Fernando "Tony" King: D-Day Hero
June 6, 1944 — D-Day — marked the launch of the Battle of Normandy and has gone down in history as one of the deadliest days of World War II. More than 2,000 American servicemen lost their lives, and some estimate that more than 4,000 Allied soldiers were causalities of the battle noted as the “beginning of the end of the War in Europe.”
Fernando “Tony” King of Beersheba Springs was there.
“We were in the second crew that hit on D-Day — me and another local boy from around Flat Branch,” he said. “I remember when we got off the ship he said, ‘We’ll be coming back.’ And we did, but I never did see him again after we got back home.
“I was 21 years old when I got my World War II draft notice. That was in 1943. I left Tracy City where I caught a train to Little Rock, Arkansas, for basic training for nine weeks and then on to a battleship. The next thing I knew, I was landing at Normandy.
“It was a terrible sight and situation to behold and just a little of what was in store for us. One time, 15 in our group were sent out, and only two of us returned. On this skirmish, I was reported MIA (missing in action). The Army sent a letter to my mother, but I sent another when the other soldier and I were rescued. I had several close calls during the war. The closest one was when I stood up in my foxhole and a sniper’s bullet hit my belt. Lucky for me it hit my raincoat that was on the belt!
“I also remember one time we took cover behind a train trestle, and the Germans threw a hand grenade into the middle of us. I picked it up and threw it back at them!
“We fought across France and Germany, and I was up in the Austrian mountains when we were told that the war was over. Not long after, we were on patrol in the snow and found a cave where German soldiers were hiding. They didn’t know the war was over and came out with their hands up. They were happy to hear the news that it was over so they could go home. If it hadn’t been over, they would have been prisoners of war.”
While enlisted, King served as assistant squad leader and had achieved the rank of sergeant before leaving the service. He earned a Bronze Star and Distinguished Unit Badge, among other commendations.
King married his wife, Mary, when he returned home to Beersheba Springs in 1945, and they raised five children. The Kings were married 67 years before Mary’s death in 2010.
“I have lived in Beersheba Springs all my life,” King said. After returning from the war, he was employed in the nursery business in Warren County and as a farm worker. He later made electric motors in a McMinnville factory for a number of years before retiring.
King has been a member of American Legion Post 131 for 60 years and visits local schools when invited to share his story for Veterans Day programs. He said he visited his great-granddaughter’s school, Palmer Elementary one year where “90 children came out and shook my hand and thanked me for my service.” He also rides in the local Veterans Day parades when he can and has served as grand marshall.
At nearly 96, King is the last remaining of 11 brothers and sisters. His son, Jimmy, lives with him now. “We take care of each other,” King said.
This month, as we remember the 74th anniversary of D-Day and the brave soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom, we are proud to celebrate the life of this brave veteran who made it home to raise a family and contribute to his community.