D-Day at 74: In Their Own Words

Saturday, June 6, is the 71st anniversary of the US, British, Canadian and Australian invasion of Normandy, France.

Wednesday, June 6, is the 74th anniversary of the US, British, Canadian and Australian invasion of Normandy, France.

“The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers in arms on other fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

— Excerpt from Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s message to Normandy invasion troops the night before D-Day.

By sea and by air they descended on a 50-mile stretch of German-fortified French coastline, 74 years ago today.

Wearing the uniforms of a dozen Allied nations, some 175,000 young men risked it all in one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history. That first day alone, an estimated 46,000 would never see home again. But such was the cost of freedom.

World War II veteran Dick Ramsey who was a 19-year-old gunner on the USS Nevada off the shore of Utah beach on D-Day.

World War II veteran Dick Ramsey who was a 19-year-old gunner on the USS Nevada off the shore of Utah beach on D-Day.

The Battle of Normandy would be the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe. On Aug. 25, Paris was liberated. The following spring, Germany surrendered. Eyewitness accounts of D-Day grow ever more precious, with an estimated 500-plus World War II veterans dying every day.

World War II veteran Alexander Eckmann who participated in the D-Day invasion.

World War II veteran Alexander Eckmann who participated in the D-Day invasion.

For the 70th anniversary of the invasion in 2014, writers and historians gathered the memories of 10 men who were there, from bombardiers to seamen to privates trapped on those beaches burnished in memory: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

Here are some of their stories:

‘You were scared stiff to move’ 

A child of the Bronx who joined the National Guard in the fall of 1940, when he was still 15 years old, Martin Painkin landed on Omaha Beach early on the morning of D-Day with the Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion. He received a Silver Star for gallantry for his actions June 6-9 and a Purple Heart for wounds received in action on June 7. Now 89, living in Riviera Beach, he recalled those days with writer Staci Sturrock.

“It was like a slaughter. It really was,” says Martin Painkin from his wheelchair at the VA’s Community Living Center.

‘There were literally thousands of bodies’

A state champion swimmer from Hammond, Ind., Walter Gumula was an 18-year-old Navy frogman among the first waves of troops landing on Omaha Beach on June 6. Now 88, and living in Port Salerno, he recounted his D-Day exploits.

Their mission was secret.

‘Nobody learns anything’

Born and raised in Brooklyn, Lenny Scatturo was a 21-year-old gunner’s mate third class on the USS Ancon, flagship for the forces that landed on Omaha Beach. Today, at 91, he lives in West Palm Beach.

From the deck of his landing craft control boat, Lenny Scatturo watched helplessly as 10 amphibious tanks succumbed to the six-foot swells of the English Channel, long before they neared Omaha Beach.

‘I wonder how those guys lived through D-Day’

A Hoboken, N.J., native, Charlie Meyer was a B-17 bombardier with the 388th Bomb Group. He completed 34 missions over France and Germany in 1944, including two on D-Day. Now 95, and living in Greenacres;

The B-17 crew received strict orders before departing Knettishall, England, in the pre-dawn darkness of D-Day: “No aborts on this mission.”

‘There was a lot of sweat, a lot of cursing’

Dick Ramsey was a 19-year-old Navy seaman on the USS Nevada, which bombarded German installations at Utah beach. Today, the 89-year-old Ramsey lives in Port St. Lucie, where he shared his memories.

Dick Ramsey’s job at Utah beach was delivering hot steel retribution.

‘I was struck by the smell of dead bodies’

Solis ‘Sol’ Kaslow was a 19-year-old from Philadelphia, serving as a quartermaster aboard PT 508 on D-Day. Now 89, and living in Palm Beach Gardens, he talked about his memories.

Hours before their most important mission began, the 13 men aboard PT 508 bowed their heads and talked to God.

‘A shock to see Americans floating face up’

A Long Island native, Alexander “Al” Eckmann was a sergeant in U.S. Army counterintelligence on D-Day. He was assigned to land on Utah Beach with the VII Corps of the Army. Now 89, and living in Juno Beach.

Sgt. Al Eckmann dangles from a rope ladder on the side of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter, trying to focus on the spotter’s voice through deafening blasts from the nearby USS Texas.

‘What we saw that day you will never see again’

Kal Lewis was drafted the day he graduated from high school in Passaic, N.J. At 19, he was among the waves of combat engineers who invaded Utah beach. The youngest of 14 children, he was one of five brothers who served in World War II. At 89, he lives in Wellington.:

German shells were exploding overhead as 19-year-old Kal Lewis stepped off the landing craft and into rough water up to his neck.

