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Ralph was born in Hudson on September 28, 1924 to Maude and Peter Avery. He completed K-12 schooling in Hudson. He worked in Hudson, Columbia County for most of his life. Ralph was 16 or 17 when he went into military service. He had one brother and two sisters. One sister died at six years of age. The other sister is 96 years old and in a nursing home. He had a very close-knit large family with many uncles and aunts.
The house he grew up in was 558 Warren Street; it was a two-family house with two stories. There was a confectionary store and tailor shop located on the first floor. His family lived on the top floor and his grandfather and his wife on the floor below. Ralph’s father Peter Avery was born in Hudson. He worked at Lone Star Cement for many years, retiring from there. Ralph also worked at Lone Star after World War II. He said, “Dirty work but money was good.” It was a good company that was close to home. In addition, he worked in the Grand Union as a clerk.
He said that the teachers understood that a war was coming, observing the effect on their students and families. During the war Hudson people were concerned, but not panicked until Pearl Harbor. Ralph enlisted in the Navy. He graduated as a gunner’s mate and third class petty officer. He attended training for amphibious tanks in Virginia. His job was to train the gun crews to fire and hit targets, to handle ammunition, and keep it separate and dry aboard ship.
In New York City at Pier 92 he and 14,000 troops boarded the Queen Mary, holding every branch and every level of the military. They cruised the North Atlantic Fjords hiding from the Germans. Failing to dock in Scotland because of storms and very rough seas, they sailed to Plymouth, England and Portsmouth.
Ralph recounts D-Day on June 6th, 1944. The weather conditions were poor while attempting to cross the English Channel on their way to Omaha Beach. Ralph goes into great detail about the Normandy invasion, and his own involvement with trying to get the tanks onto the beach of Omaha. They unloaded three amphibious tanks onto each LCT, (Landing Craft Tank), an amphibious assault craft for landing tanks on beachheads. On June 5th at midnight they were called to battle stations. There were 32 LCTs with three tanks on each deck in this flotilla but the channel was so rough it was very hard to steer, especially with 3 heavy tanks onboard. They returned to port, waiting until the morning of June 6th. They found the channel better so tanks were launched from LCT on the tide line and were to drive onto the beach. But it was so windy and rainy the tanks were swamped, sinking in the waves. They launched two tanks, one sunk and the other floundered. The skipper with a megaphone said, “Don’t launch, but instead go right onto the beach.” This created a problem for the 100 tanks and 32 LCT. Most didn’t get to the beach because German fire knocked out tanks and those in the middle of the Channel just drowned. One tank landed on the beach, but there were so many bodies they couldn’t back off (at this point Ralph is crying). They stayed with the LCT ship, but the tank was knocked out beyond recognition. There was not enough firepower to support the men. Germans had pillboxes [reinforced bunkers], and bigger guns. The 101st and 82nd Paratroopers Airborne Division dropped behind the lines were supposed to clear the perimeter in back of Omaha Beach. Unfortunately most were killed. The Beach Masters’ (skilled traffic cops) job was to tell where you should go and the Pathfinders laid out strings of lights so paratroopers knew where to come down. Most were French Underground, who really helped the invasion to be successful. Pathfinders did get out the lights in the pitch black, but mostly were killed (5,400) in the first wave. 40,000 to 50,000 were killed.
Ralph and his fellow soldiers still stayed with the boat. Suddenly, out of the channel came the Destroyer knocking out pillboxes. Americans debated if they should take their troops off of Omaha Beach because so many were killed. But since the destroyer began shelling pillboxes they were able to get the infantry in. However, the whole beach was covered in mines, so soldiers with mine detectors were sent in so more troops were able to get onto the beach. They held the beach at Normandy. If Omaha beach was lost, then German stormtroopers would have gotten other beaches and drove the Americans back into the ocean. Ralph reflected specifically on the great losses of Allied troops as well as the subsequent success of the landing. He then went on to reflect on WWII in general.
Ralph went back to Hudson after the War and met and married Dorothy May Croteau. They are both Catholics and had two girls Judy, Nancy and one son, Keith.
Ralph lived in Hudson and took a bus for work at the Greenport Lone Star cement plant. He worked on the yard gang doing any job needed around the plant. He also ran the engine, brought coal cars, worked as a brakeman on engines, drove a truck, was a messenger in the office, drove the car, and picked up executives from the airport by limousine and laid brick in the steel kiln. When the plant closed because Macadam replaced cement, over 100 workers lost their jobs. In a small city like Hudson that hurts. As a result of Lone Star and Atlas Cement closing, as well as other mills and businesses, there was significant change in the community that negatively impacted employment. After 25 years Ralph lost his job at the cement plant and went to work in the maintenance department at the hospital for another 25 years.
During these last 20 years in retirement Ralph and his wife traveled. For their 65th Anniversary they went to Paris and Omaha Beach. Hudson has many retired seniors living here and living well. He thinks Columbia County is a good place to live and he especially likes four seasons.
Ralph Avery is a member of the SAR, Sons of the American Revolution. His Wife, Dorothy Avery, is a member of DAR, daughters of the American Revolution.
Melinda Braathen is a resident of Hudson, NY. She graduated from Bard College in 2007. She worked in publishing and the arts for three and a half years in Berlin, Germany and Oslo, Norway. She conducted a series of interviews with her own Norwegian grandmother, who worked underground in the resistance while Norway was occupied by Germany during WWII. She previously worked at Time & Space Limited in Hudson. She completed Suzanne Snider’s Oral History Summer School in 2012 and currently co-hosts the Monday Afternoon Show with Sara Kendall on WGXC Community Radio. The show is interview based and focuses on people, politics, and cultural events.