VIRGINIA BEACH, VA – Sailors assigned to East-Coast Naval Special Warfare (NSW) units attended a family celebration for a Naval Combat Demolition-man, April 12.
The celebration was held to honor Alfred Martin Palacios’ heroic acts while storming the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Capt. Bob Smith, Commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group TWO, and a contingent of East-Coast based U.S. Navy SEALs (Sea, Air and Land) began the observance by being introduced to Palacios. They all shook his hand, thanking him for his service and all he had done to pave the way for NSW.
Naval Combat Demolition Teams and Scouts and Raiders were the pre-cursors to Underwater Demolition Teams which ultimately evolved into the U.S. Navy SEALs.
Introductions were followed by a retelling of Palacios’ acts at Normandy which were recounted by Capt. (Ret) Norm Olson, Commodore of Naval Special Warfare Group TWO from October 1977 – June 1980.
Olson began, “Palacios enlisted in the Navy in 1943, volunteered for “hazardous, prolonged and distant duty” and was assigned to Training Base, Ft. Peirce, Fla., where he trained and qualified as a member of Naval Combat Demolition Unit 131.”
Palacios was assigned to one of 21, nine-man units destined for Omaha Beach, said Olson. Their mission was to clear the landing beaches of obstacles to open gaps for the landing force to successfully assault the beach.
On the morning of June 6th 1944, Palacios’ ‘Boat Team F’ was hit twice by artillery fire on the approach to Beach Fox Red, killing six Combat Demolition-men and wounding four others, said Olson. Palacio was among the four wounded men.
“With his elbow shattered from machinegun fire, Palacio managed to drag his Bangalore Torpedoes, a five ft. steel tube of explosives used to clear barbed-wire obstacles, across a football-sized beach to the shelter of the shoreline cliffs,” said Olson. Once under the cover of the cliffs he applied first aid to his left arm and made a sling.”
He then made his way back to his Landing Craft Medium (LCM) to retrieve several 20 pound “Hagersen Packs” of explosives where he was wounded again. This time he was hit in the back with shrapnel from an enemy artillery shell, said Olson. Palacios then proceeded to maneuver back to the base of the shoreline cliffs and propped himself up in a sitting position where he was given a rifle from an Army GI.
Olson added, “Still dazed and holding the rifle as best he could with his good arm, German soldiers began coming over the dune line at the beach exit. Seeing him pointing his rifle at them, they raised their arms in surrender, and Palacios was credited with the capturing of three to six German prisoners of war (POWs).”
Palacios was awarded the Purple Heart for his actions that day on the beach and his unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the only one awarded to U.S. Naval Forces during the Normandy invasion, said Olson. Following D-Day, Palacios was evacuated to a field hospital in England, where his left arm was amputated at the shoulder.
Upon Palacios’ return to the United States, he was honorably discharged on Jan. 8, 1945, as a Carpenters Mate 2nd Class.
Olson closed his comments by describing to the audience consisting of family, friends, and Navy SEALs, the efforts put forth to ensure Palacios was awarded the French ‘Legion of Honor.’
Olson said, “It all started with the family, a number of years ago my son started dating Janice Fucci, the youngest Palacios, and after hearing his story I remembered the French Legion of Honor, and thought Alfred Palacios deserved it. I spent months going back and forth with the Department of Veterans Affairs, which could confirm Palacios’ medical discharge and Purple Heart but had lost all his records.”
In February, Olson escorted Palacios to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., to receive the medal. At the celebration he presented Palacios with two framed shadow boxes, one displaying the medal with the write-up and history, the other commemorating Palacios’ Navy career and D-Day.
Olson said, “I took a lot of pride in having the shadow boxes made because back then shadow boxes didn’t exist. Service members clung to their bayonets and dog tags and maybe their medals and ribbons but that was it.”
Following the presentation of the shadow boxes Capt. Bob Smith came forward to give a short speech and presentation on behalf of NSW.
Smith said, “We are here to “recognize the heroic act of a teammate. Any man that is going to get out of a landing craft injured, continue to carry a Bangalore torpedo across the beach and then get injured again and go back and get the Hagersen Packs and bring them back and then capture six Germans is a frogman in my book.”
Smith explained there were three reasons NSW took part in the celebration and they were to pay tribute to a fellow frogman, to honor the heroes of Normandy, and to recognize the common denominator that sustains warriors, their families.
Smith added, “When it comes to the families of combat veterans and fallen comrades we can’t do enough, it’s grandchildren, it’s children, and it’s Mr. Palacios’ most important teammate Mrs. Palacios, sitting right here. Without Mrs. Palacios and the wives and husbands of NSW, none of this is possible.”
Smith commented, “When I was asked if I would attend this celebration in honor of Mr. Palacios and his family, the only answer I could think of was absolutely, hell yeah.”
Smith, upon conclusion of his remarks, presented Palacios with a ceremonial wooden paddle, a traditional symbolic farewell token which is presented to teammates.