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D-Day at 75: Tulsa-area veterans recall the invasion day, the parts they played

Jake Satterfield and Fred Marchant were on the water off shore.

Jack Sanders in the sky overhead.

Bill Parker on the beach itself.

Iris Painter at her radio.

Since the Tulsa World launched its Serving Our Country series five years ago, several area World War II veterans have shared memories with us about the events of June 6, 1944, and the parts they played.

With those memories providing a glimpse of D-Day from about every conceivable angle, we culled together a few of them for the anniversary this week.

The invasion, which started at Normandy, France, 75 years ago Thursday, would lead ultimately to the defeat of Germany and the end of the war in Europe.

However, the cost was high. On D-Day alone, the Allies sustained more than 10,000 casualties and 4,400 dead, many of them in the effort take Omaha Beach.


Part of a Navy construction battalion, Satterfield, a longtime Sapulpa resident, spent the days leading up to the invasion helping make a novel idea a reality: Preparing a portable harbor to better accommodate invading forces after Omaha Beach was secured.

On D-Day, Satterfield’s crew rode across the channel atop a pierhead, which along with the harbor’s other working parts was designed to be installed quickly.

There, a ways off from the beach where American forces were under heavy fire, they waited. “We couldn’t get in there to do our job till they got it cleared out,” Satterfield recalled in an interview earlier this year.

They couldn’t see the beach well from their position, he added. “But we could hear them big guns. And, boy, you never seen so many airplanes in your life. The sky was absolutely loaded with them — bombers, fighters.”

“I know I was scared,” Satterfield said. “But the other boys with me were just as scared. We just weren’t letting each other know that.”


Among those bombers spied by Satterfield from his position at sea might’ve been that of Tulsan Jack Sanders.

A B-24 pilot with the 8th Air Force, Sanders flew two missions on D-Day and had a glimpse from on high of the fighting on Omaha Beach.

“If you wanted to get a picture of hell, that was it,” the late Sanders said in a 2015 interview.

“Guys down there wallowing in that rough sea,” he said. “It was chaos. The big guns were firing. … It was an absolutely sickening sight.”

In the middle of that chaos — with a view that was much more head-on than Sanders’ — a young cowboy from McCurtain was just trying to stay alive.

Bill Parker was part of the first assault wave at Omaha, and in a 2016 interview, he recalled trying to cross the beach with the “sand kicking up about three feet in front of me” from machine gun fire.

Eventually able to work his way across the beach, he regrouped with fellow survivors.

It wasn’t until the next morning that he began to grasp what he had lived through. Going back to the beach, he saw “dead people everywhere. In the water. Washed up on the sand. The water was plumb bloody.”

Bodies everywhere

Fred Marchant, a former farm boy from Pittsburg County who was now an Army staff sergeant, arrived on the beach to find that American casualties for the most part had been removed.

But not so the enemy’s. German dead were left till last.

Some were floating in the water. Others, everywhere on the beach, were “stacked up like cord wood,” he said in a 2018 interview.

Marchant, commander over about 12 soldiers, recalled his men peppering him with questions as they walked the beach.

“Sarge, do you think I should load my rifle?” one asked.

Wary of the possibility of snipers, “I told him, ‘If you were ever going to do it, I’d say do it now.’”

Meanwhile, back across the channel in England, Tulsan Iris Painter was busy at her radio.

Weeks before D-Day arrived, the radio operator had guessed from the rumors that it was coming. But when it finally happened, it still came as a “horrible shock to all of us,” she recalled in 2015.

Painter, based in Ascot, England, sent and received messages in Morse code for the 9th Air Force.

On D-Day and the days to follow, the pace picked up in the radio room, she said.

“We got lots and lots of messages,” Painter said. “We were working full speed.”

Just the beginning

By the end of the day at Omaha Beach, despite more than 2,000 American casualties there, a foothold had been secured and would be expanded in the days to come. Allied landings at other points on the Normandy coast were also successful.

