Article and photos by Ramona du Houx
Charles Norman Shay landed on D-day in the first wave of combat soldiers. Serving as a medic, in the famed 1st Infantry Division, he saved countless lives as he pulled his fellow soldiers from the bloody waters while bullets were streaming past him and took care of their wounds.
“The water ran red,” said Shay, “witnesses later told me they didn’t know where I got the strength to drag so many men to shore.”
A fellow medic, Edward Morozewicz, never made it home. Critically wounded Charles pulled him from the water, and gave him morphine.
Since 2007 Shay has returned to where the 1st Division landed, and performs traditional Penobscot Indian ceremonies.
“The ceremonies are my way of connecting with the spirits of the brave men that remain there. I can never forget the men who paid the ultimate price that day, especially the young men who never experienced life as it was meant to be, a wife and a family, but instead were destined to depart this life in some far-off place they had probably never heard of while growing up,” said Shay.
There, on Omaha Beach in Normandy, he always remembers Edward as he conducts his ceremonies.
This year he’ll meet Morozewicz’s family for the first time.
On September 18, 2016 he plans to give them Edward’s silver star on a plaque that reads:
“The Silver Star was presented to Edward Morozewicz posthumously for his actions to assist the wounded on June 6, 1944, above and beyond the call of duty. He paid for his devotion to duty with his life on this day.
“Presented to his family on September 18, 2016, by Charles Norman Shay, a fellow medic of the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st U.S. Infantry Division.”
When professional musician Lisa Redfern heard about Shay’s life she decided to write a ballad in his honor. While visiting friends Lisa performed it for him. It was a complete surprise.
“I was overwhelmed,” said Shay.
Redfern performs Full Circle Fire: The Ballad of Charles Shy, on a CD, which can be purchased for $6. A check can be sent to Charles at: P.O Box 65, Old Town, ME 04468.
On D-day 3,000 Allied troops died and some 9,000 were injured or went missing.
Shay has also written a book that honors all who served, Project Omaha Beach, The Life and Military Service of a Penobscot Indian Elder. When Edward’s sister read what Charles wrote about Edward, she invited him to visit the family.
A follow up book is in production.
“My book is a journey into the past, a past that I would prefer to wipe out of my memory but this is not possible. At the very beginning on Omaha Beach, it was difficult for me to witness so much carnage and not be affected emotionally. It was necessary for me to close my mind to what I was experiencing in order for me to be effective at doing what I had been trained for. Once I had accomplished this, I was able to operate effectively and even saved a few lives,” said Shay.
In 2007 Shay went to Washington, DC, to receive the Legion of Honor medal from French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The medal has joined the others bestowed on him, including a Silver Star and four bronze battle stars from World War II and the Korean War, in his home on the Penobscot Indian Island Reservation in Old Town, Maine.
When he returned to live on the reservation 17 years ago, he worked in earnest to promote his tribe and pass on the history of his nation. Shay was instrumental in getting the reissue of a famous book by his grandfather Joseph Nicolar titled The Life and Traditions of the Red Man. The tall white-shingled tepee beside his house is a museum dedicated to Princess Watahwaso, the stage name of his late aunt, Lucy Nicolar Poolaw, who interpreted Indian music and dance.
“I’m very proud to be a Native American, a member of the Penobscot Indian nation. I’m trying to do whatever I can to promote my Native American culture, to promote what my ancestors have done for the people of this small reservation,” he said.