June 6, 1944 American, Canadian and British troops were tasked with invading France and driving the German military back. The top secret mission was called “Operation Overlord”.
Allied troops landed on five French beaches, code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
At Utah Beach, paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines but many drowned in the marshlands, others were shot out of the sky and many landed outside their designated drop zones. They still managed to seal off the only four exit points, causeways off the beach. The U.S. forces on the ship landed more than a mile away from their intended destination but by noon the men had linked up with the paratroopers and by the end of the day they had advanced four miles inland, suffering relatively few casualties.
Omaha Beach was the bloodiest battle that day with 2,400 U.S. troops ending up dead, wounded or missing. There were more German soldiers in the area than originally expected and they were heavily fortified. The waters of the beach were terribly rough causing only two of the 29 amphibious tanks launches at the beach to make it to land. It was so bad at first that U.S Lieutenant General Omar Bradley considered abandoning the entire operation. Army Rangers were able to scale massive promontory between Omaha and Utah in order to take out German artillery pieces and warships were sailing dangerously close to the shore in order to fire shells at the German fortification. By nightfall American soldiers had made it 1.5 miles inland.
Gold Beach was the middle of the five D-Day beaches and the fighting there started about an hour after the invasions of Utah and Omaha. An ariel attack by the Allies had wiped out much of the German defenses. Within an hour the British had secured a few beach exits and then rapidly began the push inland.
Juno Beach began with rough waters for Canadian troops, who were then shot down quickly by Germans from seaside houses and bunkers. The accuracy rate for the Germans was about 50 percent. In the confusion on the beach an Allied tank ran over several wounded Canadian solders. Once the Canadians fought their way off the beach the advance moved quickly. They took several towns and linked up with the British on adjacent Gold Beach.
Sword Beach saw a combination of airborne British troops and a battalion of Canadians making their way up the eastern flank of the invasion. The airborne troops were able to destroy bridges stopping German reinforcements and take out a key German artillery battery. They were able to secure beach exits but as they moved inland they faced heavy fire from farmyards and villages. Germans even advanced to the beach in one location, only to be turned back by Allied forces.
The Allies would not connect all five D-Day beaches until June 12.
Local WWII veteran Joe Reynolds was in the 61st Naval Construction Battalion during D-Day stationed in the Philippines.
“I remember the paratroopers were the ones that saved everything because they dropped them behind the lines,” said Reynolds.
Even 75 years later this piece of history is important to remember.
“At that time we were never supposed to have another war,” said Reynolds. “There’s never going to be any end to wars, I don’t think, because there are two things that start wars, religion and politics.”
Many people may thing that the “D” in D-Day stands for something. the “D” really stands for “day”. The designation had been used for the date of any important military operation or invasion. The day before June 6, 1944 was known as D-1 and the days after were D+1, D+2 and so on until June 12, 1944. D-Day is also known as The Normandy landings.
Stanley Samuelson is another local WWII veteran. Samuelson was in Camp Van Dorn, Mississippi on D-Day. He was a Private First Class and a Gunner on a 60 mm Mortar in the 63rd Infantry Division and was still in training June 6, 1944.
“I feel very fortunate to be living in the United States and so many people don’t realize how fortunate they are to be living here,” said Samuelson.
Looking back Samuelson sees now how much responsibility he had as a 19 year old in the military.
“I think the outstanding thing was we didn’t realize how much of a responsibility we had. You had a job to do and you just did it,” said Samuelson.