Inside the Portsmouth home of a 94-year-old D-Day survivor
Editor’s note: Open Doors is a series in which photographer Anna Solo visits the homes and workspaces of fascinating Seacoast people.
Portsmouth resident Raymond Goulet was the fastest foxhole digger in his company, which landed in the first wave on Omaha Beach in Normandy in 1944. In the uneven waters of the English Channel, climbing down rope ladders from large ships to flat-bottomed landing craft, he witnessed soldiers crushed between ships, killed before even reaching the beach. “It was a terrible thing to see,” he says before changing the subject.
Now 94, Goulet is still hesitant to open up about the perilous situations he faced during the D-Day invasion and throughout World War II. “I was absolutely terrified,” he says. “Anyone who denies having been scared is lying.”
More than 70 years after the war, Goulet prefers to focus on the positive: He is healthy, doesn’t look or feel his age, maintains strong relationships with his friends and daughter, and stays active every day, no matter the season.
A native of Lawrence, Mass., Goulet has now lived in Portsmouth for 30 years. In his apartment near downtown, his strong love for New England and the sea is on full display. Images of lighthouses cover much of his small, warmly lit, and impeccably organized one-bedroom apartment. Mugs with lighthouses engraved in the ceramic line shelves, blankets with a nautical theme cover armchairs, lamps take the form of anchors and lighthouses, wooden cutouts of boats and pictures of ocean scenes adorn the walls.
Any leftover wall space is dedicated to photos of family members and mementos of his time in the Army, including newspaper cutouts, medals, and illustrations of “Monarch of Bermuda,” the ship that brought him and his unit to England. On another wall are nearly 200 Christmas cards sent to Goulet by friends, family members, and volunteers from the Pease Greeters. The juxtaposition of wartime memories with the Christmas cards and the simple-yet-colorful New England theme is striking.
In Goulet’s bedroom, a neatly made bed with a quilt crafted for him as a gift by The Pease Greeters sits against the wall. One corner is dedicated to his faith. Though he identifies as a Catholic, he has decided not to attend church and instead practice on his own terms. He says that he prays for his friends and family members daily.
Goulet strongly believes in “divine intervention.” He and his two brothers all fought in the war. When he boarded the ship to Normandy and unexpectedly encountered his brother Roland at a church service, he began to believe things were meant to be.
As soon as the ship arrived, “the Germans began shelling immediately,” he says. The brothers were separated until after the end of the war. They remained extremely close until Roland’s death a couple of years ago, an event that left Goulet heartbroken.
“I really, really miss talking to him,” he says, showing a hint of emotion before changing the subject once more.