Al Rose of West Manchester Township then and now: Far left, his Army-issue portrait; he enlisted in 1943. Near left, Rose with his World War II Army jacket
Al Rose of West Manchester Township then and now: Far left, his Army-issue portrait; he enlisted in 1943. Near left, Rose with his World War II Army jacket draped over his shoulder for a recent portrait at his home. A member of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, Rose landed on Utah Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

At 91 years old, Al Rose looks just like a World War II veteran.

He stands up straight, has a firm handshake and makes eye contact. Classical music plays on the old-time radio in his West Manchester Township home, which is full of sunlight and old photos.

One hangs by the stairway: It's a sketch of him and his wife, Madeline, to whom he wrote just about every day while serving.

He came home in January 1946; the high school sweethearts married in March. They were together for 67 years, until she died last November.

"She was the only one I've ever had in my life," Rose said. "You don't see that today."

When Rose was overseas during the war, a German prisoner of war did the pencil sketch of the young couple. With dark hair, Rose is in his Army jacket, and Madeline wears a pale blue sweater.

(submitted / Bill Kalina — bkalina@yorkdispatch.com)

Rose said he and the American troops ate food like powdered eggs and warmed-over kidney beans. But when the German POWs cooked, they'd make delicious pancakes and omelettes.

Those men on the other side of the battle weren't all bad, he said.

"They were friends fighting friends," Rose said. "Think of how much of this country is German."

Anniversary: June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, when Allied troops gained a foothold on Normandy, France.

In recognition of the anniversary, Rose returned to France and England this week for a "final reunion" with other WWII vets and the Greatest Generations Foundation. He also visited the countries for the 49th anniversary.

There are only eight surviving men out of almost 150 who were in his outfit, the 1st Engineer Special Brigade, he said.

Rose enlisted in the Army in 1943 and, after being shipped off to Manchester, England, served as a member of the 3939 Quartermaster Gas Supply Co. The company distributed 9 million gallons of gas — all in 5-gallon cans, he said.

He said he was glad he wasn't placed in the infantry, but that didn't subdue the brutality of war.

"For being in a non-combat unit, we saw plenty," Rose said.

Exercise Tiger: The harshest reality came in late April 1944.

Exercise Tiger, a practice run for D-Day, sent Allied troops to Slapton Sands. The stretch of beach along the south coast of England was chosen for its similarity to Utah Beach, the code name for one of the Allied landing beaches during the D-Day invasion of Normandy.

"It was a very strange incident to begin with," Rose said.

It began when his crew got food poisoning from those kidney beans (he was spared because he didn't care for them and didn't eat them). The men were so weak when they landed that they had to be lifted up, Rose said.

A destroyer warship was supposed to escort the crews' landing ships, but it broke down and left them alone in the English Channel. Because the ships were on a different radio wave from headquarters, there was no way to call for help, Rose said.

Without defense, the ships were attacked by nine German E-boats.

"They started firing and they were hitting each other," Rose said.

He said 26 people on his own ship were sent to the hospital with wounds from the attack. He was, at the time, 21 years old.

Troops were told never to talk about the incident — and they didn't, never at reunions or anything, Rose said.

"We were pretty good at keeping secrets then," he said.

The story didn't make the news till the 1980s, Rose said. Now Exercise Tiger is known as one of the largest losses of men from a practice exercise, with 946 Allied troops killed.

D-Day: The actual landing on Utah Beach, though, resulted in only about 200 casualties, as opposed to the much bloodier Omaha Beach.

But Rose still had his share of trouble: The troops landed 4,000 yards off course, and there wasn't much defense where they landed, Rose said. There was a bit of strafing and some artillery shells, but the real drama came as Rose was exiting the landing craft infantry: He fell into the water.

"And I don't swim," he said.

Rose remembers kicking his legs "like crazy," and he eventually made his way to the water's surface.

"To this day, I hope the Army has learned better and teaches everybody to swim," he said.

Memories: After the war, Rose stayed in the Army Reserves for three years, he said. An Adams County native and York resident for 70 years, he said he probably wouldn't have strayed far from home if he hadn't been in the military.

"It was really an education," Rose said.

A history buff, he still has his wool uniform — he could even get it on for the 50th anniversary, he said. There is a red seahorse patch, which stands for the special brigade, as well as a bronze arrowhead, which shows that he fought on the beaches on D-Day.

He has 10 thick photo albums from his time at war — although he's not a photographer, he said, he brought a camera with him. In it are black-and-white photos of the beaches, monuments, men and his sweetheart.

One photo is a portrait of a German soldier; Rose found it on the man's corpse.

"I tried to capture everything I could," he said.

— Reach Mollie Durkin at mdurkin@yorkdispatch.com.