It has been 66 years since 160,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944, also known as D-Day, laying the foundation for victory in Europe less than a year later. D-Day stands out as one of the most stirring and symbolic turning points of World War II, an event that lends itself to epic portrayals on screens both large and small, as well as in art and literature. But perhaps our most powerful and genuine accounts of the “longest day” come from veterans who lived through this piece of history—soldiers like Jesse A. Beazley, who was thrown from his boat far offshore yet survived to fight in battles across Europe, and Arch Joseph Lewis Jr., who was taken prisoner after missing his drop zone. Discover some of their stories here, and visit the Veterans History Project, a collection of personal narratives made available by the Library of Congress, for more.
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On June 6, 1944, known as D-Day, the Allies invaded Normandy, France, in the largest amphibious assault in history.
An international military conflict, World War II involved most countries around the world and lasted from 1939 to 1945.
November 11 is Veterans Day, a U.S. federal holiday dedicated to honoring veterans who served honorably in war or peacetime.
Memorial Day, observed the last Monday of May, honors men and women who died while serving in the American military.
Jesse A. Beazley
• Pvt. First Class, 38th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division
• Hometown: Nicholasville, KY
• Age: 21
After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood, Jesse Beazley sailed to England to take part in the Allied invasion of Europe. On the morning of June 6, 1944, as Beazley approached Omaha Beach, his Higgins boat was struck and sunk. Beazley would make it to shore, survive D-Day and go on to fight in every major European campaign. Nearly 60 years later, he reflected on that fateful day.
There was bodies all over the place, and there was blood and everything. You were stepping over your -- your American soldiers, and some of them were begging for help and crying for help…That's American soldiers. You can see the enemy dead, but when you see your own troops, that hurts.
And a bunch of kids, 18, 19, 20 years old, had met the greatest German army of all times, and defeated the supermen that Hitler had. We come from the country, we come from the city, we come from the backwoods and the mountains of Kentucky, Tennessee, and places like that, but we had won the battle. We had stood for our country and fought for our freedom.
Gale E. Garman
• Staff Sgt., 2nd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division (Army)
• Hometown: Dayton, OH
• Age: 23
Gale Garman, who was drafted in 1942, recalled the intense preparations for D-Day, as well as his own apprehension. During the invasion, as he tried to make it to Omaha Beach, Garman took shelter behind an Allied tank that soon came under enemy fire. As the tank attempted to evade attack, Garman noticed a wounded G.I. pinned beneath it. Garman would be haunted for years by his inability to rescue a fellow soldier.
We had so many amphibious landings and everybody said hey let's quit making these mock landings and get in and make the real one.
As time passed in England, we often talked about how we thought we would react in combat. Everyone said they would be scared, apprehensive, or didn’t know.
I wanted to pull him out from under the tank, but I couldn't...I’m bothered by what I could have possibly done while realizing that there was nothing I could do under the circumstances. At that time, it all just seemed like a bad dream.
Kenneth T. Delaney
• Sgt., Company C, 1st Battalion, 18th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division (Army)
• Hometown: Astoria, NY
• Age: 19
New York native Kenneth Delaney would serve from D-Day through the end of the war. Wounded four times, he received a citation for assisting his fellow soldiers while under fire on Omaha Beach.
I was looking over the side and saw some of the L.C.I.’s blown up; ships being hit and men being killed; it was quite a sight! I wasn’t really nervous, I was just seasick. I just wanted to get onto that beach!!
As I was getting off, I felt a sting in my foot. It was very hot! Then I knew I was shot in the left foot. So, I went into the water, and it was up to my neck …and as I got onto the beach and started to crawl up toward the cliff, there was small arms fire. They started to fire down on us! I started to crawl toward a wall; there was a whole bunch of guys there, moaning and hollering. They were all wounded.
I laid up against a cliff and watched them come in, WAVE AFTER WAVE. We watched them being shot and killed right in the water. They were floating all around! It was really a bad scene.
Arch Joseph Lewis, Jr.
• 2nd Lieutenant, 337th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, 101st Airborne Division
• Hometown: Louisville, KY
• Age: 24
Arch Lewis Jr. volunteered for jump school and trained with the 101st Airborne Division. The night before the invasion, more than 6,000 paratroopers from the 101st would set out in advance of the invasion fleet. After months of training and numerous delays, Lewis' unit made their final preparations. Lewis would miss his intended drop zone by more than 10 miles. Separated from his unit, he would be captured by the Germans days later, and would spend the rest of the war in a P.O.W. camp.
Well, we knew what was coming. And they finally moved us into the martialing area at night, and the planes are sitting there…And Mickey Bolek, my buddy, came walking,…He was in the plane ahead of us, and I saw him come walking. He said he was going out, and we shook hands. He said, "Good luck, Lewis." I said, "Good luck, Mick." And he walked away, and he never saw daylight. He never saw daylight.
As soon as we hit the coast of France, all hell broke loose. Our plane veered to the right, which meant that we were heading for Paris. We should have gone straight ahead. The pilot didn't do what he was supposed to. And I knew then that we were going to miss our drop zone; and the longer the time, the farther we were going to be to the drop zone.
Harvey A. Warren
• Lieutenant, Photographic Intelligence Unit
• Hometown: Tacoma, Washington
• Age: 28
Harvey Warren enlisted in the Navy after Pearl Harbor and trained as a photographic intelligence specialist. In London, his unit was responsible for analyzing reconnasiance photos of the French coast. Due to his highly specialized training, Warren had believed he was unlikely to see combat duty. However, as D-Day approached, he was told he would be sent in with Allied forces to plot and report back on German defenses in France.
June the 3rd was going to be D-Day and as June the 3rd approached, we had to put it off and put it off.... We couldn't put it off any later than the 6th. Because we weren't ready for the invasion. We had to go in unready.
I had verbal orders...you're going to land in Normandy not attached to any unit...just go in and make yourself useful…Well, I didn't know what to think. I'll tell you, first when you land self-survival is all you're thinking of. You're just staying alive.
..when I landed it was the first lull in bombing and there were so many dead littered in the marshlands that it was terrible and yet it was strangely beautiful because the iris...the blue and gold...the wild iris....you'd see the bodies laying between all these flowers and there was something so haunting and so still about the dead being so motionless…
William Jennings Arnett
• Sgt., 818th Tank Destroyer Battalion, 5th Infantry Division and 26th Infantry Division
• Hometown: Clarksburg, West Virginia
• Age: 27
William Arnett enlisted prior to Pearl Harbor and would serve in the Army for more than five years. A member of an anti-tank armored unit, he was part of the second wave to come ashore at Utah Beach. Unharmed on D-Day, Arnett was wounded later in the Normandy campaign and received the Purple Heart.
I do remember seeing the looks on the faces of the young men, most of them was 18, 19 years old, we had kidded in life like soldiers do, but all at once it got complete silence, and young men looked like old men.
The back end of the landing craft went down, and we were told, in no uncertain terms, the guys in the Navy, "When we drop that plank…when we drop that, you get the hell out of here because we're taking off. We're not staying around." And that's what they meant…
Well, I would say after about a week in combat you are old. I don't care if you are 19 years old or what, but you are an old person.
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The only people to see the war like this were the ones who lived it. Until now…
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