In the early morning hours of June 6,1944, tens of thousands of men from the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and several other nations poured out of landing crafts on the beaches of northern France.
It was the largest amphibious landing in history, and had been preceded by more than a year of planning, deception, and training. The Allied powers lost at least twice as many men as their enemy, but succeeded in their goal of establishing a foothold in Nazi-occupied France.
Friday marks the 70th anniversary of the famous battle, so Essential Pittsburgh talked with three Pittsburgh veterans of World War II who landed on the beaches of Normandy.
As part of the first wave of the invasion, Warren Goss explained that he had been trained extensively for months before June 6, but nothing could prepare him for what happened during the invasion.
“We’re trained for everything except what really happens. You’re coming in and you see a whole boatload of Higgins boat soldiers disappear, it gets hit direct, it sinks. You see it not making it, you don’t see this in your maneuvers. You don’t expect to see the buddy beside you get hit and you don’t even know it because you don’t have time to look at him. It’s just completely different than what you were trained for, but you’re still trained to go ahead and you obey what you’re supposed to do and you did it.”
Michael Vernillo and Ralph Russo, landed on the beach in the second wave of the invasion. They were recently awarded the Legion d'Honneur at Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Hall in Oakland, the highest military honor issued by the French.
While fighting in the second wave, Ralph Russo was shot in each leg by a German sniper, and was taken back to England. He said the Army did not want to send him back into combat, but Russo insisted that he be sent back to his unit. His foot swelled up again in Belgium, and he never reached his unit.
“I missed my buddies. I missed them very, very much. But then I understood that if I had would have gotten back to them, I wouldn’t have recognized anybody. They were either killed or casualties. They were all replacements.”