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Howard J. McNamara, veteran of D-Day

Howard McNamara
Howard McNamara (Baltimore Sun)

Howard J. McNamara, who delivered men and materiel to Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion of France in 1944 and later became the insurance manager for the city of Baltimore, died Saturday at St. Agnes Hospital of heart failure. The Charlestown retirement community resident was 95.

Mr. McNamara was communications officer aboard a landing ship tank. As it coursed toward Utah Beach in the early dawn of June 6, 1944, Mr. McNamara's mind was filled with many thoughts.

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"How in the world did I get into this situation," he told The Baltimore Sun in an interview this year for a 70th anniversary article about D-Day. "I was a little apprehensive."

The son of Howard J. McNamara Sr., an insurance broker, and Ella May McNamara, a homemaker, Howard Joseph McNamara was born and raised in Halethorpe.

He was a 1935 graduate of Catonsville High School and earned a bachelor's degree in 1939 in chemistry from what is now Loyola University Maryland.

Mr. McNamara briefly worked at the Davison Chemical Co. in Curtis Bay and then enlisted in the Navy before the outbreak of World War II.

He served aboard the LST 400 during the invasions of Africa, Sicily and Salerno, Italy, where the vessel survived shore battery shelling and bombing by the German Luftwaffe.

It earned the sobriquet of the "luckiest ship in the Navy" after a U-boat fired a torpedo at the LST. Because the torpedo was set too deep for the ship's shallow draft, which allowed the LST to get close inshore when landing men and cargo, it passed directly under the vessel without exploding.

In 1944, after months of training, Mr. McNamara and the LST 400 were ready to join the armada of 5,000 ships and the 150,000 soldiers who would land along a 60-mile front into France.

"Life during the war consisted of weeks and months of boredom and moments of acute fear," he told the Arbutus Times in a 2004 interview.

That was about to change with the coming of the invasion.

"I remember our skipper called us into the dining room … and he showed us charts of German military placement. At that point, we thought we were in for an awful lot of trouble," he said in the Arbutus Times interview.

Mr. McNamara, who was then a 25-year-old lieutenant, recalled looking at the French coastline on the morning of the invasion.

"From my vantage point on the bridge of the USS LST 400 as we approached the Normandy coast early on June 6, 1944, I allowed myself a slight smile," he told Robert M. Bowen, author of "Fighting With The Screaming Eagles: With the 101st Airborne from Normandy to Bastogne."

"Carrying a cargo of tanks with their crews and with that vast invasion armada surrounding us, my thought was 'this isn't quite the way I planned.' ... I think we all knew that we were living through something that was going to be forever remembered," he told the author.

During the invasion, the LST made 55 trips to Utah Beach, where total casualties were 197, as opposed to Omaha Beach where some 2,000 Allied troops lost their lives.

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"Omaha Beach was the most horrible thing you could conceive," Mr. McNamara told the Arbutus Times.

Mr. McNamara was discharged in 1946 and returned to Halethorpe. He served as a budget analyst for the state of Maryland and later the city of Baltimore, where he worked for 30 years. During his tenure, he worked closely with Mayor William Donald Schaefer and Hyman A. Pressman, the city comptroller.

When he retired in 1981, he was the city's insurance manager.

The former longtime Catonsville resident moved to Charlestown in 2009. There he became acquainted with several other D-Day veterans: Harper Griswold, who was a cook on the HMS Ceres; Harold Rummel, a B-17 gunner; and Bill Swanner, an infantryman.

"He was one of my D-Day friends here at Charlestown," said Mr. Griswold. "He was a wonderful, easygoing and congenial guy. Everyone here was very fond of Howard."

Every year on the anniversary of D-Day, the men would gather to raise a glass of Calvados, an apple brandy that comes from Normandy, to "remember what they accomplished — and those they lost," according to this year's Sun article.

Mr. McNamara had been an active member of VFW Post 219, Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, the Catonsville Historical Society and Civitan International.

He was also a longtime member of Catonsville United Methodist Church.

"He will be remembered for his love of wife and family, his military service during World War II, his passion for history and travel, and his Irish sense of humor," said a daughter, Kathleen McNamara Smith of Fredericksburg, Va.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at his church, 6 Melvin Ave.

In addition to his daughter, Mr. McNamara is survived by his wife of 66 years, the former Rebecca Molesworth; another daughter, Beth McNamara Wilson of Evansville, Ind.; five grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

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