Bill Allen was a medic on "death detail" for the Navy during World War II. His job was to collect the bodies and clean them of their bloodied and dirtied state.
Still, he wasn't prepared for the day that he lost more than 100 fellow crew members in a single blast.
The date was June 6, 1944.
As thousands of Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, there was chaos and death.
On his ship miles from the battlefield, Allen waited for small boats to ferry the bodies.
"We'd clean 'em up best we could, identify them with the dog tags, wrap them in a blanket, put them in a cooler and take them back to England," Allen said. "I guess, really, you just don't stop to think; a job needs (to be) done and you just go do it … you might have to bite your lower lip sometimes, but you'd done the best you could."
In the middle of it all, Allen's ship suddenly sank lower into the deep waters and hit a mine, practically splitting the 328-foot-long vessel in half.
The now 88-year-old Murfreesboro native had all of the memories of that unforgettable day resurface when he was approached by PBS to participate in the "NOVA" special "D-Day's Sunken Secrets." The two-hour program, which will air 8 p.m. Wednesday on PBS, explores the wreckage on the ocean floor and the technological innovations that led to a successful landing on D-Day.
The Navy veteran was given the opportunity to see his old sunken ship from behind the glass of a three-person submarine after the program's team found the massive vessel while mapping the ocean floor.
When the ship was hit, it was 5 miles off shore in heavy swells. Many crew members took their chances in the waves and drowned in the waters of Omaha Beach before they could be rescued. Allen was able to stay aboard long enough for a life raft to come.
He jumped to the raft and pulled four other military personnel out of the water, two of whom were badly injured. In the end, only 28 of the 145-member crew survived the blast.
A moment of reflection
Now, the rusted metal of the ship's hull coated in green algae is all that remains of the vessel where Allen almost lost his life.
But as he approached the ocean floor in the tiny submarine decades later, he did not choke-up. It no longer pains him to think of those memories, even with the harsh reality of the ship's demise staring him in the face. It was a moment of reflection.
"One night out of the blue not too long ago, I woke up dreaming about that explosion, but that's the first time in a long time in many, many, many years," Allen said. "It don't bother me too much now."
For his wife of 58 years, Idalee Allen, working with the PBS program allowed her to connect with her husband in new ways. She's now able to visualize what happened and she has been to the beaches with him trying to imagine the loud roar of the cannons.
She said it took many years before he would open up about the horrors of the day with anyone besides fellow servicemen.
"Bill did not talk about this," Idalee Allen said. "He did not dwell on it."
After he was honorably discharged in 1946, he returned to Middle Tennessee and worked at the Murfreesboro Electric Department where he put in 32 years.
He's been retired for more than two decades but still works part-time at a funeral home in Murfreesboro, coming full circle from his days of service.
Now his family enjoys the company of two daughters, four grandchildren and one great grandson, with another on his way. They are simply happy this history is recorded for future generations.
"Each young man had their own story and so many of them didn't get back home to even tell it," Idalee Allen said. "So many (of the survivors) are dying at such a fast pace today that if it's not recorded it's gone."
"NOVA: D-Day's Sunken Secrets" will air at 8 p.m. Wednesday on PBS. The two-hour special explores the wreckage on the ocean floor and the technological innovations that led to a successful landing on D-Day.