93, St. Clair Shores
Thomas Meagher grew up on a farm in Port Austin, Michigan, with seven sisters and four brothers.
He was drafted into the U.S. Army and sailed for Ireland in 1943 during the buildup for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Western Europe. He was later sent to Wales.
After 70 years, he still remembered the shroud of secrecy around the camp in the weeks before D-Day.
“You couldn’t say nothing. I had one guard duty there, one time, and I had orders to shoot to kill if anybody attempted to go across that fence. Even the mail truck wasn’t allowed in there,” Meagher said. “I knew it was getting awful close.”
Meagher went ashore with the 2nd Infantry Division at Omaha Beach early on June 7, 1944, 24 hours after the liberation of Europe began.
ABOVE: Meagher holds a map given to him by a guard at a German prison camp. He was captured in France on June 10, 1944.
Photos by Brian Louwers
UPPER AND LOWER LEFT: Meagher landed on Omaha Beach with the U.S. Army’s 2nd Infantry Division on June 7, 1944. He was captured on June 10 and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner in Germany.
“I remember looking around and I just looked like this, and I saw a man way up in the air. He was on a boat and the boat hit a mine,” Meagher said of his trip to the beach in a landing craft.
“That blew that guy up in the air. By the time he hit the bottom, the boat was gone. It sunk.”
Meagher recalled the moment he watched the man ahead of him step from the ramp of the landing craft into the deep surf of Omaha Beach.
“It was about 20-feet wide, this landing barge. We were loaded with all our packs and everything on our back. The guy ahead of me stepped off, and when he did, that was the last I saw of him. He went straight down,” Meagher said. “We were in the wrong spot. They didn’t even know where we were supposed to be.”
Three days later, Meagher went into combat carrying a Browning automatic rifle and quickly found his unit engaged with the enemy embedded in Normandy’s infamous hedgerows. It was the last he saw of most of his company.
He recalled how the company commander died as they were trying to locate a German machine gun and a tank emerged on the field before them.
“That tank blew the hedgerow apart, and (the colonel) was killed right there,” Meagher said. “That thing was aiming right at this other guy and I, and that’s when we put our hands up, walked kitty-corner across this field and the Germans were right there.”
Meagher was taken prisoner by the SS on June 10, 1944 — his first day in combat — and later spent a total of 31 days in a boxcar on the way to Germany.
“Every time they’d put an engine on there, our planes would come over and bomb the engine off, so the boxcar would just sit,” Meagher said. “That was terrible. That was the worst part of that whole deal. That was where you didn’t care if you lived or you died. It was so hot, being June, you know? I think there was 40 of us in the boxcar. I know one thing, when you laid down, you had to lay on one side. If one guy wanted to roll over, the whole damn outfit had to roll over. That was terrible.”
Meagher was liberated in Bavaria in May 1945, after nearly 11 months in captivity.
He returned to Michigan and got married in 1947. He settled in St. Clair Shores, where he worked for Roy O’Brien and later retired after a career in construction.
Meagher had five daughters and a son with his wife and now has 19 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.