Reflections on D-Day’s 70th

Posted on June 6, 2014 by

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I recall, years ago, asking my grandfather to document his WW2 service in the Navy, and one of the things that stuck out… not only to myself, but clearly to him… was where he was on June 6, 1944. Though he wasn’t off the coast of Normandy, he was on a convoy in the Red Sea. Still, some 40+ years after the fact, he pinpointed where he was on the day the allies went in to Normandy. The significance was not lost on the event, even though he was recounting his experience while he was elsewhere doing his part in defeating the Axis.

Though not directly related… about five years ago, while reviewing my home county’s losses during WW2 (as a part of my research for my weekly column which use to run in the newspaper in Luray), I wondered where everyone else was… from my home county… on that day. Though I couldn’t find the answer, I did find two pieces of information that shed light on two aspects of that day.

One… which actually came into my possession… and which I wish I could “show” at this time (but can’t seem to locate just now)… was a broadside printed in Page County calling the congregation of a particular church to come and pray for those who were part of the invasion. When I locate it, I’ll post it.

The other was the county’s sole death in the affair…

Page County was much more fortunate than one of its sister county’s in Virginia (thinking, of course, about the Bedford Boys from Bedford County, Virginia). Even so, that’s not to detract from the significance of the loss of the one man to his family and friends.

Born in Prince William County on January 2, 1916, Jacob Harvey Fox was the son of Jacob Harvey Fox, Sr. and Josephine Atkins Fox. Sometime around 1934, the Fox family relocated to Luray, where the younger Fox later attended high school. After graduating, J. Harvey Fox, Jr. moved to Washington, D.C., and later (March 30, 1940) married Sara Louise Salter of Americus, Ga. Fox entered the Navy from Washington, D.C., on April 22, 1943.

It’s unclear when he joined the crew of the newly (March 14, 1944) commissioned USS Meredith (DD-726)… the destroyer had only recently (May) left Boston, as part of a convoy across the Atlantic… but he was present, on board, when the Meredith steamed toward the French coast as one of the seventeen destroyers in the flotilla. Arriving about a dozen or so miles off Utah and Omaha Beaches early on the morning of June 6, 1944, by 6 a.m., the Meredith, along with the rest of the fire support flotilla, opened on enemy positions on the beaches.

For the next two days, the Meredith would continue to patrol the waters on the lookout for mines and PT-type German E-boats. On June 7th, two ships, the USS Corry and a troopship, were the first to encounter mines off Utah Beach. Shortly after 1 a.m. in June 8th, the Meredith was the next victim of a mine, while screening the heavy warships northwest of Utah Beach. According to Commander George Knuepfer, commanding the Meredith,

…the explosion appeared to have occurred deep down in the ship on the port side amidships. It vented itself upward and outward on the main deck and the ship’s side over the after fireroom.

Fireman 1st Class Fox was among those killed in the blast.

Knuepfer as a Naval Academy Midshipman

Knuepfer as a Naval Academy Midshipman

As indicated in Commander Knuepfer’s report, the initial explosion occurred below in the vicinity of the After Fire Room where Fox was stationed. In a letter to Fox’s wife, Knuepfer attempted to provide comfort while praising Fox’s service:

While I know there is nothing that I can say that will lessen your grief, please know that I join you in the splendid pride we had in Harvey and for the fine upstanding man he was. Harvey was very much respected and loved by all his shipmates. He had a splendid record in the Navy for efficient and courageous performance of duty at all times. By his death, in the line of duty, he made the supreme sacrifice for his country.

Even though this was all there was to be found regarding Fox’s story, the story of his ship is worth noting further…

Sometime after 2:20 a.m., the Meredith was listing 12-degrees to the starboard. Knuepfer soon after ordered all hands to the main deck “to stand by the life floats and nets.” After abandoning the ship, the Meredith was towed to an anchorage in the Bay of Seine where salvaging operations began. The following morning, enemy bombers appeared and though a 2,000 pound bomb exploded 800 yards off the Meredith’s port bow, the blast was enough to have severe impact on the destroyer. Still, salvaging operations continued until just after 10 a.m., when the destroyer unexpectedly broke in two and sank.

Though the Meredith sunk below the waves in June 1944, it was another sixteen years (on August 5, 1960) before it was raised, only to be sold as scrap a month later.

A few years ago, in an episode of Deep Sea Detective, the story of the Meredith and… exactly what happened to her was reinvestigated…

For those wanting even more about the Meredith, I encourage a look at this pdf available on the Destroyer History Home Page.

I wasn’t able to figure out when word reached Fox’s family, regarding his death, but given the date of his mother’s death, I’ve wondered if it was because of the news… she dying less than two weeks after the death of her son. Fireman 1st Class Jacob Harvey Fox was buried in the Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Basse-Normandie Region, France, but a memorial stone to Jacob Harvey Fox, Jr. is in Beahm’s Chapel Cemetery, near the graves of his parents.

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