Remembering Uncle Buddy on D-Day

into-the-jaws-of-death-d-dayOmaha Beach, 6 June 1944. By Robert F. Sargent

The world will pause today to remember the events in France which occurred eighty years ago during “Operation Overlord”—better remembered as D-Day. Many fine young men would not come home to their families from those beaches along the Normandy coast. Their valiant efforts would begin the domino effect leading to the collapse of Nazi Germany less than a year later.

This battle cost thousands of lives and affected countless allied families, especially in the United States. I have always felt compelled to approach any veteran I saw and thank them for their service. As we are now in the twilight years of those who served in World War II, this opportunity has become increasingly infrequent. However, I often get the chance to meet children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of World War II veterans at conferences or during consultations. They are often compelled, like I am, to research the stories of their veteran relatives.

Many veterans who faced the horrors of battle in Europe and the Pacific did not tell their stories. We, as their surviving relatives, are left to try to piece them together. In the past decade, many surviving records have become digitized and are available on websites such as and Unfortunately, many individual time capsules of veteran’s stories from the Army and Army Air Corps were destroyed by a disastrous fire in 1973. Countless personnel files for soldiers were lost, though some of these burnt files were saved through conservation efforts and are carefully being scanned and preserved when possible. However, records for the U.S Marine Corps, U.S. Navy, U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Merchant Marines did survive. These archives allow descendants a chance to turn back the pages of time, to walk in their relatives’ footsteps and see the war through their eyes.

I was born to older parents; my mother was 39 when I was born, and my father was 43. As a child in the 1970s I was always asked if my father served in Vietnam. When I responded no, the taunts would begin that he must have been a draft dodger or a hippie. I would then proudly reveal, no: my father served in World War II. For most of my classmates, it was their grandparents who fought in World War II, not their fathers.

Many of my parents’ siblings and cousins served in the U.S. forces during World War II as well. My mother’s first cousin Walter Poore, for example, died overseas from wounds during the Battle of the Bulge. But the one thing that always intrigued me was the lack of stories passed down from these men in my family. In most cases, my uncles never spoke of their service in Europe or the Pacific at all. I don’t know whether their silence was because of the horrors they witnessed, or from a desire to remain humble about their accomplishments. I always respected their privacy and would never attempt to dig too deeply.

john-george-buddy-leaMy mother’s brother, John George “Buddy” Lea, was one of my favorite uncles. It was not until I saw a group photograph of the family in 1943 that I realized he had served in the military. In the portrait, he was wearing a U.S. Navy sailors’ suit (shown left).

The story goes: Buddy had gotten his older sister Jesse to sign for him so he could enlist at the age of seventeen. My grandparents were proud, but not pleased! All we have left to remember his service by are a few photographs and mementos he sent home to his mother. But what occurred between his enlistment and the end of the war? Uncle Buddy sadly died suddenly in 1988 at the age of 62, so I never got the chance to ask. In fact, his own children had never asked him for details about his service.

His story needed to be remembered, and I became determined to discover it once and for all.

I began by searching in U.S., World War II Navy Muster Rolls, 1938-1949 on This collection of over 33 million records consists of U.S. Navy muster rolls and associated reports relating to Navy enlisted personnel who served aboard ships or at bases between 31 January 1938 and 31 December 1949. I found many entries for John G. Lea, each representing a muster roll for a certain month from his enlistment in 1943. I discovered that he was in active service in June 1944, and his vessel was listed as LST # 49.


LST stands for “Landing Ship, Tank.” These vessels were developed during World War II to aid in amphibious operations. LSTs would carry tanks, vehicles, cargo, and landing troops directly onto a low slope beach when there was no pier or dock available. A vessel of this style, I presumed, must have played an important role on D-Day to bring troops and supplies to the beaches for the invasion. As I searched further, I was able to find details about the construction, dimensions, and war service of LST # 49. From this discovered that my uncle’s vessel did, in fact, take part in operations on D-Day!



Photographs above courtesy of the National Archives showing LST-49 on June 6, 1944 at Utah Beach. Source:

As a military historian, knowing that my Uncle Buddy was at D-Day has made me feel more connected to this history than ever before. I yearned to know more about his service. Fortunately for me, earlier this year, American Ancestors led a research tour to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., as well as Archives II in College Park, Maryland. I had one goal in mind during my free time: finding Uncle Buddy at D-Day.

I was able to confirm that the U.S. Navy vessel logbook for LST # 49 was held at Archives II. I inspected the original logbook and personally photographed every page for the month of June 1944. Every detail was laid out before my eyes, and I was able to get a better sense of my Uncle’s service on board—as well as the movements of LST # 49 during the days before and weeks after D-Day.

My Uncle Buddy and Aunt Jeanne had seven children, with whom I have shared everything I learned from my research. They now know about a lost chapter in their father’s life. My cousin Jeff and his wife Patty visited France last year, and took the opportunity to visit Omaha Beach with their newfound knowledge. For the first time in nearly eighty years, a member of my family stood on that beach.

Before he left Omaha Beach, Jeff picked up a small stone and filled a bottle with sand. These two gifts sit on my bookshelf today.

I am truly proud to have an uncle who served his country at D-Day, and I wish I had a chance to thank him personally. This story was personal for me, but after thirty years of working for American Ancestors, my own success further compels me to help others rediscover the stories of their World War II veteran ancestors—even if their ancestors’ voices have long been silent.

I dedicate this post to all the allied veterans who perished at D-Day and never came home.


Free Download: Getting Started with U.S. World War II Records
The United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941. During America’s involvement in the conflict, more than 12 million men and women served in the regular United States armed forces, with approximately 8.7 million of them overseas. Get started on uncovering the story of your WWII veteran ancestor with this free guide from American Ancestors. Download Now

David Allen Lambert

About David Allen Lambert

David Lambert has been on the staff of NEHGS since 1993 and is the organization’s Chief Genealogist. David is an internationally recognized speaker on the topics of genealogy and history. His genealogical expertise includes New England and Atlantic Canadian records of the 17th through 21st century; military records; DNA research; and Native American and African American genealogical research in New England. Lambert has published many articles in the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, the New Hampshire Genealogical Record, Rhode Island Roots, The Mayflower Descendant, and American Ancestors magazine. He has also published A Guide to Massachusetts Cemeteries (NEHGS, 2009). David is an elected Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, Mass., and a life member of the New Hampshire Society of the Cincinnati. He is also the tribal genealogist for the Massachuset-Punkapoag Indians of Massachusetts.View all posts by David Allen Lambert