‘There were bodies floating everywhere’

On D-Day, John Edmunds was 19 years old, a seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy from Burlington, Ontario. His mission: A helmsman on an escort ship leading cargo ships to the Normandy shore of Juno Beach. Today, 89, a retiree in West Palm Beach.

Seaman John Edmunds of the Royal Canadian Navy finds only a cloudless day and clear sea as he stands at the helm of the armored escort ship HMCS Drumheller, his captain barking down orders from the bridge: “Port, two degrees!”

‘It was difficult firing on our country’

Parisian Rene Cerisoles served on a French light cruiser under U.S. command off Omaha Beach. Now 89, and living in Palm Beach Gardens.

As the Montcalm pulled into position off Omaha Beach that June morning in 1944, chief petty officer Rene Cerisoles found himself looking at a familiar shoreline.

Map of the air plan for the Allied landing in Normandy.

Map of the air plan for the Allied landing in Normandy.

74 years ago, more than 150,000 brave men participated in the D-Day invasion on the beaches of Normandy. They were American, they were Canadian, they were British; and they were united under one goal — to save Europe.

Nearly 5,000 men lost their lives that day, their sacrifice helped defeat the Nazis and is seared in the hearts of millions. Now, seven decades later, people will look back at that momentous day that marked the beginning of the end of World War II.

Dday

Thanks to all the Allies, men and women, officer and enlisted, the buried and the survivors. God bless them all.

Crash

Advertisements

#WarriorWednesday

ww header

1951 : Two F-9F Panther's dump fuel alongside the USS Princeton CV-37 off the Korean coast It was safer and easier to land without the excess fuel - a criteria called "Maximum Landing Weight"

1951 : Two F-9F Panther’s dump fuel alongside the USS Princeton CV-37 off the Korean coast
It was safer and easier to land without the excess fuel – a criteria called “Maximum Landing Weight”

An Irish Guards machine-gun team in 1914 during the beginning of World War 1. Not a single one of these men pictured here survived the war.

An Irish Guards machine-gun team in 1914 during the beginning of World War 1.
Not a single one of these men pictured here survived the war.

Jan 1944 : Portrait of 28 year old Soviet Army tank commander Captain M. S. Smirnov during the Battle of the Korsun After suffering a direct hit by an enemy shell, killing several crewmates, Smirnov was still able to crush three enemy anti-tank guns and kill over 20 German combatants. Cpt. Smirnov would be killed six months later in Latvia during the Battle of Daugavpils on 29 July 1944.

Jan 1944 : Portrait of 28 year old Soviet Army tank commander Captain M. S. Smirnov during the Battle of the Korsun
After suffering a direct hit by an enemy shell, killing several crewmates, Smirnov was still able to crush three enemy anti-tank guns and kill over 20 German combatants.
Cpt. Smirnov would be killed six months later in Latvia during the Battle of Daugavpils on 29 July 1944.

1918 : A wounded AIF soldier receives an affectionate welcome home kiss after WWI, Sydney, Australia

1918 : A wounded AIF soldier receives an affectionate welcome home kiss after WWI, Sydney, Australia

Juana Galán was known for beating Napoleon’s troops out of her village during the Battle of Valdepeñas in June, 1808. There weren’t enough men to defend the village from invading French.  Juana, 21, immediately rallied all of the women in the village. When the French troops marched in, the women dumped boiling oil on top of them. One version has it that she smashed in the heads of the soldiers with her cast-iron stew-pan. The French never returned.

Juana Galán was known for beating Napoleon’s troops out of her village during the Battle of Valdepeñas in June, 1808. There weren’t enough men to defend the village from invading French.
Juana, 21, immediately rallied all of the women in the village. When the French troops marched in, the women dumped boiling oil on top of them. One version has it that she smashed in the heads of the soldiers with her cast-iron stew-pan. The French never returned.

