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New memorial honors 32 born in Mecklenburg who fought on D-Day

D-Day Veteran Remembered Through Marker

Cutter Davis III erected a marker in honor of 32 Mecklenburg County residents who participated in D-Day, as part of his Eagle Scout project. DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
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Cutter Davis III erected a marker in honor of 32 Mecklenburg County residents who participated in D-Day, as part of his Eagle Scout project. DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

Cutter Davis Jr. was raised by a single mother and in 1985, when it came time to complete his Boy Scout Eagle service project, he needed someone to step in with a truck and tools.

Instantly, Harold Eatman, a family friend from church, raised his hand. By then, Eatman was pushing 70 and was 40 years past notching World War II’s four major jumps – including the invasion of Normandy, France, in June 1944 – as a strapping 82nd Airborne paratrooper.

He became Davis’ mentor, even to this day. In time, Davis went to college, got married and helped raise three children, among them a son, Cutter III, who grew up knowing “Mr. Eatman” and all that he did for the country and for his father.

A year ago, when the teen brainstormed with his parents a service project for his own Eagle Scout rank, he thought about building a chain-link fence for an elementary school. But he wanted something “more impactful” – and lasting. He decided to design and raise money for a monument to memorialize those born in Mecklenburg County who participated in one of the 20th century’s most impactful and lasting events: D-Day.

The Myers Park High junior raised $2,200. In August, his granite D-Day tribute to 32 men was installed at Freedom Park, his back yard growing up on Maryland Avenue in Dilworth.

Wednesday, on Veterans Day, father and son plan to surprise Eatman, who turns 100 next month, with a framed photo of the monument and a rubbing of his name as it appears on the monument.

Theirs is a story of generational admiration for a man grateful to survive so many battles when the odds were against him and return home a heroic figure for his children and grandchildren and two Eagle Scouts named Cutter.

“My dad always told me from the time I was a kid that Mr. Eatman was an important figure,” the son said. “He was an integral figure in my dad’s childhood, and I always knew what Mr. Eatman meant to him.

“It feels great that these men are finally recognized, but it feels even more special that Mr. Eatman is one of them.”

‘Made himself available’

Eatman grew up in Charlotte and had finished a two-year stint in the “peacetime” Army when Japan drew America into the war. By the time he made his first jump into Sicily, Italy, he was 28 and a father, old for paratroopers.

He was “Pop” to the other paratroopers in H company, 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

The Normandy jump was his third. Eatman landed in a field of frantic horses outside the critical town of Sainte-Mère-Église. By the time he arrived in the town, the paratroopers had rid it of Germans.

Late that afternoon, German artillery fire arrived. Eatman and his men found cover in an L-shaped foxhole. The hole was full when Eatman looked up to see a young, scared trooper, separated from his unit, standing over him. Eatman moved forward and told him to get in. He laid on Eatman’s legs.

Suddenly a piece of shrapnel tore through the young trooper's arm and popped Eatman on his inner heel. “If he hadn't been there, I would have taken the full brunt,” Eatman told the Observer shortly before the 70th anniversary of that jump in June 2014.

Harold Eatman made four major jumps during WW II as a paratrooper with the 82nd Airborne.

That story is among the many Eatman told the older Davis as they worked on his Eagle Scout project in 1985, collecting and repairing bicycles and building recreational scooters for troubled and disabled children at the Marion Diehl Recreation Center.

“I was mesmerized by Mr. Eatman’s stories,” said Davis, a Charlotte commercial banker. “I couldn’t get enough of them. He was never boastful about them. In my life, he was also one of those special people who’d do anything to help, and he saw a young man who needed mentoring and made himself available.”

32 Mecklenburg participants

Because of Eatman, Davis took a trip to Normandy in 2013, and attempted to retrace the steps of his mentor. He took loads of photographs and turned them into a book for his family and for Eatman.

Still undecided about his service project, his son was looking through the book one day and saw how the French had erected hundreds of monuments throughout the Normandy landscape.

(Mr. Eatman) was an integral figure in my dad’s childhood, and I always knew what Mr. Eatman meant to him. It feels great that these men are finally recognized, but it feels even more special that Mr. Eatman is one of them.

Cutter Davis III, on his D-Day monument

He researched other D-Day memorials in North Carolina and found none. He found a website with the names of the Mecklenburg-born participants and then sought permission to install a memorial at Freedom Park, between two World War II monuments already there – one to the Marine Corps and other to the Burma-China-India Theater. His splits two paths forking.

“I thought I had a better chance with a memorial that was specific to an event like D-Day rather than something as broad at World War II,” he said.

He approached family and friends for donations and pursued Mecklenburg park and recreation commissioners for approval – which he got unanimously.

He then recruited help with the design from Obie Oakley, executive director of the Carolinas Freedom Foundation who was integral in the installation of Mecklenburg’s Vietnam veterans memorial.

Long’s Monument Co. of Charlotte created the 4-by-2-foot memorial, with the names listed alphabetically along with their units. “They clearly gave me a deal,” the Scout said.

‘For many generations’

In August, he enlisted other Scouts to help with the installation.

Harold Eatman’s name falls 12th on the list. On the back, the younger Davis bolted a brass badge that says the marker is an Eagle Scout service project.

“I’m really proud how it came out,” he said. “It’s really cool to think that it will be in Freedom Park for many generations to come.”

At the bottom, he chose to inscribe the opening line of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s prayer to the nation after D-Day had started:

Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our Nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.

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