Before helping soldiers storm the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, Mobilian Kirby B. Evans had done some incredible things during World War II.
The 94-year-old resident of Somerby in Mobile and former U.S. Navy seaman 2nd Class saw his convoy attacked twice in six days by German torpedo planes en route to a base in Algiers, Algeria.
The first attack, near the Straits of Gibraltar, led to success for the convoy and a commendation for Evans after he shot down an enemy plane.
“I shot down one of them and all I got for it was a little bronze thing about the size of your shirt buckle,” he said. “I think that’s a mighty [small] price to pay for a German plane.”
Evans said he was congratulated by the officer in charge and told he had saved the ship that day.
“That’s all the thanks I ever got,” he said.
Six days later, he said, the Germans attacked the convoy again. This time, though, they successfully sunk three of the ships, due to a tactical error.
“The convoys were spread out and that’s the wrong thing to do,” Evans said. “We were just targets then.”
The sunken ships included the one Evans was on.
“I was on one of those ships,” he said. “They practically blew it in two.”
The ship sank too fast to launch survival boats, so Evans and three other men took turns floating on a rubber raft in the Mediterranean Sea. He said the four men were in the water for about 12 hours before a PT boat picked them up.
“It took us to Algiers and turned us over to our commanders,” he said.
Even after surviving the deployment trip to Algiers, what Evans saw on the first day of the invasion of Normandy was “indescribable.”
As part of a group responsible for unloading soldiers and supplies from landing crafts to the various beaches on June 6, 1944, Evans remembers the start of his “28 days and nights” in battle.
“When we went back to get the second load we got back to where we were unloading them and the first load was still there,” he said. “They hadn’t got out of the water. With their backpacks on, some of them drowned and some of them were calling their mamas.”
Evans said he remembers a lot of confusion over knowing the names of beaches, like Omaha and Utah, and where they were located. There was a solution, though.
“Just naming the beach, we didn’t know one beach from another,” he said. “They were calling it Utah Beach and Omaha Beach … there was so much confusion going on that they took two pieces of plywood and put them together and painted them and they had a red and a green and an orange one and that kept us knowing where to go.”
The scariest part of the battle for Evans was hearing artillery and bombers.
“We were landing troops ahead of the battleship firing over our heads, and them shells would come over and they’d sound like an automobile it’d be so big,” he said. “We’d go to get another load and our ship would be moved to make room for the battleship to shuffle in a little bit closer.”
It was also very hard to see, as smokescreens billowed from nearby boats and ships.
“I was out there all day before I knew … to see the ground because they kept us under smoke and when we finally got out of that smoke a couple days later my throat was so sore I couldn’t eat,” he said. “We had to keep it or the Germans would’ve tore us up.”
Evans returned to Mobile in 1945 and reunited with his wife, Barbareeta, whom he married just a year before being drafted. Evans got a job supervising the mail room at the Mobile Press and Mobile Register, where he worked for more than 30 years before retiring in 1983.
He moved back to Brewton upon retirement, but moved back when his wife died in 2010 to be closer to their shared burial plot at Mobile Memorial Gardens.
The seventh of 11 children himself, Evans has three children and seven grandchildren.