BOONEVILLE • Pfc. Talmadge Reno spent long hours loading ammunition into heavy artillery in a boat on the choppy waters of the English Channel.
His duty that particular day, as a member of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, was to provide cover for the thousands of soldiers who moved ashore at Normandy, France, to establish a beachhead in the largest amphibious invasion in history.
It was June 6, 1944. D-Day.
As the Prentiss County farmer fought for freedom, he had no idea that 4,400 miles away in a Booneville hospital, his wife of nine years was giving birth to his daughter.
Reno would go ashore June 7, the second day of the World War II invasion.
It would be weeks before he received the news he was a father; it would be more than a year before he met little Lana Reno.
Lana Reno Oakley, who will celebrate 75 years of life on June 6, never learned about the war from her father.
“Men didn’t talk to their daughters about war,” she said.
What she knows she learned from others, especially from overhearing conversations between her dad and her first cousin.
“Bill Reno had the gift of gab,” she said, smiling. “He’d come by and talk war. He could pull things out from my father. Looking back, I can think of so many things I wish I’d asked.”
Oakley knows her father was drafted somewhere around September 1943.
“It is pure speculation on my part,” she said, laughing. “But I believe when he got the call to go, I was a last-minute inspiration.”
Ruby Reno found out she was pregnant with her first – and only – child while her husband was at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
Oakley knows that on the day she was born, her 33-year-old father was one of 500 men on the water in a boat. She knows his job was loading ammunition into one of “16 or so big guns.”
She also knows on that same day, her mother was in labor in a hospital with no air conditioning. The windows were raised, allowing hot and humid Mississippi summer air to circulate.
“She told me she overheard people talking outside her window, saying that the invasion had started,” Oakley said.
On a day her father fought for his country and her mother worried about his safety, Lana Reno entered the world.
In a bank safety deposit box, Oakley has a postcard from Paris that Talmadge Reno wrote and sent to his baby girl.
When he came home, the family lived in Thrasher, where Reno farmed and his wife worked for a time in a shirt factory.
The family eventually moved to town, and at some point built the Booneville home Oakley continues to live in today.
Oakley admits her early memories of her father are hazy, at best.
“The first and most clear memory I have involves horses,” she said. “He loved horses and one day when I was just a little girl, he took me along to a horse sale. I remember him holding me up and propping me on a fence as he looked at horses.”
When she was 5, her father gave in to his daughter’s pleas and allowed her to ride his horse.
“That horse was slick as a button,” Oakley said. “He put me on it, no saddle, just reins. We did pretty good at first, but when the horse turned back toward the barn where the food was, he took off. Luckily, I stayed on, but that was the last time I was allowed to ride.”
After Oakley married and eventually had two sons – Greg and John, Reno doted on his grandsons.
“I think he always wanted a boy,” Oakley said. “He loved my boys and spent hours pitching balls to them in the backyard. As a result of his influence, both boys played baseball through their junior college years.”
After her father gave up farming, he went to work for Stutt’s Grocery for a few years, and later went to work for the gas company.
“Any time their pilot lights would go out, all the little ladies would call and say, ‘please, send Talmadge,’” said his daughter, a 25-year veteran public school teacher in Booneville.
Sadly, Reno died when he was 53; his wife lived to be 100 and never remarried.
The most vivid recollection of her father might come from a combination of photographs and memories.
“He was kind and handsome and didn’t have a cavity in his head,” Oakley said. “He really did have the prettiest teeth. And he was a wonderful father and grandfather.”