Once Omaha was secured, Satterfield got busy helping set up the portable harbor, which was completed in a few days, before being sent to Guam in the Pacific.

Marchant and Parker would go on to fight their way across Europe to Germany, while Sanders continued his bombing runs, bringing the war to the enemy from the air.

Painter’s unit would move on to France in a few weeks, where Allied forces were advancing.

But wherever the war took them from there, the experience of D-Day would stay with them.

Parker, who will be one of the special guests Thursday at a Circle Cinema D-Day program, wonders to this day how he survived.

“You get to feeling you weren’t supposed to get through it,” Parker said.

As many as 600 structures in Tulsa County took on water during recent flooding, damage assessment finds

Between 500 and 600 structures in Tulsa County took on water during last week’s flooding along the Arkansas River and the streams that feed into it, according to figures compiled by Tulsa Area Emergency Management Agency.

Joe Kralicek, executive director of TAEMA, said about half of the homes and businesses that flooded were in the unincorporated Town and Country addition west of Sand Springs.

Residents of Sand Springs didn’t fare well, either, with about 115 structures flooding.

Homes in the city of Tulsa, meanwhile, escaped relatively unscathed.

“Actually, the city of Tulsa is primarily (government) infrastructure damage,” Kralicek said. “We are going to be looking at the levee system, as far as repairs that need to be made to that, and River Parks and the Gathering Place.

“I know the (River Spirit) Casino on Riverside (Drive) has got damage, but for the most part the city of Tulsa did not have very much structural damage.”

Kralicek credited code enforcement and flood mitigation work done by the city since the 1986 flood for helping to avert a larger disaster in 2019.

He noted that although neighborhoods such as Garden City in west Tulsa were evacuated and water filled the streets there, the destruction could have been worse had the city not planned well for natural disasters.

“A lot of the area that flooded in Garden City had already been bought out as part of a hazard-mitigation process against river flooding,” Kralicek said. “That is where River Parks really gained a lot of their land originally, in buyouts in the ’80s. That is part of what River Parks is there for, to act as a buffer between those neighborhoods and the river.”

Another area with a significant number of flooded structures is Candlestick Beach, west of Sand Springs near Keystone Dam, with about 50 homes flooded, Kralicek said.

The city of Bixby reported that 40 to 50 structures took on water. Numerous homes in the Sperry, Skiatook and Turley area along Bird Creek were also flooded. Broken Arrow has yet to provide a number.

Kralicek said a home that has “taken on water” could have just a few inches of water inside or several feet, as was the case for a majority of the homes flooded in the Town and Country addition.

“The majority of those (500 to 600 structures) are going to be pretty good amounts of water,” he said.

TAEMA’s damage figures were compiled from information provided by municipalities and from assessments done by the agency. Although not every community has reported its damage, Kralicek said he is confident that the numbers will not change significantly.

TAEMA will send its report to its state partners as well as to FEMA, which will use the information to assist in recovery planning, including where to set up disaster recovery centers.

Kralicek said he expects the location of those centers to be announced soon. He encouraged individuals affected by the flooding to apply for disaster assistance at 800-621-3362 or online at

“They need to register with FEMA now, ” Kralicek said.

Some Improve Our Tulsa money could go to fix flood damage, mayor says

The Improve Our Tulsa renewal package scheduled to go to voters in November could include funding to repair infrastructure damaged in the recent flooding and tornadoes, Mayor G.T. Bynum said Wednesday.

“We had some parks that got the daylights beaten out of them,” Bynum said during a City Council committee meeting. “River Parks has major needs. I don’t know how much of that they can recoup from federal sources.

“And, of course, the big question mark is the levee system.”

Tulsa County officials have said previously that any damage caused to the Sand Springs and west Tulsa levees during the recent storms would be paid for by the federal government.

Funding from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, coupled with local matching dollars, will be used to pay for the long-sought-after, comprehensive improvements to the levee system.

