With Memorial Day approaching, a St. Johns County hero will be reflecting on the men who didn't make it back from the biggest military attack in history.
Herb Griffin, 88, is not only a World War II veteran but also served during D-Day in 1944.
Griffin has many honorable medals, including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for the severe injury he suffered in Normandy, France, that nearly cost him his arm.
The St. Johns County Fire Department has formed a special bond with Griffin in the last few months and is giving him the trip of a lifetime, sending him back to Normandy next month for the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
"Everything broke loose. It was jut a terrible thing, and we managed to get out and get out of the water," Griffin said. "Everything was going off, bombs going off, mines and everything. They were firing artillery from ships 10 miles out."
Griffin was sent across the English Channel on a ship in 1943 to fight against Nazi Germany. He was one of 100,000 American soldiers who made the march across Europe. Nine-thousand were killed or injured.
Griffin said his experiences are vague because it was 70 years ago, but he said there are some things he will never forget.
"I remember getting out of the boat, the transport ship and was up to water up to your neck, with all the equipment on," Griffin said. "You had everything going off, machine guns, artillery mortars, all that going off. It was just a terrible thing to even think about. You see people laying out in the blood in the water. As young as I was, I didnt know what was happening."
Griffin was in and out of hospitals overseas and in the U.S. for a year before he was discharged from Waco, Texas. Dealing with the injury to his arm was difficult, but what was even worse for the humble veteran was that so many of his fellow soldiers didn't make it home like he did.
"I know there's a reason for everything, but I think about that all the time," Griffin said. "They didn't have a chance at life, but a lot of people I knew very close. So that's a hard thing to take, and I would hope that people would realize what freedom is all about, because if we had not run the Germans and Japanese out, this country would not exist as a nation like it is with the freedom and liberty we enjoy every day."
A few months ago, Griffin was taken to the hospital for a medical emergency, and an unexpected relationship formed with the firefighters of Station 2 in St. Johns County. Lt. David Franklin said his crew was honored to be in the presence of not only a World War II veteran, but a D-Day participant.
After inviting Griffin to the station multiple times for coffee, dinner and to admire his memorabilia, the firefighters came up with an amazing idea.
"We contacted our union local 3865 president and see how he would feel about supporting a D-Day World War II vet being sent back to France for the 70th anniversary," Franklin said. "It's just a really neat story, and at the same time, we here at the station on all three shifts have made a really great friend out of Mr. Griffin."
Griffin's brother will be traveling with him to Normandy, and their tour guide will be a World War II historian. Griffin said he couldn't be more blessed to have made friends with the firefighters and for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity they're giving him.
"I'm going to have a mixed emotions on that because it's hard to say how I'm going to feel when I get there," Griffin said. "It will be unbelievable that I'm walking on the place I walked that many years ago, but the main thing is the people that didn't get to come back, and see the crosses out there and that their lives were lost. And that's why it's an honor for me to go."
St Johns County Professional Firefighters from local union 3865 is still looking for donations so it can make Griffin's trip possible.
There will be a fundraiser for Griffin's trip from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday at Ann O'Malley's Deli and Pub in St. Augustine. Ten percent of proceeds will go to helping send Griffin to Normandy for the June 6 anniversary. There will also be a silent auction.
Donations can be sent to:
St Johns County Professional Firefighters and Paramedics IAFF Local 3865 Firefighters Benevolent Fund Inc.
1960 U.S. 1 South
St. Augustine, FL 32086
Attn: Herb Griffin Donation
Tax ID: 900613667
Or visit Go Fund Me to donate.