Special Episode 2 – Voices of D-Day

World War II On Topic Podcast

Listen: Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

About the Episode

In this special episode of World War II On Topic, hear the story of D-Day, as told through the real voices of those who were in Normandy on June 6, 1944. The National WWII Museum’s archival collection features over 12,000 personal narratives, including voices of those who fought on D-Day.

Catch up on all episodes of World War II On Topic and be sure to leave us a review on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered in this Episode

  • Normandy Campaign
  • Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP)
  • Hedgerow Country
  • Omaha Beach

Subscribe and continue the conversation:

Featured Historians & Guests

Mark Calhoun, PhD

Mark Calhoun is a Senior Historian at the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy and author of General Lesley J. McNair: Unsung Architect of the U.S. Army (University Press of Kansas, 2015), the first comprehensive military biography of McNair. Calhoun's current research interests center on General William H. Simpson, commander of the Ninth US Army, and the Ninth Army’s operations during the campaign in Northwest Europe from 1944 to 1945. A career US Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter pilot and war planner, Calhoun retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 2008, after which he served for 14 years as an associate professor on the faculty of the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth.

Related Content


World War II On Topic is made possible by The Herzstein Foundation.


Mark Calhoun
June 6, 1944, the invasion of Normandy. 80 years have passed since that date. By land, air, and sea, nearly 160,000 troops landed in Normandy on D-Day. In today's podcast, we hear directly from those who were there. I'm Mark Calhoun, senior historian for The National WWII Museum. The Museum's oral history collection features over 12,000 personal narratives, including those who risked everything for the Allies to succeed in Operation Overlord. We are proud to feature those voices today.

A major component of the planned Allied invasion of France was surprise. Opal Grapes, a nurse with the US Army Nurse Corps, remembers the moment she knew the invasion had started.

Opal Grapes
At midnight on June 5, 6, you know. Right in that area. We knew that something was happening. When we saw the sky filled with planes, we knew it had to be D-Day.

Robert St. John
This is Robert St. John in the NBC newsroom in New York. Ladies and gentlemen, we may be approaching a fateful hour. All night long, bulletins have been pouring in from Berlin claiming that D-Day is here, claiming that the invasion of Western Europe has begun.

Mark Calhoun
D-Day had begun. Listen to bombardier Irwin Stovroff. He talks about his first mission as part of the 506th Bombardment Squadron, 44th Bombardment Group, Eighth Air Force.

Irwin Stovroff
It was D-Day. We got up early, and we were told, "Gentlemen, when you prepare your engines, you're going to be really part of history, because your first mission is going to be D-Day. And you are going to be responsible for that invasion, because it would be up to you to be sure that those Germans that are shooting at our men coming in are bombed on." And our mission was just to go in, not very far, and start dropping our bombs. But what I never forgot was the fact I'm going over the Channel, you don't see any water, because it was nothing but boats and boats and boats. I looked down, it was an incredible sight to see. Just a steady, steady flow of boats going over there. And the other thing that was really exciting was the fact that we really have a second mission too, it's the only time you ever had to fly two missions in one day.

Mark Calhoun
Allied planners had divided the beaches at Normandy. Canadian forces took Juno, the British took Gold and Sword, and American forces were landing on Utah and Omaha. Omaha would be an especially fierce battle. Richard Ford, Army platoon commander in Company K, 3rd Battalion, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, landed on Omaha.

Richard Ford
We landed to the left of where we were supposed to land, but I can remember sitting there. And where we landed on that beach, boy, that damn thing looked like it was two miles wide. And the guy let us off in the water, and on an LCI, they had a ramp down on each side. And when I went down that ramp, and I got in that water, and that water was about up to here on me, and I thought, "That's okay." I don't know whether it was artillery or mortars dropped in the water there and exploded. And I thought, "That's okay, I'm in the water." And then I thought, "Hey, wait a minute. That shrapnel can travel through water just like it can travel through the air. Better get a move on." So, I did.

