MILLBROOK, AL (WSFA) - Earlier this week we celebrated Veterans Day to honor the men and women who fought for our country. For one Millbrook World War II and Korean War veteran, this has been quite a year. Really, it’s been quite a life.
“I grew up in the hills of West Virginia during the Great Depression,” said World War II veteran Don Hayhurst.
When he turned 18 he was drafted by the Army and sent to the other side of the world. He was in the waters just off the coast of Normandy, France, about 10 days after the Allied invasion.
“We were supposed to land on June 18th and then convoy across the country. But the waves were coming in and it was just too tough to get to shore.”
Hayhurst and his men finally made it. He continued fighting until the war was over. When he got back to the U.S. Hayhurst got into teaching college and eventually ended up at Auburn University as a political science professor. During his time teaching at Auburn, he also served as mayor for four years. Then while attending an event at Auburn University he bumped into a former student with an offer he couldn’t turn down.
“He said ‘would you like to go to Normandy’. And I said yes I always wanted to see that area again. I have thought about it for a long time and just never done anything about it. He said all I had to do was get on the plane with him.”
So Hayhurst and his former student Alex Moore flew to France and toured the 5 landing sites for Allied forces during World War II. He probably answered more questions than the tour guides and shared something most people could not. He was there. He saw all the bodies. He survived. That sand he ran across with military boots meant something to him. In fact, he brought some back home.
“That’s where we landed in 1944, so that’s where I got the sand from.”
It had been almost 75 years since he last walked this beach. The battle fought here reshaped the entire world. He just had to come back and see it for himself.
“It means so much to your life, you ought to have the opportunity to re-examine it. It’s like the idea of completing something in your life. You want to have a post script or a final assessment of it.”
At 94 years old, Hayhurst made a trip across the world. He brought a little piece of Omaha Beach back with him. The rest of it is forever etched in his mind.