RALEIGH — He doesnt hear or see as well as when he was a 19-year-old radarman aboard the USS Rich, a Navy destroyer that escorted ships trying to take troops and supplies ashore during the Normandy invasion.
But M.H. Green still has the World War II sounds of German anti-aircraft guns in his head, and he cant forget the sight of the black smoke signaling a hit that would send another Allied plane tumbling from the sky.
Every time it happened, he said, It looked like somebody just lit a whole box of matches, the fire was so thick. You knew a lot of men was getting killed.
It was a grueling three days at sea, starting with a midnight launch on June 6, 1944 70 years ago Friday and ending with three mine blasts that tore the Rich apart, sinking the ship and killing 92 of her 215 men.
Green will remember some of those men Friday during an anniversary commemoration at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Va.
Starting Saturday, local residents can remember the sacrifices made by Green and others who left Raleigh to serve in World War II by reading bits of their stories in a new exhibit at the City of Raleigh Museum.
Ernest Dollar, director of the museum in the former Briggs Hardware building on Fayetteville Street downtown, said he and part-time staffer Josh Trowler got interested in African-American war veterans from Raleigh, then decided to assemble an exhibit that put theirs and other soldiers experiences into a larger context.
With a limited exhibit space and a $5,000 grant from The A.J. Fletcher Foundation, they decided to focus on the ways in which veterans experiences in World War II affected their lives and the world to which they returned.
How were they treated in the military? What did they do when they came home? How did their war experience shape everything that happened after?
For M.H. Green, the end of the war meant a return to Raleigh, where he built a life and family in his hometown.
For African-Americans in the 1940s, military service sometimes included blatant discrimination, with soldiers and sailors of color often getting assigned the most menial jobs. But it also might mean overseas duty, a chance to see how people of color were treated in other parts of the world.
In candid photos donated to the museum, for instance, a black soldier might casually have an arm around a white woman, something more accepted in Europe at the time than in the United States.
Join the Army, see the world
World War II gave African-American service members a military bearing and, afterward, many were able to go to school on the GI Bill, Dollar said.
It set them up perfectly to become the foot soldiers of the civil rights movement, he said.
Young white men who left Raleigh to serve also saw a new window on the world. Some, like M.H. Green hes always gone by his initials had hardly left Wake County before.
He was 18 when he got his draft notice in June 1943. By then, Green said, You knew you were going. Everybody was going.
He had hoped to go into the Army, but he was sent into the Navy and went off to Bainbridge, Md., for boot camp. He was posted at Norfolk and then sent to New Orleans to board the USS Rich, a brand new destroyer.
After a shakedown cruise off Bermuda, the Rich eventually was assigned to escort ships across the Atlantic to England, making several trips. Green recalls the rough waters of the North Atlantic and the relief of landing at the U.S. Naval base at Londonderry.
In May 1944, the Rich was assigned to Operation Neptune, the massing of ships in advance of the Normandy invasion.
On June 6, with the launch of Operation Overlord, the Rich was assigned to escort other ships providing support for the landings on Utah Beach at Normandy. The work continued through June 7, and on June 8, the Rich was called to assist another destroyer that had been hit by a mine.
Green said the other ship told the crew of the Rich it didnt need help, and to get out of the mine field. Before the Rich could get away, a mine went off, close enough to knock Green off his feet and briefly knock out power to the ships de-magnetizing system. Before it could be reactivated, two more mines exploded, one taking off the ships fantail and the next hitting midships.
It went down in about 15 minutes, Green said.
A forgotten war?
He got picked up by a Coast Guard ship and was taken to a floating hospital for treatment of head and leg injuries. He spent a month in an Army hospital in England before he was sent home.
Back in Raleigh, he missed the men he served with. He asked to go back.
He served out the rest of the war he was at Iwo Jima and Okinawa before getting out of the Navy in February 1946.
In Raleigh again, he went to work for a furniture refinisher, then became a traveling salesman for a roofing company. When his wife got tired of his being on the road, he bought a little grocery store near downtown.
He stayed in touch for years with about 30 of his former shipmates. Most of them are gone now, he says.
But he thinks of them often.
World War II is forgotten, he said.
Friday, millions will remember.