We have several WWII veterans traveling with us to Normandy on our 75th Anniversary of D-Day tours. Today we are spotlighting veteran, Willard “Bud” LaCounte, PFC, 118th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Battery A. Bud will be traveling with Historian Douglas Johnson on the 75th Anniversary: D-Day to the Rhine Tour courtesy of Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. (Photo: Montana Native News Project, Native News 2018)
Willard “Bud” LaCounte landed on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944—the day after the initial landing—with the 118th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion, Battery A. He was part of the Allied forces that fought in Normandy, Southern France, Northern France, and the Ardennes, participating in the Liberation of France in 1945.
Willard was an enrolled Chippewa, who was born and raised in Bainville, Montana and educated at Indian boarding schools, which he hated. In his teens, he headed west to Seattle, sometimes catching rides on freight trains. On the docks at the port city, he followed a crowd into a building and came out with a job. Willard was shipped to Dutch Harbor in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands to work on construction of a submarine refueling station.
He registered for the draft while there. About six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese aircraft carriers launched an aerial assault on the isolated American outpost. After the attacks on June 3-4, 1942, preparations were made to evacuate civilians. But by then Willard had received his draft notice. He was 19 when he reported for duty in Butte and was shipped to the Mojave Desert in California for training.
Willard’s 118th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion got its overseas orders in November 1943 and arrived by ship in Glasgow, Scotland, on Christmas Eve. A few days later, his battalion and its 90 mm guns moved to Henley-on-Thames, a picturesque village north of London. Waves of bombs howled through the dark as the anti-aircraft guns blazed away, targeting the factories.
On the day Willard drove off the landing craft on the French beach under enemy fire, his son Larry was born. While they were unloading on the beach, German prisoners were being marched onto ramps to board landing craft that would take them to England. Sometimes a wave would come along and the prisoners wouldn’t make it to the ramp.
From Normandy, his battalion was on the move constantly. As the people ahead of the battalion captured a landing strip or a railhead or a factory, the battalion moved in to protect it. They moved about every 10 days. It was pretty hairy for a few months until the Germans ran out of aircraft.
Willard finished his military service, helping in the repatriation effort of soldiers from all over the world. Just before his discharge in December 1946, he and another soldier were sent to Switzerland to check out hotels and restaurants for potential rest and recreation for troops remaining in Europe. He was discharged in December, 1946.
The French government designated Willard “Bud” LaCounte a Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor in May, 2013.
Willard was married for 67 years to his wife, Venice. She died in 2010. They ranched at Bainville in northeastern Montana before retiring to Billings in 1988. While Venice was alive, the couple went dancing three nights a week. Willard and Venice traveled to 90 counties and 48 states. He returned to Switzerland and to France many times for D-Day ceremonies.
Willard was one of the 89 World War II veterans from Montana that took part in the Big Sky Honor Flight that went to Washington, DC, to visit the WWII Memorial in 2012.
Note: Much information in this post has been excerpted from an article that appeared in the Billings Gazette in May 2013. You can read the entire article here: