Plaquemine native Joe Rockforte recalls D-Day

Michael R. Eby

D-Day, June 6, 1944 was an epic event of World War II and Plaquemine native Joseph J. Rockforte was there.

"Our unit disembarked on June 7, I slung my rifle on my back, climbed over the railing of our ship and climbed down the cargo net into a landing craft," Joe Rockforte said. "Shortly thereafter, we land on Utah Beach, proceeded inland and came under German fire."

Joe was born on August 3, 1922 in Plaquemine, La. His family moved to Port Allen and Joe was enrolled in school there, leaving after the sixth grade. Joe's draft number came up on October 16, 1942. He passed his physical in New Orleans and became a member of the United States Army.

From New Orleans he was sent to the Army Reception Center at Camp Beauregard in Alexandria, La.

"From there I went to Boot Camp at Camp Joseph T. Robinson in Arkansas," Joe said. "After boot camp in 1943, I was sent to Fort Benning, Georgia where I did my basic and infantry training with the 300th Infantry Regiment."

He became an infantry replacement and was sent to Fort Dix, New Jersey reporting to the 357th Infantry Regiment of the 90th Infantry Division in January 1944.

The 90th Infantry Division was originally called the Texas – Oklahoma Division. It had an olive drab patch inscribed with a red T O worn on their left sleeve. General George Patton later in the war called them the "Tough 'Ombers" Division.

"We stayed at Fort Dix until March, when we were shipped out to Camp Kilman, New Jersey for a short period, then we were trucked out on March 22 to New York City and immediately put

aboard ships," Joe said. "We sailed out of New York Harbor, passing the Statue of Liberty on March 23."

Around April 9, 1944 Joe and the 90th Division landed in Liverpool, England and were sent to various sites around England. Between then and June 1, Joe and the 90th prepared for the invasion of France.

"We didn't know exactly where in France we would land, or the date of the invasion, until after we were aboard our ships," Joe said.

"As I said earlier, on June 7, 1944 we landed on Utah Beach located in the region of France called Normandy. We moved inland and after ten days of back and forth fighting our unit was cut off from the division, around June 13, in the vicinity of St. Lo," he said. "We ran low on ammunition and were finally overrun by the Germans, and I became a POW on June 19."

Joe told how they were marched around France and about being attacked by P-38 and P-51 fighter planes, which mistook U.S. troops for Germans. U.S. soldiers finally reached a POW Camp in Germany called "Stalag 7a Moosburg Bavaria 48 12 Work Camps 3324 46 Krumbachstrasse 48011 Work Camp 3368 Munich 48 1."

Moosburg an der Isar is a town in Bavaria, Germany and one of Germany's oldest towns.

"I was taken from Stalag7 and put on a farm near Beeberg," Joe said. "I worked on that farm for several months. One day, as I was working in the fields, I saw some soldiers off in the distance. As they approached, I could see they were Americans. Talk about one happy GI!

"That was May 6, 1945. I was a POW for 318 days. I asked the Captain in charge of the outfit that freed me, if I could send a letter home. He gave me a pen and paper and I wrote, 'Dear Mom and Dad, I'm in American hands and will be home soon. Joe. And he put it in the mail.

"I left the European Theater in May 1945 from the port city of Le Havre, France on a ship full of ex-POW's and we arrived in the U.S. a few days later and were sent to Camp Killman for physical examinations before being sent home. After a month at my Port Allen home, I reported to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, then went to Camp Livingston, Mississippi before rejoining the 90th Division at Fort Still, Oklahoma.

"At Fort Still the 90th was being readied for the invasion of Japan. Fortunately the war ended, and I didn't have to make that landing," Joe said.

Medals and awards received by Joe Rockforte were the: Bronze Star Medal, American Campaign Medal, European African Middle East Campaign Medal with two bronze stars and two bronze arrowheads, Invasion Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army of Occupation Medal with Germany bar, XPOW Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge, Meritorious Unit Commendation and the Honorable Discharge Lapel Pin ("The Ruptured Duck").

After the Service he went to the Plaquemine Trade School. After trade school he went to work at the Myrtle Grove Sugar Mill, as a mechanic for almost 20 years. He then went to work at Cane Equipment Co-op and retired 12 years later, in 1987.

"After I retired I became a Lawnmower Repairman, and I recycled Aluminum cans," Joe said.

"I needed to stay busy. I married Gretta Alleman on August 18, 1954 in the St. John the Evangelist Church in Plaquemine. We were blessed with four children; Judy, Joseph, Janis and Billy and six grandchildren."

He told me Gretta passed away on May 29, 2001.

"Betty Brown and I were married in the St. John Church on January 31, 2003," Joe said. "We love to travel, and I’m still in touch with friends in the 90th Division and an ex-POW who was in the Camp with me."