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Donald Davies, 87, of Rodeo, winner of two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in WWII, talks about his experiences at home in Rodeo, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)

RODEO -- Donald Davies braced himself for an upcoming visit to the eye doctor and a procedure he couldn't name but remembered only too well.

"They put needles in your eye to lift up your eyeball, and put in some fluid to help prop it up," Davies, 87, a retired union truck driver and warehouseman, said during an interview in his Rodeo house last month. "Then they take some of the oil out from under my eye.

"I had it done three times since the war.".

The oil residue has been under his eye going on seven decades, since about five days after D-Day, the Allied invasion of Normandy in World War II. It resulted from a German bomb that sprayed hot oil into the air, and is one of many scars Davies carries from the war, some physical, some emotional.

Donald Davies, 87, of Rodeo, winner of two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in WWII, talks about his experiences at home
Donald Davies, 87, of Rodeo, winner of two Purple Hearts and the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in WWII, talks about his experiences at home in Rodeo, Calif. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)

He hobbles around his house these days with the help of a cane; there's a deep, 6-inch-long gap in his right shin where a German automatic blew away a chunk of bone and flesh. And there are the scars to his psyche, one, especially, from an encounter with a German patrol that left him for dead after shooting him point blank.

Davies' injuries left him unable to father children or realize his dream of becoming a firefighter. He became a parent nevertheless, marrying a young mother after the war and helping raise her 3-year-old son, and devoted himself to fire service through three decades as a director on the Rodeo-Hercules Fire District board.

He also followed the advice of the British doctor who told him upon leaving the hospital: "Don't drink wine for five years. Never smoke, and you can live a long life."

In 1944, it seemed unlikely that Davies would make it home alive. Drafted after he graduated from Oakland's Fremont High School in 1943, Pvt. Davies was on a beach in Normandy on June 6, 1944, shortly before his 19th birthday. As the barge carrying him and other members of Companies F and G, 4th Infantry Division, along with some Army nurses, approached the shore, a nurse was struck by shrapnel and fell overboard, he said.

Davies and a buddy jumped in, pulled the nurse out of the water and brought her ashore. In the process, Davies was hit by shrapnel that perforated his helmet and bloodied him.

"The end of it got stuck in my head," Davies said. "They put a patch on and asked me if I wanted to keep on going, and I said, sure."

The episode would earn Davies his first of two Purple Hearts.

Later during the campaign, Davies was the radio operator in a three-man reconnaissance patrol that suddenly found itself surrounded by four German soldiers, weapons aimed at them.

The Germans asked his sergeant where the American troops were. "He said he didn't know, so they shot him through the head," Davies said.

Next, they turned to the second American, who pleaded with them not to shoot him. "I got a little girl waiting at home for me," he told them.

He was shot through the neck, the blood spraying onto Davies.

Another German, this one an officer, turned to Davies, and engaged him in small talk. When Davies said he was from Oakland, the officer told him he knew Oakland, Alameda, Hayward and, especially, Monterey well.

"He spoke better English than me," Davies remembered. "I figured he was one of the German-Americans who went back to Germany in 1938 or '39."

Davies gave no information about the American troops, whom he estimates were only about 750 feet away. So the German officer shot Davies with his handgun, the bullet passing through Davies' left arm, into his chest, and lodging in his spine. Another German shot Davies through the abdomen and leg, and a third fired his automatic weapon at his legs.

The Germans left Davies for dead, and that's how he appeared to the British soldiers who found him.

"When they tied my dog tag to my big toe, I woke up and someone yelled, 'Hey, this one is still alive,'" Davies remembered.

He ended up in a British military hospital, where doctors removed the bullet from his spine.

A nurse told him later that he had been in a coma for 10 days. Later, "they wanted to take my leg off," Davies remembered, but a British doctor said, "I think I can put a flange on the bone and connect it together."

Davies earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his ordeal, based on details recounted to American military authorities by a French woman looking out her window in the village where Davies and his patrol were captured. He does not remember the name of the village; a June 10, 1945, letter accompanying the award placed Davies near "Hamby, France." There is a village named Hambye in Normandy.

"Private Davies' willingness to undergo severe torture and face imminent death rather than betray his fellow soldiers is in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service," the letter reads.

One detail of France Davies remembers vividly: "Where we were fighting was all grape orchards, like Napa."

For three years, Davies couldn't walk. He eventually went from a wheelchair to a leg brace to crutches and finally a cane.

When he could walk again, Davies went to Monterey, recalling the German officer who knew it so well.

"They had a community hall for Germans, or German-Americans," Davies said. "I thought I might find him there."

A subscriber on Davies' old newspaper route got wind of his return from the war and offered him a job at his construction company. Davies worked there for more than 40 years, driving trucks and working in the warehouse. In 1955, on a visit to Rodeo, Davis met Shirley, who was getting a divorce. They married a short time later.

In the years after the war, he had recurring nightmares of the time the German patrol killed his two buddies and all but killed him. To keep his mind busy, he ran for a seat on the Rodeo-Hercules fire board in 1964.

"I said, 'I have to stop thinking about these guys who shot me.'"

A Dec. 10, 1994 resolution by then-Assemblyman Bob Campbell credits Davies for helping transform a volunteer department into a professional district.

An undated commendation on yet another decoration, the Non-Commissioned Officers Association World War II Legacy Award, recounts Davies' 1944 encounter with the German patrol, concluding with the words: "Thank you Private Davies for service to your country during World War II and for a difficult job well done."

Contact Tom Lochner at 510-262-2760 and tlochner@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at twitter.com/tomlochner