As we approach Veterans Day 2020, I share this hero’s tale about my father, Floyd H. Siler Sr. (June 28, 1922 – July 8, 2016), his military and post-military life.
My parents Floyd and Helen Siler family lived in Washington, D.C., for 45 years. I am next to the oldest in a family of four children. First, we lived in Anacostia, then moved to Riggs Park. In the early 1990s, our parents moved back to North Carolina, their home state. Our mother died in 1998. Our dad died in 2016.
During our dad’s retirement years in North Carolina, we learned about a significant part of our Dad’s military history. This was through the research and publication of the book “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War,” authored by Linda Hervieux and published in 2015. We knew our dad had served in the U.S. Army, but where and doing what, we had no clue.
We learned that our dad landed on Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day. June 6, 1944 as a member of the 320th Balloon Barrage Battalion, an all-Black army unit. The 320th handled blimp-type balloons from the ground that kept enemy planes from attacking. We did not find out about our dad being in Normandy and the heroism of his unit until between 2009-2010.
The Story Unfolds
We began learning about his vital role on D-Day when my sister, Ina Siler, was installed as a new member of the Disabled American Veterans (DAV) chapter in North Carolina. She and our dad were living in High Point, N.C. at that time.
Ina discovered our dad had been awarded two Bronze Stars. When she asked him about them, he just looked at her and smiled. We had no idea that our father was a war hero, with medals.
Hervieux’s research helped us learn more. She interviewed our dad and learned about other survivors from the 320th with whom my dad had kept in touch.
Now that we knew about this historic period in our dad’s life, my sister attempted to pull more facts from him about D-Day. It was exceedingly difficult for him to discuss. “When we went ashore in small boats after leaving the ship soldiers were shot at,” he told my sister. “We were swimming in a sea of blood. So many soldiers died.”
The interviews with Hervieux were not only helpful for her research, but helpful for our dad. I think it was easier for him to tell a stranger about his D-Day experiences than to bring family into the war drama.
The Ravages of War
Peeling back the layers of our dad’s heroic war story helped us figure out that for many years he had been experiencing depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This fully surfaced in late 2008. His behavior was so different to us. Also, toward the end of 2008, our dad began to have other serious health problems. He kept falling and was in severe pain. Both knees were replaced. He would cry out, “I can’t walk, help me! Why don’t you put me in a nursing home? That’s where I want to go.” Examinations by his internist and a psychiatrist confirmed what we suspected.
I and my siblings started putting “two and two together” about our dad’s health and his unspoken military life.
Dad had an occasional limp that he attributed to an old service accident. What caused the accident, we did not know.
Sometimes after dinner, he would walk a few blocks to visit “an old army buddy.” We now know that buddy was Willie Howard Sr., also in the 320th who lived about four blocks from our home in Riggs Park. They were both from North Carolina.
When celebrating Dad’s 80th birthday, he thanked everyone for coming by saying, “When I was in the war, I thought I was going to die.” That is all he said and then went back to his seat.
One of my brothers remembers how skittish our dad would become whenever there was a thunder and lightning storm. That was probably from explosions during combat from D-Day and beyond.
Why had we never seen photos of our dad in uniform?
The trauma from army life with the 320th was so harrowing, beginning with basic training at a racist, segregated military base through the allies’ attempt to halt Nazi Germany by invading Europe in an audacious assault by 156,000 men on five spots on the French coast, including Utah Beach, to continued action in the Pacific, to coming home. He never spoke about it. We believe he wanted to forget it all. Our dad suppressed his emotions. They were now surfacing.
The Saga Continues
The revelations about my dad’s military background have been eye-opening. The valor of the 320th was amazing and we are so happy that “Forgotten” has told this important story.
I met Mr. Howard, Dad’s army buddy. He still lived a few blocks from our former Riggs Park house. He spoke about his friendship with our dad that started in training and lasted through the decades. Mr. Howard has now also passed.
Our family has always kept a love and respect for our dad. Learning about the 320th war experience has deepened those feelings and shown us he was even more special than we realized. Pieces of the puzzle are still coming together. I am reaching out to 320th family members in search of photos of our dad in uniform. Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D) secured duplicates of our dad’s medals. They included those he earned in WWII and were presented to me in 2019. At the presentation of the medals, Sen. Van Hollen quoted my father from Hervieux’s book. “The beach was covered with dead soldiers and you were stepping over them to get to dry ground.”
Van Hollen also is leading the effort to secure the Medal of Honor posthumously for Cpl. Waverly Woodson, Jr., an army medic in the 320th. He is credited with saving hundreds of lives during the Normandy assault June 6, 1944. Cpl. Woodson was denied the medal due to his race.
Learn more about the 320th from the book trailer https://youtu.be/e73e26_qcQ8. Read profiles of the men who were in the 320th featured in “Forgotten: The Untold Story of D-Day’s Black Heroes, at Home and at War” from author Linda Hervieux’s website http://www.lindahervieux.com.