OCEAN CITY — Francis McCormac’s life is on display throughout his modest home.
Pictures of his seven children, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren cover a wall in the living room. At the top is a photo from his wedding day in February 1946, when he married his wife, Esther.
“We were married for 70 years until she passed away two years ago,” said McCormac, 97. “We were married as soon as I got home from World War II. We had been going together for a while, but we wanted to wait. Just in case I didn’t come back.”
McCormac set aside the various medals he earned during his four-year stint as a sergeant in the United States Army Signal Corps, strode over to a china cabinet and came back cradling a small jar in his wrinkled-yet-strong hands.
It contained seashells and sand, which he explained were souvenirs from the day he landed on Omaha Beach in France in June 1944, a few days after the famous D-Day Invasion.
“I didn’t pick up the shells right away,” he said. “The Germans were still shooting at us from the top of the hill. I was scared because you never knew what was coming next.”
McCormac was only 23 when his land carrier hit the beach. Just a few years earlier he had been a student at St. Joseph’s Prep while living in the Port Richmond section of Philadelphia.
Then he found himself in the middle of chaos.
“At one point we were told that some of the Germans were wearing American uniforms, so you really weren’t sure who was on our side,” he said. “I was sitting in a truck with my gun and heard a knock on the door. I was getting ready to shoot when I saw it was a neighbor of mine. Good thing I didn’t shoot him.”
Six months later, McCormac and his unit participated in the Battle of the Bulge, which took place in Belgium, France and Luxembourg.
Searing heat had been replaced by bitter cold. Snow blanketed the ground.
“It was around Christmas time (in 1944) and I remember it was snowing like crazy,” he said. “The Army used to give us a big spread for Christmas dinner in the mess hall, with turkey, stuffing and everything else. We still had it that year, but we had to eat it on the fender of the truck. And you had to eat it quick. The food was warm when they gave to us, but it was getting covered in snow.”
One of the toughest experiences of his tour occurred shortly after the war had ended, when his unit went to the Dachau concentration camp just outside of Munich to help rescue prisoners of war.
McCormac remembers watching as troops carried bodies out of the camp for burial. Survivors who lived nearby emerged wearing blue-and-white uniforms, then “got on their bikes and went home.”
McCormac went home in October of 1945. Upon marrying Esther four months later, the couple settled in the Northeast section of Philadelphia. Francis briefly worked for RCA Victor in Camden before landing a job as an inspector for Philadelphia Radio and TV, where he worked for 40 years.
Summer vacations were spent visiting family and friends in Ocean City. He moved there permanently 12 years ago and lives near daughters Maureen and Patricia. He attends mass every day at St. Augustine Catholic Church and enjoys going to Ocean City High School football games on Friday nights.
Every Christmas, his family joins him for dinner.
“We rent a big hall near the (Ocean City Airport),” he said. “It sure beats eating Christmas dinner on the fender of a truck.”