Local WWII veteran remembers accepting a German battalion’s surrender soon after D-Day
LELAND, NC (WWAY) — 78 years ago today, soldiers stormed Omaha Beach by land, sea, and air. D-Day turned the tide of World War II and impacted millions of civilians and citizens, like Robert Boke.
Boke joined the Army’s 86th Infantry just a week after his 18th birthday. He remembers D-Day changed everything, reassigning him from the South Pacific to Europe, and causing the Germans to stall.
“The Germans had recognized that the war was not going well for them,” he said. “So the Germans were not fighting quite as hard.”
An expert navigator, at just 19-years-old Boke was tapped along with two others to journey to Northern Germany, where they were told a German artillery unit wanted to surrender. The three traveled through hostile territory until they reached the meeting place, a valley two football fields long. Instead of a small regiment, a battalion of more than a thousand men creeped out from under the trees.
“There were hundreds of them coming out from the mountains,” he remembered. “Well it was kind of scary. There were three of us.”
The only German speaker, Boke decided he’d be the one to go, while his friends backed him up from the truck.
“So I said, you stay on the machine guns, you know, you’ve got to support me,” he told his friends.
After making his way through a sea of armed enemy soldiers on his own, Boke reached a German officer. The man asked if there was anyone higher ranking to surrender to.
“I said, they don’t speak German, and you obviously can see I speak some German. I’m here to accept your surrender.”
The silence that followed seemed to last an eternity.
The officer pulled out his luger and handed it to the 19-year-old. Boke and his two men escorted the more than a thousand men to a POW Camp more than nine miles away. Outmanned and outgunned, they drove in silence as they trained their machine gun on marching soldiers, keeping them in line until they finally reached camp.
It’s been 78 years since D-Day hurled Boke and men like him to the European front. Looking back, Boke is thankful his story didn’t have another ending.
“It made me realize how mature I had to become at 18 years of age, 19 years of age, and 20 years of age,” the man, now in his mid-90’s teared up. “I think it’s important to that we support our troops, wherever they are.”