But Bynum indicated to councilors that there may be needs associated with the levee system that Improve Our Tulsa II funds could help address.

“There were a lot of components of that levee system that were not working before they (the Corps) even released any water from the Keystone Dam … that we have known need to be replaced for years,” the mayor said.

Bynum used his time before the City Council to make clear that the city has supported improving the levee system for years. Tulsa voters have approved a total of $8.4 million in matching funds for levee repairs in Improve Our Tulsa and Vision Tulsa, city records show.

“The notion that (County) Commissioner (Karen) Keith has been calling for improvements to the levee and nobody has been listening is a fiction, which I think she would be the first to say,” the mayor said.

Bynum said it would be a month before he has a good sense of the infrastructure damage caused by the storms because the various government entities and city departments doing the assessments have just begun their work. Officials are still sorting out whether — and to what extent — local damage will be covered by the federal government, he said.

“After a month, we’ll have a much better feel not only just for the levee system, but just citywide, what needs to be in the IOT (Improve Our Tulsa) as a result” of the storms, the mayor said.

Tulsa Parks and Recreation Director Anna America said Wednesday that she believes Mohawk Sports Complex, 3500 E. 56th St. North, was hit the hardest of the city’s parks.

“At the soccer complex, we lost the fence, much of the equipment, (but) we haven’t assessed the lights, irrigation and other infrastructure,” America said. “We had damage to trails, various sinkholes, trees down in the rest of the park but haven’t done a full assessment yet because some of it is still too wet.”

Hunter Park, 5804 E. 91st St., lost many trees when strong winds tore through south Tulsa early last week, America said, and flooding damaged trails at Redbud Valley Nature Preserve on North 161st East Avenue.

“Around the rest of the city, so far the damage has been tree damage and several sinkholes,” she said. “My hope is that the majority of all of that will be covered by the FEMA reimbursement.”

As currently proposed, the Improve Our Tulsa renewal package includes $417 million for transportation and streets and $163 million for other critical city needs.

The six-year capital package would be funded with $427 million in bonds, financed with property taxes, and $170 million in sales tax. The proposal does not call for tax increases.

The city recently completed a series of public meetings on the proposal with more planned for July, after the mayor and City Council have agreed on the details of the package.

The vote is scheduled for Nov. 12.

Tulsa raised the bar for D-Day events with 40th anniversary river air show

Not since the victory celebration of 1945, when downtown was buried in ticker tape, had there been a World War II-related event of this magnitude in the community.

And chances are good there won’t be anything quite like Tulsa’s D-Day Extravaganza and American Troop Salute again.

Highlighted by an epic air show over the Arkansas River on June 6, 1984, the event commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Normandy invasion with several weeks of activities in May and June.

Not even the historic Memorial Day weekend flood of that year could sink the plans.

The air show, which drew a crowd of some 30,000 to Tulsa River Parks, boasted more than 30 vintage bombers and fighter planes, along with helicopters and more modern aircraft.

The vintage WWII-era planes flew low over the river and even carried out simulated strafing and bombing runs using actual explosives.

The charges were planted in the water prior to the runs to create the impression that the planes were actually bombing and machine-gunning the river.

If that weren’t enough, the event offered skydivers, a National Guard Band concert and a concluding round of fireworks.

In the end, the show went mostly as planned, reports indicate. The only hitch was when one of the skydivers landed wrong and broke an ankle.

Organizers noted at the time that the air show was probably a one-time thing because of the sheer difficulty of staging it. The Federal Aviation Administration had to waive several regulations, including one to allow the low-flying aircraft, which over one stretch of the river descended to about 500 feet.

In fact, the 1984 air show most likely is the only one ever in the U.S. staged over a major city.

Event spokesman Ed Hardy said at the time, “You had to take a good look yesterday because it may be the first and last Arkansas River air show. I doubt you’ll see it again.”