Boston Corbett, the mad hatter.. Thomas P. "Boston" Corbett (1832 – presumed dead 1894) was an American Union Army soldier who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Corbett was born in London, England. His family emigrated to New York City in 1840. He became a hatter in Troy, New York. It has been suggested that the fumes of mercury used in the hatter's trade caused Corbett's later mental problems. Corbett married, but his wife died in childbirth. Following her death, he moved to Boston, and continued working as a hatter. He was confronted by a street preacher one night and his message persuaded him to join the Methodist Episcopal Church, which he did, subsequently changing his name to Boston, the name of the city where he was converted. In an attempt to imitate Jesus, he began to wear his hair very long. On July 16, 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors. He then ate a meal and went to a prayer meeting before he sought medical treatment. In April 1861, early in the American Civil War, Corbett enlisted as a private in Company I of the New York Militia.Then on April 24, 1865, he was sent to apprehend John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, who was still at large.  Two days later the regiment surrounded Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused to give himself up. The barn was set on fire in an attempt to force him out into the open, but Booth remained inside. Corbett was positioned near a large crack in the barn wall. Corbett claimed in an 1878 interview that he saw Booth aim his carbine. At that point, Corbett shot Booth with his Colt revolver despite Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton's orders that Booth should be taken alive. Eyewitness Lieutenant Edward Doherty, the officer in charge of the soldiers who captured Booth and Herold, stated that "the bullet struck Booth in the back of the head, about an inch below the spot where his shot had entered the head of Mr. Lincoln." Booth's spinal cord was severed, and he died two hours later. Corbett was immediately arrested for violation of his orders, but Stanton later had the charges dropped. Stanton remarked, "The rebel is dead. The patriot lives." Corbett received his share of the reward money, amounting to $1,653.84 (equivalent to $25,000 in 2014). In his official statement, Corbett claimed he shot Booth because he thought Lincoln's assassin was preparing to use his weapons. This was contradicted by the other witnesses. When asked later why he did it, Corbett answered that "Providence directed me". After his discharge from the army in August 1865, Corbett went back to work as a hatter, first in Boston, later in Connecticut, and by 1870 in New Jersey. His life was marked by increasingly erratic behavior. In 1875, he threatened several men with a pistol at a soldiers' reunion in Caldwell, Ohio. In 1878, he moved to Concordia, Kansas. In 1887, because of his fame as Booth's killer, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. One day he overheard a conversation in which the legislature's opening prayer was mocked. He jumped to his feet and brandished a revolver. No one was hurt, but Corbett was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, whom he had met when they were both prisoners of war. When he left, he told Thatcher he was going to Mexico. His "madness" may have been the result of exposure to mercury. Rather than going to Mexico, Corbett is believed to have settled in a cabin he built in the forests near Hinckley, in Pine County in eastern Minnesota. He is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. Although there is no proof, the name "Thomas Corbett" does appear on the list of dead and missing.

Boston Corbett, the mad hatter..
Thomas P. “Boston” Corbett (1832 – presumed dead 1894) was an American Union Army soldier who shot and killed Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth.
Corbett was born in London, England. His family emigrated to New York City in 1840. He became a hatter in Troy, New York. It has been suggested that the fumes of mercury used in the hatter’s trade caused Corbett’s later mental problems.
Corbett married, but his wife died in childbirth. Following her death, he moved to Boston, and continued working as a hatter. He was confronted by a street preacher one night and his message persuaded him to join the Methodist Episcopal Church, which he did, subsequently changing his name to Boston, the name of the city where he was converted. In an attempt to imitate Jesus, he began to wear his hair very long. On July 16, 1858, in order to avoid the temptation of prostitutes, Corbett castrated himself with a pair of scissors. He then ate a meal and went to a prayer meeting before he sought medical treatment.
In April 1861, early in the American Civil War, Corbett enlisted as a private in Company I of the New York Militia.Then on April 24, 1865, he was sent to apprehend John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln, who was still at large.
Two days later the regiment surrounded Booth and his accomplice, David Herold, in a tobacco barn on the Virginia farm of Richard Garrett. Herold surrendered, but Booth refused to give himself up. The barn was set on fire in an attempt to force him out into the open, but Booth remained inside. Corbett was positioned near a large crack in the barn wall. Corbett claimed in an 1878 interview that he saw Booth aim his carbine. At that point, Corbett shot Booth with his Colt revolver despite Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton’s orders that Booth should be taken alive. Eyewitness Lieutenant Edward Doherty, the officer in charge of the soldiers who captured Booth and Herold, stated that “the bullet struck Booth in the back of the head, about an inch below the spot where his shot had entered the head of Mr. Lincoln.” Booth’s spinal cord was severed, and he died two hours later.
Corbett was immediately arrested for violation of his orders, but Stanton later had the charges dropped. Stanton remarked, “The rebel is dead. The patriot lives.” Corbett received his share of the reward money, amounting to $1,653.84 (equivalent to $25,000 in 2014).
In his official statement, Corbett claimed he shot Booth because he thought Lincoln’s assassin was preparing to use his weapons. This was contradicted by the other witnesses. When asked later why he did it, Corbett answered that “Providence directed me”.
After his discharge from the army in August 1865, Corbett went back to work as a hatter, first in Boston, later in Connecticut, and by 1870 in New Jersey. His life was marked by increasingly erratic behavior. In 1875, he threatened several men with a pistol at a soldiers’ reunion in Caldwell, Ohio. In 1878, he moved to Concordia, Kansas.
In 1887, because of his fame as Booth’s killer, Corbett was appointed assistant doorkeeper of the Kansas House of Representatives in Topeka. One day he overheard a conversation in which the legislature’s opening prayer was mocked. He jumped to his feet and brandished a revolver. No one was hurt, but Corbett was arrested and sent to the Topeka Asylum for the Insane. On May 26, 1888, he escaped from the asylum. He went to Neodesha, Kansas, and stayed briefly with Richard Thatcher, whom he had met when they were both prisoners of war. When he left, he told Thatcher he was going to Mexico. His “madness” may have been the result of exposure to mercury.
Rather than going to Mexico, Corbett is believed to have settled in a cabin he built in the forests near Hinckley, in Pine County in eastern Minnesota. He is believed to have died in the Great Hinckley Fire of September 1, 1894. Although there is no proof, the name “Thomas Corbett” does appear on the list of dead and missing.

