Charles H. "Harry" Heinlein, a young Army machine-gunner who survived the D-Day landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, and returned 60 years later, died Saturday of pneumonia at Stella Maris Hospice.
The longtime Violetville resident was 90.
Mr. Heinlein was a 22-year-old private from Baltimore attached to the famed 29th Division when he landed on Omaha Beach at 7:40 a.m. June 6, 1944, as part of what Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower called the "Great Crusade" that would eventually liberate Europe's millions from the domination of Adolf Hitler.
Mr. Heinlein told The Baltimore Sun in a four-part series in 2004 that chronicled his journey from the streets of Baltimore to the sands of France that each time the distance from shore was announced as they made their way aboard a Navy Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel, his stomach "tightened."
And then the ramp went down.
"When all hell is breaking loose around you and all you can think of is survival, you don't have time to observe a lot. What was happening on the left and on the right? I'm not sure," he told the newspaper.
"I just remember when the ramp came down, me and Joe [Walentowski] came out, and my shoes went through a little bit of water, and I hit the sand. I heard a voice saying, 'Run like hell!' Maybe it was in my mind, I don't know. But I started running like hell," he explained.
There were cries of "Get off the beach! Get off the beach!" and after zig-zagging across the sand with German fire whizzing around him, Mr. Heinlein finally came to rest behind a sea wall.
Realizing he would be a target for the Germans, he looked and saw the LeMoulins Draw and began climbing one of its paths that led to the top of a bluff overlooking the carnage spread below on Omaha Beach.
As he made his way inland, he heard his friend Joe Walentowski, who had been hit in his leg with shrapnel calling, "I'm hit! I'm hit!" After assisting his friend, Mr. Heinlein was ordered by an officer to move on.
"A lot goes wrong in war, and you don't know who's going to make it and who isn't," he told The Sun. "I always kept in mind that if my time was up, God would take me no matter what I did. If it wasn't, he wouldn't."
And then Mr. Heinlein and his fellow soldiers faced new challenges as they fought their way through the thick hedgerows
"As he lay dug in at night, his mind would wander. He'd picture his sweetheart, Irene, wonder what she was doing and with whom. Would he see his other again? He'd clutch his Bible, 'talk to God,' talk to himself," observed the newspaper.
He kept reminding himself that he was going to make it.
Promoted to sergeant after D-Day, Mr. Heinlein did not make it to St. Lo after being wounded in the leg at Couvains. He was flown to England, and by the end of July, he had recovered and returned to his unit, the Stonewallers of the 116th Regiment.
In late 1944, Mr. Heinlein was holed up in a house on the German-Dutch border. It was hit by an enemy shell that killed his buddy and left him with perforated eardrums.
After recuperating for two months in a hospital in Holland, Mr. Heinlein spent the remainder of the war as a truck driver.
Born and raised in Baltimore, Mr. Heinlein left school when he was 14 after the death of his father and went to work in a store. Two years later, he became an apprentice sheet metal worker.
He was working for American Hammer and Piston Co. on Pratt Street when he enlisted in the Army in early 1942.
When the war was over, he returned to Baltimore and married his sweetheart, the former Irene Orr, in 1945. He was working as an architectural sheet metal worker for F.A. Taylor & Sons at the time of his retirement.
In 2004, Mr. Heinlein and 71 other D-Day survivors and their families stood once again on Omaha Beach. He gave a five-minute eulogy for those who didn't make it back home.
"The heroes," he told The Sun, "are the fellows still there."
Mr. Heinlein enjoyed helping neighbors in need and was an active member and volunteer of Christ Lutheran Church in Federal Hill.
Funeral services will be held at 2 p.m. Tuesday at the Hubbard Funeral Home, 4107 Wilkens Ave.
Surviving are his wife; a daughter, Darlene Gawel of Valrico, Fla.; two grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jonathan Pitts contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun