TWIN FALLS — Lincoln Mahaffey remembers landing at the beaches of Normandy one month after D-Day.
“The smell was bad,” Mahaffey said Friday. “The casualties had been cleaned up,” but rotting bodies of dead animals remained.
More than 9,000 Allied soldiers — mostly Americans — were wounded or killed on D-Day in a hard, bloody battle along that 50-mile stretch of northern coastline in France. Allied forces, in what is described as the largest seaborne invasion ever launched, broke through heavily fortified enemy lines in June 1944, a turning point in World War II.
Mahaffey’s outfit shipped out shortly after D-Day. The ship zigzagged across the Atlantic for 18 days, keeping its location in the Atlantic secret. His ship, carrying more armored vehicles than troops, first landed in Wales.
It was nighttime when he landed at Normandy.
“It was my mother’s birthday,” he said, as tears welled up in his eyes 73 years later.
Mahaffey is 94 years old, but doesn’t look a day over 75. He was 18 when he was drafted in 1942, just months after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.
“Were you excited to go?” asked Mahaffey’s son-in-law, Steven Hansen.
Mahaffey, a native of Kennewick, Wash., hung his head in thought, and answered slowly.
“Yes,” he said. “And no.
“I was the only boy in the family. I wasn’t supposed to be drafted.”
A man of few words
Mahaffey never talked about the war, said his daughter, Kathy Hansen. He started to open up, however, when his grandchildren started asking him about the Battle of the Bulge.
“That’s how we learned much of his story,” she said.
The Hansens moved Mahaffey recently from his home in Kennewick into their home in Twin Falls after her mother died. Mahaffey’s construction business in Washington is now in his grandchildren’s hands.
He considers himself lucky to have served in an armored infantry.
“We were a special — secret — unit,” Mahaffey said. He is also a superior marksman.
He said the secret he couldn’t talk about back then was the armored half-track vehicle he drove into nighttime battle. Special lights on the unit would illuminate the night like day, blinding anyone in its tracks. The vehicle was armed with a 50-caliber machine gun.
“The half-track had a roller on the front of it that would run over almost anything,” he said. “We practiced by driving over cactus when I was training in Phoenix.”
Mahaffey remains elusive about the role he played in the war.
“So you were a spy,” his son-in-law said.
Mahaffey’s eyes twinkled.
“There were people who depended on me,” was all he would say.
In December 1944, Nazi Germany launched its last major attack on Allied forces in what is known as the Ardennes Offensive. For a week, the Germans aggressively pushed into Belgium, creating a 60-mile “bulge” in their front line.
But Allied forces battled that bulge, in what was called the greatest land battle ever fought. American troops were led by U.S. Army Gen. George Patton.
Mahaffey’s half-track vehicle — part truck, part tank — and others like it pushed ahead of the Allied troops, taking out the enemy as they scouted.
Of the 13 aboard the half-track, only three came out of the war unscathed. Mahaffey was one of them.
“I’ve always looked up to him,” Kathy Hansen said. “He taught us how lucky we are for the freedoms we have.”