Selma neighbors share D-Day connection

Published 7:42 pm Thursday, June 5, 2014

June 6 is the 70th anniversary of D-Day, sometimes referred to as “The Longest Day” during World War II. It was the day roughly 160,000 Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the clutches of Nazi Germany.

More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the landings along 50 miles of coastline in France code named “Operation Overlord. “ The coastline was a portion of the Atlantic Wall heavily fortified by the Germans. Casualties were heavy, with more than 9,000 Allied dead or wounded by day’s end. However, a beachhead was established, and the march across Europe had begun.

Although many casualties were already suffered from December 7, 1941 until D-Day, many more would fall on the battlefields over the next 11 months liberating Europe. Two of those falling victim to death after D-Day have sisters and relatives living here in Selma.

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Two neighbors for 50 years, more or less, Earlen Bearden and Bette Pearson live on the same street with only one house separating them. They share several things in common besides living close to one another. One such thing is the loss of brothers during the war and their remains being interred in Europe.

Neither of them ever had the opportunity of visiting their brother’s gravesites except through pictures. Only through the graciousness of John D. Coon, Jr., cousin of Earlen and Marvin, have they been able to connect to the final resting place of their brothers. One other commonality they share is both families had twins in the siblings. Earlen has a twin brother, now deceased, and Bette had twin sisters younger than herself with one deceased.

Earlen Bearden’s brother was Pvt. Wilbert M. Hughes, Supply Battalion, 2nd Armored Division. Pvt. Hughes, called Marvin by friends and “Big Bubba” by his siblings, was a truck driver keeping supplies, ammunition and fuel to the tanks of the 2nd Armored Division. The 2nd Armored Division arrived in Normandy on D-Day plus 3, June 9, 1944.

They had completed successful campaigns in North Africa, Sicily and Italy prior to Normandy. The Division nicknamed “Hell on Wheels” began the campaign along with the 3rd Army under the command of General George S. Patton in a race across Europe.

They reached the Albert Canal in Belgium on September 8, 1944 and crossed into Germany on September 18. By October 3, they were attacking the Siegfried Line, breaching it, and continuing to cross the Wurm River.

The Division seized Puffendorf on November 16 and Barmen on November 28. They were on the Roer River when ordered to advance in support of the German offensive, the “Battle of the Bulge.”

Pvt. Hughes died of wounds on November 7, 1944 during the period stated above of the 2nd Armored Division actions in Belgium and Germany. He was involved in an accident of unknown causes but could very well have been a land mine in the road. He was transported to a hospital, but died of wounds. The family took comfort in the fact he did receive treatment at a facility before succumbing. According to Mrs. Bearden, he died doing what he loved, driving trucks.

Pvt. Wilbert M. Hughes is interred in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery near Liege, Belgium along with 7,992 other American soldiers.

Bette Pearson’s brother was Pvt. Isaac S. Clark, Jr., 318th Infantry, 80th Division. He was selected from Mississippi where the family lived at the time. Pvt. Clark had tried to enlist prior to being drafted, but was turned down with a 4F classification. Apparently, in late September 1944, the need for soldiers prompted the selective service to reconsider. He was the oldest son called “Sun Boy“ by his Dad and “Sonny“ by others. Pvt. Clark was 27, married with a 6-month-old son at his death.

Pvt. Clark joined the fight with the 80th Infantry Division – a unit of General George S. Patton’s 3rd Army – after very little stateside training. By Christmas Day, 1944, the 80th was battering its way through stiff German opposition on their way to rescue the besieged 101st Airborne at Bastogne.

They broke through on December 28th bringing relief to the battered 101st. The 80th kept pushing the Germans back and by February 7, 1945 crossed the Our and Sauer Rivers at Wallendorf. Continuing with the pursuit, they broke through the Siegfried Line and into Kaiserslautern, Germany by March 20. During this time frame, Pvt. Isaac S. Clark, Jr. met his demise. It is thought a land mine claimed the life of Pvt. Clark and several others on March 14, 1945.

Pvt. Isaac S. Clark, Jr. is interred at Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.

He is in the company of 5,076 other American soldiers, among them General George S. Patton.