOX 13's Mark Wilson

On this 80th anniversary of D-Day, FOX 13 honors our veterans who played a role in turning the tide of the war. While a half dozen Bay Area veterans are in France, one particular soldier named Wilson is credited with saving dozens of lives that day by simply disobeying an order.

With Europe hanging in the balance, the largest sea, air and land assault in the history of the world was underway on the northern beaches of France on June 6, 1944. Among the very first to make landfall was a 25-year-old soldier from Virginia, U.S. Army Tech Sergeant Quentin Wilson, leading the 116th Infantry Division into pure hell.

"They went through extremely heavy gunfire and an incredibly heavy ocean. They got sick before they got there. They were throwing up in the ship," said former FOX 13 News Anchor John Wilson.

READ: D-Day 2024: Bay Area veterans travel to Normandy for 80th anniversary

Quentin Wilson's nephew – and Mark's father – John, was one of the few he ever spoke to about D-Day.

"It's indescribable what he and the others went through. That's why he never spoke much about it. It takes your breath away when you're reminded of how many died there," John Wilson said.

There likely would have been dozens more had Sgt. Wilson not called a battlefield audible. Quentin and his older brother Paul Wilson, Mark's grandfather, grew up in Big Stone Gap, Virginia, thrust into war with Hitler on the verge of taking all of Europe. Paul was assigned to the USS Missouri, but spared conflict when the Navy assigned him to manage their payroll. Quentin found himself in a tank company in England preparing for the invasion of all invasions when General Eisenhower stopped by his battalion to monitor their training.

Quentin recalled that day 50 years later as he was recorded for the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

"General Eisenhower wanted to see if we could hit our targets. And I never failed hitting the target on my second shot," Quentin said on the tape.

Days later, he was leading his company in an amphibious boat onto the shores of a chaotic and bloody Omaha Beach, where the heavily armed and fortified Germans were waiting and rained heavy fire down on them.

READ: Pasco County paratrooper inspired by D-Day to join the Army attends 80th anniversary events: ‘I am not a hero’

"I had marks here and here (pointing to both cheeks) and I could smell the flesh from this one," Quentin Wilson said.

He'd been ordered, despite the incessant fire, to land in a certain spot on the beach where the others before him had all been obliterated.

"Every ship that went in there, well it just blew up. You just saw heads, arms, limbs and pieces of boat flying in the air," Wilson said.

READ: Tampa veterans fly to France ahead of D-Day 80th anniversary commemorations

So he made a decision to ignore the order and veer left off his mark about 30 yards. By doing so, his was the first boat in his company to reach the beach and he got all of his company in there without getting wounded.

"Had he not done that, they'd have been dead," John Wilson recalled. "He told me later, you know I could have been (court-martialed) for what I did, but I wasn't going to land where everybody was getting killed."

Yet as soon as he reached the beach, his bad day got worse. His Army medical record shows shrapnel was removed from seven places, including his eye and his broken leg. Later, he only reluctantly showed off his Purple Heart. Prouder, instead, that wasn't what brought him home.

"He went right back out there to fight and finish the job," John Wilson said. "When I see that picture of dad and my brother side by side, my pride only grows. They and all the others made an incredible commitment to serve this country, to serve democracy and free these countries from very bad people."

Uncle Quentin lived a good life, raising a family in Tennessee, before passing away in 2011. One of his prized possessions was a letter from another soldier in his company thanking him for saving their lives.

For more on D-Day, click here.

NOTE: Stay tuned all week to FOX13 News as Mark Wilson reports from Normandy as FOX 13 salutes our Tampa Bay soldiers for their role they played in the war, their courage, sacrifice and liberty they gave to Europe.

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