One time, I told the guys, "Okay, boys, follow me!" And I thought, "Man, you sound just like that character, John Wayne." Going in there, we're wading in through the water. A Navy guy had been backed off, and he had an LCT for landing a tank. He came by and he said, "Hey, you want a ride in?" I said, "No." Gee, that platoon I had, they start screaming bloody murder. "Captain, let's get a ride in!" And I thought, "Hell no." By the time we have to crawl up in that thing and sit there and everything, they'd blow us out of the water. And I'd go, "No, you keep on going. Get out of here. We'll wade in." Which we did. The water was rough, and boy, it was cold, but it didn't take long to heat you up.

I had looked at that bluff and every, maybe, three-quarters of the way up, it looked like a little flat spot. And I thought, "By God, I'll get up there first." But there was, to the left of us, I could see a gun emplacement. They had maybe an old French 75 [field artillery] or something like that, and was an open emplacement. These guys were barreling up, and shooting up and down that beach. When they finally got out of the water, and that beach looked like it was two miles across, just as flat as the driveway. I thought, "Man, I got to get moving here." I ran like hell.

I can remember going by a little swamp with a lot of cattails, and the Germans had a sign there, "mines," [German 00:06:30], whatnot. I started up the side of that bluff. By the time I got up there to where I had picked out this spot, I don't know what time it was or anything like this, we were pretty well tired. So, I got on this with the lads, and with maybe about eight or 10 fellas. And we sat there and I said, "We'll rest a little bit." So, while we're resting there, I'm watching these gunners down there on the right, and they're firing up and down that beach. And then there's some suckers up above us, be throwing hand grenades down. Evidently, I figured that gun position, they must have contact with those guys on the top of it, because every damn time you move, you'd get a hand grenade thrown at you, would come down.

And I looked at that beach and I thought, "Geez, this is the end. We're never going to make this deal." There's so much crap on there, wasted material and everything, and dead bodies and all this kind of stuff. And then there was a destroyer. I watched this guy, he came straight in, and I thought, "He must be nuts. You're going to ground that ship." He was coming hell-bent for leather, straight at that beach, and then he turned broadside. Boy, they pumped five rounds into that artillery emplacement there, that the Germans had, one right after another. After they pumped five rounds in there, that quieted that. That was the end of that thing.

Mark Calhoun
Meanwhile, in the air, Allied operations leading up to D-Day had taken a heavy toll on the Luftwaffe. But Allied forces still had bomb targets to service, and in a few cases, they encountered German fighters in the air. Clyde East, US Army Air Forces pilot with the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, 10th Reconnaissance Group, was one of the few American pilots to encounter that German resistance on D-Day.

Clyde East
We were flying along the railroad. I was scheduled to follow. My wingman called out the fact that there are four fighters just ahead of us. My response to that was, "They're probably ours," or words to that effect, because we had not seen any German fighters at that time, and keeping up with the daily developments from our intelligence people, there was no indication of any heavy German resistance. Now, we did have one of our pilots that morning that caught a Messerschmitt 109 on a final approach to landing at one of the small bases in France. And so he attacked it right away, and shot it down just before it touched down.

And his was the first airplane that was destroyed on D-Day. Mine was the second, and my wingman was the third, and that was another encounter by a Typhoon somewhere in the British sector. They shot down an airplane, so there was only four airplanes destroyed that day, and my squadron destroyed three of them, and we were rather proud of that, too. It was something that was really a thrill, and something that I just couldn't really believe that happened. It just turned out that here I was, facing a German airplane, and after a very short encounter, and he obviously was more surprised than I was, I shot him down without any serious difficulties, and so did my wingman. He shot down his one airplane. It was a real thrill, because I'd been working toward this for months and months. It just seemed incredible that it would've happened, but it did. And especially when the day was done, we found out that there were only four airplanes destroyed that whole day.

Mark Calhoun
Back down on the beaches, William Curtis, US Coast Guard, was aboard the cutter USCG-2, an 83-foot coastal patrol craft assigned to rescue Flotilla One, assisting the landing of DUKWs, amphibious cargo trucks known as Ducks.