1940: A Canadian soldier searches for mines during an exercise in England.

1940: A Canadian soldier searches for mines during an exercise in England.

Oct 1944 : The commander of a Soviet infantry battalion, Major Romanenko (seated, center), tells Serbian civilians about the military affairs of a very young scout, 13 year old Corporal Vitya Zhavoronok (left), Vojvodina, Yugoslavia (Serbia) In 1941 Vitya joined a partisan unit. In 1943 he voluntarily entered one of the Red Army units. For participation in the battles with fascists he was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

Oct 1944 : The commander of a Soviet infantry battalion, Major Romanenko (seated, center), tells Serbian civilians about the military affairs of a very young scout, 13 year old Corporal Vitya Zhavoronok (left), Vojvodina, Yugoslavia (Serbia)
In 1941 Vitya joined a partisan unit. In 1943 he voluntarily entered one of the Red Army units. For participation in the battles with fascists he was awarded the Order of the Red Star.

1955 : West Berlin policemen and East German Volkspolizei face each other across the border after a young girl managed to cross the border into West Berlin

1955 : West Berlin policemen and East German Volkspolizei face each other across the border after a young girl managed to cross the border into West Berlin

The only known photograph of a black Union soldier with his family, c. 1863-65.

The only known photograph of a black Union soldier with his family, c. 1863-65.

June 1945 : Brazilian soldiers of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira, or, FEB) return home aboard the Pedro II following the Allied victory of the Italian Campaign.  The FEB was an expeditionary force of about 25,700 men and women arranged by the Brazilian Army and Air Force to fight alongside the Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theater of the war. Brazil was the only Allied independent South American nation to send troops to fight in the war. The BEF fought in Italy from September 1944 to May 1945

June 1945 : Brazilian soldiers of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force (Força Expedicionária Brasileira, or, FEB) return home aboard the Pedro II following the Allied victory of the Italian Campaign.
The FEB was an expeditionary force of about 25,700 men and women arranged by the Brazilian Army and Air Force to fight alongside the Allied forces in the Mediterranean Theater of the war.
Brazil was the only Allied independent South American nation to send troops to fight in the war. The BEF fought in Italy from September 1944 to May 1945

Walter Ernest O'Neil Yeo (20 October 1890 – 1960) was a sailor during World War I, and is thought to be the first person to benefit from advanced plastic surgery, namely a skin flap. Yeo was wounded on 31 May 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, while manning the guns aboard the battleship HMS Warspite. He sustained terrible facial injuries, including the loss of upper and lower eyelids. Walter went through several procedures, which were considered a great success in the pioneering field of what will come to be known as 'plastic surgery'.  Walter married Ada Edwards in 1914 in Plymouth, Devon. They had two daughters: Lilian Evelyn Yeo, born 21 October 1914 in Plymouth, and Doreen Y. Yeo, born in 1919. Walter Yeo died in his birth town, Plymouth, where he had spent the majority of his life, in 1960.

Walter Ernest O’Neil Yeo (20 October 1890 – 1960) was a sailor during World War I, and is thought to be the first person to benefit from advanced plastic surgery, namely a skin flap.
Yeo was wounded on 31 May 1916, during the Battle of Jutland, while manning the guns aboard the battleship HMS Warspite. He sustained terrible facial injuries, including the loss of upper and lower eyelids.
Walter went through several procedures, which were considered a great success in the pioneering field of what will come to be known as ‘plastic surgery’.
Walter married Ada Edwards in 1914 in Plymouth, Devon. They had two daughters: Lilian Evelyn Yeo, born 21 October 1914 in Plymouth, and Doreen Y. Yeo, born in 1919. Walter Yeo died in his birth town, Plymouth, where he had spent the majority of his life, in 1960.

June 1944 : Canadian soldiers storming Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France

June 1944 : Canadian soldiers storming Juno Beach, Courseulles-sur-Mer, France

Crash