By Carol Mowdy Bond
Raymond Stover served in a U.S. Army infantry battalion of 1100 men. And of that group, he was one of less than 20 who survived World War II and came home.
Born in Piedmont, Stover was part of the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. But his battalion didn’t unload off their ship until six days after the initial June 6 invasion. When they finally jumped into the tub-shaped landing craft boats, they headed toward the beach, and then waded ashore into ongoing chaos.
Stover holds onto memories, intertwined with grief.
“When we hit shore, the first group of Allied troops had already moved in a bit, past the beach at Normandy, France.” Stover said. Imitating the sounds of bullets flying overhead, Stover said enemy fire was the first thing he heard when he made landfall.
“We hiked in at night. We were each carrying 70 pounds of stuff. I had my bedroll, rifle, ammo belt, and canteen. I was on foot the whole time, carrying the 70 pounds, walking 20 miles a day in extreme weather conditions. We dug our own foxholes at night. I was in France for about two years during the war.”
Prior to D-Day, Stover and his battalion deployed from the U.S., arriving in Scotland, and then taking a train to England, where they endured basic training. During that time, Stover passed out in a foxhole. He woke up in a nursing tent, where the nurses acted surprised that he was alive. He spent about a month in a hospital tent. When he recovered, he and his battalion sailed across the English Channel toward the beaches of Normandy.
Launched from England, Stover’s battalion was part of Operation Overlord, known as the D-Day invasion of Normandy, which took place June 6 through June 30 when the Allied troops liberated northern France from Hitler, and then began liberating Europe. By daybreak on June 6, 18,000 British and American parachutists were already on the ground, cutting cut off exits and destroying bridges, to stymie the advance of Nazi reinforcements. An additional 13,000 aircraft had been mobilized to provide air cover and support. At 6:30 a.m., American, British, and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of Normandy’s beaches. But the Nazis were waiting for them. The first Allied forces who landed encountered intense Nazi fire power. In fact, the Germans cut down massive numbers of the first American fighters who blazed onto the beaches.
When Stover went ashore, he encountered a ghastly aftermath where he navigated remainders of the carnage, plus what was left of Nazi deterrents on the beach, including barbed wire, land mines, and wooden stakes. The Nazis also placed Czech Hedgehogs, or metal tripods, on the beaches, which were designed to stop tanks, armored vehicles, and landing craft.
Before Operation Overlord, Hitler held most of Europe in his terrifying stranglehold of death and subjugation. His Nazi regime had firebombed London for over 57 consecutive days, and had taken European nations one by one. But after the Allied powers’ D-Day assault, the Allies had 580,000 men and 150,000 vehicles in Normandy, and moved forward to liberate Europe.
Entering the service July of 1943, Stover was stamped as an expert rifleman, and a carpenter. His son, Jerry Stover, said, “Dad survived the war because during the Battle of the Bulge, he was working in a repair shop in France.” In fact, Raymond Stover spent a lot of time in a maintenance and repair shop in Marseilles. And while doing so, he used various items to create new items and then he brought them home. He cut a big piece of metal from a German submarine, and used it to make the stars, or rowels, on a set of spurs. As his son explained, Raymond Stover missed out on The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Battle of the Ardennes. It took place in the Ardennes region of Belgium, and lasted six brutal weeks from December 16, 1944, to January 25,1945. The U.S. Army suffered over 100,000 casualties.
Raymond Stover was in Marseilles, France, when Victory in Europe was declared. He came home with a WWII Victory Ribbon, a Good Conduct Medal, and two Bronze Service Stars. But first and foremost. He came home.
BEFORE WORLD WAR II
Raymond Stover’s paternal German grandfather was Johann “John” Bernhardt Stover, who emigrated from Germany when he was four years old. His paternal German grandmother was Anna Marie Wieting Stover, who also came from Germany. Anna and John Stover met and married in Nebraska, and moved into Oklahoma Territory to escape the harsh winters. “I would watch my grandmother wear her German wooden shoes, walking through the pastures here,” Raymond Stover said.
Katherina “Kate” Paulina Matilda Wiedemann and Heinrich “Henry” Herman Carl Stover were Raymond Stover’s parents. Married in 1913, they made their home on a Canadian County farm, as part of a dense, cohesive German population that entrenched itself in the county. The Stover children, who were expected to speak the German language at home, included Emma, Herman, Paul, Otto, Raymond, and Helen. Of those, Raymond, Paul, and Herman served during WWII. Relatives farmed in the Piedmont, Richland, and Yukon areas, and still do so today.
Of his oldest brother, Raymond Stover said, “Herman was quite a musician from the time he was a kid. He could just pick up any instrument and play it. A French harp. An accordion. Anything. He got a violin at a pawn shop for $10. That’s how Herman got started on the fiddle.”
At age 14 or 15, Raymond Stover began breaking horses. And he enjoyed performing in amateur rodeos, as a bareback bronc rider, and a bull rider who even rode Brahma bulls. In one incident, he lost his grip and flew off a bull, and “I landed on my back with the bull above me. I was staring up into his nostrils and his throat. But I stayed really still and the bull walked away,” Raymond Stover said with a laugh.
AFTER WORLD WAR II
During WWII, Raymond Stover’s brother, Herman Stover, played the fiddle in Europe. He played in United Service Organization, or USO, shows in the European theatre of war. After returning home from war, Herman Stover created the iconic Stover Hall. A happenin’ Saturday night place for Canadian County, Stover Hall offered musicians, and dancing, beer, and food. Herman Stover made a name as a fiddle player, influencing others such as a young Vince Gill. All that’s left today is part of the Stover Hall concrete slab, just east of Gregory Road on the south side of Northwest Expressway.
Raymond Stover returned home from Europe. And while performing in a rodeo, he met Darlene, and they married. In 1951, they obtained a farm between Yukon and Piedmont, where he grew barley and oats, but mainly wheat. And he built their family home, barn, and buildings, with help from his friend Bill Turner. Turner played steel guitar at Stover Hall.
Raymond Stover repurposed materials from Wilson’s Packing Plant in Oklahoma City’s Stockyards City, known as Packing Town back in the day, and built his barn. He repurposed other Stockyard City structure materials, building other structures on his farm.
About four years ago, Raymond Stover and his son Jerry Stover were part of an Honor Flight to Washington, D.C. A great honor for veterans, they toured all the D.C. war memorials. And Raymond Stover and three other Honor Flight veterans were interviewed as part of a documentary.
Today, Raymond Stover still farms the Yukon land that he and his wife Darlene Stover obtained 70 years ago. He still rides his two horses. And he and Darlene still live in the house that he built. Their living room walls are peppered with photos of him riding horses and bulls. Back in those days, he was part of a Pony Express reenactment, along with descendants of other county founders. He rode horseback in county parades. And family members’ farms still envelope Darlene and Raymond Stover’s farm, and reach across the endless prairie from Yukon, to Piedmont, and Richland.
And as he recounts his war years and all his buddies who didn’t come home, Raymond Stover’s emotions bubble up. Because. Freedom isn’t free.