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A life of service and sacrifice: U.S. Army Veteran James G. Deal reflects on reaching 101, historic World War II service at D-Day

James Deal, a U.S. Army Veteran and native of Woodleaf, North Carolina , discusses his service in World War II and decades of life during an interview at his residence with the Salisbury VA Health Care System.
James Deal, a U.S. Army Veteran and native of Woodleaf, North Carolina, discusses his service in World War II and decades of life during an interview at his residence with the Salisbury VA Health Care System.

Age is just a number for 101-year-old U.S. Army World War II Veteran James G. Deal.

In a home his family has owned for over 60 years, one can find Mr. Deal surrounded by love, family, memories, and the past – a century’s worth of life, service, and dedication to be proud of.

Blessed with good health, Mr. Deal enjoys an independent lifestyle and is very mobile. He has a home health aide from the Salisbury VA Health Care System who helps him out around the house twice a week.

What may surprise people is how active and engaged this centenarian still is in the community.

Between his scheduled weekly Veteran group meetings, and appearances at local events and organizations as a guest of honor, Mr. Deal’s schedule is often booked up. 

He’s even been one of several World War II Veteran guests of honor at the WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, as well as at the 75th anniversary of D-Day at Normandy, France, in 2019. 

“Everyone was so nice and waited on us like we were royalty,” recalled Mr. Deal. 

More recently, Mr. Deal was honored last fall for his service at a Carolina Panthers home game and met with an overwhelming standing ovation. 

Salisbury VA’s Office of Public Affairs and Strategic Communications recently sat down with this remarkable Veteran to learn more about his journey and what he’s learned through the decades.

Born November 19, 1922, in Woodleaf, North Carolina, as the last of 12 children to a farming family. After completing the eighth grade, Mr. Deal quit school and worked on the family farm full-time.

At 18 years old, Mr. Deal was drafted into the U.S. Army. He recalled many other young men who were drafted were his same age. 

After leaving boot camp at the former Fort Bragg, North Carolina, the young soldiers boarded a train for Fort Lewis, Washington. Mr. Deal distinctly remembers the smell of coal dust and smoke from the engine.

The young soldiers trained at Fort Lewis for one year, which included going to the Oregon desert for maneuver training. Those 365 days were filled with plenty of drills that helped turn the young men into combat-ready soldiers.

When the year ended, the soldiers took a 12-day trip to England in a converted freighter. The convoy Mr. Deal was on arrived in March 1944, three months before D-Day. 

Assigned to the 737th Tank Battalion as a gunner, Mr. Deal recalled his experiences on D-Day – standing and looking up at B-17 Bombers that covered the sky above him. 

Later, his unit was told that the body of water surrounding them in England was filled with approximately 10,000 ships awaiting the invasions at Normandy Beach            .

The tanks in Mr. Deal’s outfit were medium Sherman M4 tanks, which had 75-millimeter guns. Five men were in each tank - a gunner, a loader, a driver, an assistant driver, and a tank commander.

Later in the summer of 1944, Mr. Deal and his outfit also participated in the Battle of Saint-Lo and the Battle of Mortain.

Mr. Deal recalled the nickname his battalion received, “Patton’s Spearhead,” as they crossed the Rhine River into Germany, becoming the first U.S. tanks to enter the country. 

During the Battle of the Bulge in late December 1944, Mr. Deal’s battalion arrived just in time to assist with knocking out some of the larger German tanks.

A few days later, Mr. Deal took ill and ended up spending that Christmas at a makeshift medical clinic housed in a private citizen’s home. He remembered the Christmas dinner put together by the soldiers with what was available to them and being grateful for the meal.

Shortly after returning to his unit, Mr. Deal was injured after a land mine ignited and sent shrapnel through both of his thighs. He was eventually transported to England for treatment. 

While still recovering, Mr. Deal learned that the war was over, and he was being sent home. He recalled being on “cloud nine” about the news. 

Mr. Deal later learned that his unit ended up in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war. All in all, the battalion saw 299 days of combat and was awarded over 400 Purple Hearts – with Mr. Deal earning one of them.

For decades, Mr. Deal and his fellow tankers had annual reunions to stay close and be in each other’s lives. Out of over 600 men from the battalion, only Mr. Deal and one other Veteran are still living.

After the war, Mr. Deal settled down and married, and had three daughters. He was married 69 years before his wife’s death eight years ago.

He was employed in the railroad transportation industry for 34 years as a car inspector and repairer before retiring. Mr. Deal has now been retired for over 40 years. 

“We just ride his coattails,” laughed Melissa Waller, his youngest daughter. “It’s fun to watch him enjoy life and have fun. This is his time.” 

Thank you for your service, Mr. Deal!

To learn more about Mr. Deal’s story, please visit or email the Office of Strategic Communications and Public Affairs at

At the Salisbury VA Health Care System, our mission is to fulfill President Lincoln’s promise to care for those who have served in our nation’s military and for their families, caregivers, and survivors.

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