It’s nearly impossible to imagine the scale of the D-Day invasion. On a single day—June 6, 1944—more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops executed the largest amphibious landing in history. It required nearly 7,000 ships and landing vessels, more than 2,300 aircraft and 867 gliders.

The invasion, known as Operation Overlord, was years in the making, long enough for Germany to construct miles of fortified beach defenses armed with machine guns, heavy artillery and anti-aircraft batteries. The brave young men who stormed the beaches of Normandy or parachuted behind enemy lines experienced some of the heaviest and deadliest fighting of the war.

Here are five of their stories.

Frank DeVita: 15 Trips Onto Omaha Beach

Brooklyn-born Frank DeVita was just 18 when he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard, hoping he would be among the first to see action. On D-Day, DeVita crewed a Higgins landing craft, one of thousands of vessels ferrying soldiers to Omaha Beach.

DeVita’s job was to lower the landing ramp so the infantrymen could storm the beach. Tragically, many soldiers were cut down by German artillery fire before they even made it off the boat. After his first traumatic landing, DeVita’s was offered a rest, but he went right back, completing 15 trips to the beach on D-Day.

Frank passed away in 2022 at the age of 96. He was a recipient of the French Légion d’Honneur.

John Marr and John Hinchcliff: Jumping Into the Unknown

Paratroopers had one of the most dangerous missions of the entire Normandy campaign. In the early hours of June 6, more than 13,000 American, British and Canadian paratroopers leapt blindly into the cloud-covered sky above the Normandy coast. Their job was to take control of towns and villages in the French interior and secure transport routes from the beach.

When John Marr and his comrades in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed, they were scattered across flooded fields in water up to their necks. Those lucky enough to survive the drop and make it out of the floodwaters alive had to re-group and improvise, Marr among them.

John Hinchcliff, also of the 507th, remembers looking out the windows of his C-47 “Skytrain” troop carrier and seeing the sky lit up by anti-aircraft rounds. In the sea beyond were “boats as far as the eye could see,” readying for the Normandy landing.

Marr died in 2015 at 96 years old, and Hinchcliff passed away in 2020. Ninety-nine-year-old Hinchcliff was the last surviving member of the 2,004 men of the 507th who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day. He also received the French Légion d’Honneur and three Bronze Stars.

Guy Whidden: 'That's Divine Intervention'

Guy Whidden was a 20-year-old paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. Like so many other combat veterans, he didn’t know why he survived the chaos of D-Day while so many others didn’t. When Whidden jumped from his C-47, he saw planes crashing, tracer bullets blazing by and mortars lighting up the sky “like the 4th of July.”

One of those mortars exploded right in front of Whidden, who felt a sharp thump against his chest. A piece of shrapnel large enough to kill him had lodged in the leather cover of a prayer book tucked into his jacket. “That’s divine intervention,” says Whidden. “You gotta think, someone’s looking after me for some reason.”

Later in the war, Whidden was severely wounded by a bomb blast that killed three of his close friends. He thought of them often. “So many of them died very early and young. They saw very little of life. All you can do is just remember them.”

Whidden passed away in 2022 at 99 years old. 

Charles Norman Shay: Last Surviving Native American Veteran of D-Day

By the end of World War II, more than 44,000 Native Americans served—an estimated one-third of all eligible Indigenous men. Among them was Charles Norman Shay, a member of the Penobscot tribe from Maine. At 19 years old, he enlisted as a combat medic and was among the first wave of American soldiers to land on Omaha Beach.

Scrambling from the water to the shore, Shay was briefly overwhelmed by the scenes of death and suffering surrounding him, but he quickly fell back on his training. Shay attended to countless wounded men on the beach and even waded back into the water to save injured soldiers floundering in the surf.

Of the roughly 500 Native soldiers who participated in D-Day, Shay is the sole survivor. At 99 years old, he is a veteran of both World War II and the Korean War. He has received the French Légion d’Honneur, plus Silver and Bronze Stars for bravery.

Dick Winters: D-Day Hero Who Led the 'Band of Brothers'

On June 6, First Lieutenant Dick Winters led a small group of seven enlisted on two daring, behind-enemy-lines attacks that destroyed two German artillery positions on Utah Beach. Winters later won the Distinguished Service Cross for “extraordinary heroism” on D-Day, but that wasn’t the last of his achievements.

For the entirety of World War II, Winter led the legendary “Easy Company” of the 101st Airborne Division, whose wartime heroics were immortalized in “Band of Brothers,” the book and TV series. Easy Company helped win the Battle of the Bulge, they liberated the Dachau concentration camp and even captured Adolf Hitler’s Bavarian retreat, the “Eagle’s Nest.”

Despite the accolades, Winters always insisted he wasn’t a hero. Winters passed away in 2011, but a statue of his likeness stands in Normandy as a tribute to all Army officers who served on D-Day. A quote from Winters is inscribed on the memorial: “Wars do not make men great, but they do bring out the greatness in good men.”

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