Robert Giguere, D-Day veteran profiled in the ‘Monitor,’ dies at 93

  • Robert Giguere at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Robert Giguere at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. GEOFF FORESTER

  • Robert Giguere, 92, who earned a Silver Star at Omaha Beach on D-Day during World War II, salutes during the Pearl Harbor Remembrance at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton on Dec. 7, 2018. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor file

  • After World War II, Bob Giguere returned to life in Laconia. But in 1989, he returned to the site of the invasion in Normandy, France, to mark D-Day’s 45th anniversary. Dennis Giguere

  • Bob Giguere in 1989 in Normandy, France, on the 45th anniversary in D-Day. (Photo courtesy of Dennis Giguere) —Dennis Giguere / Courtesy

  • Bob Giguere stands next to the bunker that he tossed hand grenades into on June 6, 1944. The photo was taken during the 45th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Courtesy

Monitor staff
Published: 1/17/2020 6:04:39 PM

In the twilight of his life, Robert Giguere, a Navy veteran who survived Omaha Beach on D-Day and later served in the Pacific Theater of World War II, prepared his own funeral arrangements. This included penning his own obituary.

Giguere died at the age of 93 early Monday morning at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton. The obituary appeared in the Laconia Daily Sun, his hometown newspaper, a few days later. He used two short sentences to sum up his military service.

“In a sense, I don’t think he wanted to brag,” his son, Dennis, said Friday, a few hours before his father’s wake. “In another sense, he knew he did something significant.”

Giguere’s harrowing experiences on Omaha Beach were described as part of a Monitorseries last June commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Europe.

He enlisted at the age of 17, with his mother’s permission. One year later, on his 18th birthday, he awoke in an Army hospital in England covered in shrapnel with a bullet wound throbbing in his shoulder.

Four days earlier, Giguere rode across the choppy English Channel toward the Normandy coast with the Sixth Naval Beach Battalion. When his carrier grounded on the beach, a Teller mine detonated from beneath and tore through the ship’s hull, killing several soldiers below deck.

Giguere jumped over the side into the water and waded toward the shore as small arms fire rained down from German bunkers on land. He pulled a drowning soldier along with him up onto the beach, where Giguere was then shot through the shoulder.

“It was one hell of a mess,” Giguere told the Monitor as he described the day.

He was separated from his group but continued further inland where he eventually joined a passing group of Army infantry who were moving in toward a ravine where the Germans were positioned.

After crawling under barbed wire through two ditches and a minefield, Giguere came upon a German pillbox. He tossed in five grenades and then a sixth, a smoke grenade, which provided a target for the massive weapons on the Allies’ destroyers in the channel.

Giguere followed the Army soldiers deeper inland, to Colleville, where they came upon an old church. Giguere said a German sniper was set up in the steeple. The men fought their way into the lower level of the church where they found a French family being held. Giguere spoke enough French to tell the family to get out before the church was knocked down.

Giguere returned to the beach to find the unit he had started the day with. He was speaking with Amin Isbir, an officer who had taken cover near a truck, when a German shell exploded near them, killing Isbir and knocking Giguere unconscious.

After a few weeks recovering in the hospital, Giguere was sent home for a 30-day furlough in Laconia. He then shipped west to California and on to Asia by way of Pearl Harbor.

Giguere participated in the invasion of the Philippines, and for two weeks, he was behind enemy lines to deliver supplies to Navajo code talkers in the mountains.

Giguere then fought at Okinawa in April of 1945 where he was eventually shot in the foot. His service at Okinawa earned him a third Purple Heart, though it didn’t come until many years later. More than three decades passed before the bullet was finally removed from his foot. Giguere kept the bullet in a jewelry box in his home.

Giguere was set to participate in the invasion of Japan but the war ended before the attack. Two atomic bombs were dropped on the island, and the Japanese surrendered.

“The atomic bomb saved my life,” he said.

He returned to Laconia in 1946 and took a job as a machinist at Scott & Williams. He raised a family with five children and was a 35-year volunteer with the Laconia Fire Department. He was an avid hunter and fisher, and also enjoyed playing golf.

He never told his children much about his time in the war, but he revealed more and more as the years went on. Dennis joined his father on a trip to France for the 45th anniversary of D-Day in 1989. They went to Omaha Beach, and Giguere showed his son the pillbox he attacked with grenades.

During the visit, the Gigueres stayed at a bed and breakfast where a group of Belgian men was also staying. They were dressed in U.S. Army uniforms, circa 1944, as a way to honor the veterans who were visiting. Dennis says that when these men learned a living veteran of D-Day was staying in the same place, “they treated him like a king.”

As Giguere grew older, he began to make those arrangements so his family would know what to do when he passed. He told them he wanted to go to the Veterans Home in Tilton, what he called “The Soldiers Home,” if he ever needed that level of nursing care.

That time came two years ago, Dennis said. His father, then 91, fell in his home and broke his hip. Dennis said his father had gone out to shovel his driveway – “We could never stop him,” Dennis says – and was probably worn out from the activity.

He went to a nursing facility in Laconia and another in Meredith. As his health declined, he was eventually admitted to the Veterans Home when it was determined he was 90% disabled.

Giguere was surrounded by family in the days leading up to his death. He passed away early Monday morning. Dennis, who lives in Bow, received a call about 4 a.m. from his sister, who was staying overnight at the Veterans Home. He drove up and was there in time to see his father wheeled out of the home on a gurney with a U.S. flag draped over his body.

“They waited for us,” said Dennis, who was with his wife and daughter. “The New Hampshire VA was absolutely fantastic. They treat all their men and women with dignity and respect.”

According to his obituary, Robert is survived by his wife of 42 years, Claire Leona (Nadeau) Giguere, of Laconia; sons, Michael Giguere and his wife, Ellen, Steven Giguere and his wife, Patty, and Dennis Giguere and his wife, Elaine; daughters, Linda Hazzard and her husband, John, and Denise Rollins and her husband, Bill; 12 grandchildren; 13 great grandchildren; brothers, Maurice, William and David and his sister Joann Price. In addition to his parents, he is predeceased by his first wife, Rachel (Simoneau) Giguere, brothers, Donald, Norman, John, and George Harris and by his sisters, Marguerite Fanny and Arlene Little.

Calling Hours were held Friday. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled for Saturday morning at 10 at St. Andre Bessette Parish – St. Joseph Church, 30 Church St., in Laconia. Burial with Military Honors will be held at a later date in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Laconia.

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