William Curtis
We went to a ship where we had Ducks and often enlisted men on it, and the Duck would carry 12 men, and they're exposed. So, the first one that come down and put in the water, a big wave hit it, and turned it over. When it did, 11 people come to the top, but one didn't, I guess he was probably the driver and he got hung under the wheel. But eight of them were in good shape, and they come and climb the net. The other three was out there, and one of them had his head down and kind of in the water. So, I took my shoes off and stuff out of my pocket and went in the water, went out and got that one with his head down, and brought him into where the scramble net was, and they took him overboard. So, I went down and got the other one...

The last one I got was the one that seemed to be most alert, but all three of them had water, and they put them in the pilot house, and I gave all three of them artificial respiration until I got them where they were breathing. And then I said, "The boats are rocking, they'll get rolling around here." So, I tied them, so they couldn't roll. Went out on deck, was fighting a little while, and then somebody said, "Curtis, how're your boys doing?" I said, "I'd better check." And so I went up there, they were all sitting up, and they'd untied themselves, sitting there talking. And finally got up where they'd come outside and walk. Whenever you could see them, they were in good shape.

We pulled up beside that ship, which had the scramble net on it, and they got on that net, climbed up, and the last time we'd seen them, they were going aboard. But by that time, there were other Ducks that had been coming off, and they didn't seem to know where to go, so we had to lead them. And that was our job, was to look after the Ducks going in. So, we took them into the shore, come back and got some more, and that's what we done all day long, was to patrol with the Ducks.

Mark Calhoun
Another major push was taking place three miles to the west at Pointe du Hoc. Elements of the Army's 2nd Ranger Battalion were tasked with the challenging mission of scaling the cliffs of Pointe du Hoc and destroying six coastal defense guns positioned there where they could range both Omaha and Utah Beach. It was not until after the Rangers cleared the fortified position that they learned the Germans had moved the guns inland prior to the Allied landings. First Sergeant Leonard "Bud" Lomell remembers that intense battle.

Leonard Lomell
We were being transported in D-Day operation by the British Navy, and unfortunately, they made a mistake and went to the wrong cliffs, which delayed us about 40 minutes, I think, landing time, which is important when you have game plans such as we had that required accuracy in our planning and so forth. So, we landed then about 7:00, 7:10 a.m. D-Day morning, June 6, 1944, on a little ledge, 50-foot-wide, below the 100-foot cliffs of Pointe du Hoc. It was our mission to climb those cliffs and destroy six 155-millimeter coastal guns at Pointe du Hoc, which was the heaviest firepower on the Atlantic Wall. And this mission was said to be the most dangerous mission assigned for D-Day, and that's been repeated by General Omar Bradley, who was the commanding officer of the operation. He claimed that it was, and General Eisenhower, and all the upper level of our leaders were tremendously concerned, because the guns at Pointe du Hoc were very important, and most necessary to get out of action as soon as possible.

As our LCAs landed, and the ramps went down, we pushed buttons on a switchboard that we had at the gunwale, and that set off these rockets that had launchers along the gunwales of the LCAs. And those rockets would sail up there, 150 feet, these are all 100-foot cliffs, and fall behind the lines, grab into the earth, and we would pull on them down on the beach, and that would secure them, so we could, hand over hand, climb the 100-feet straight up. The Germans, had everything gone right, the Germans would've been in bed when we did this, it was so early. But because we were late, they didn't know the invasion was coming at this place, but it gave them enough time to get out there to welcome us as they cut our ropes, as we were trying to come up, as they dropped grenades on top of us, or shot us off the ropes.

And we got up there, and fought our way through the Germans to the gun positions. D Company, my company, was assigned gun positions four, five, and six on the west flank. We're the only ones assigned to missions on the west flank on Pointe du Hoc. When we got to the positions where our three guns were supposed to be, these big coastal howitzers, they weren't there. And there were nothing but telephone poles sticking out of these immense emplacements. And, of course, we trained for this mission only from aerial photographs. We did not know whether... We later found out that those guns had been removed before D-Day to an alternate position.

By 8:30 a.m., Sergeant Kuhn, my acting platoon sergeant, the 2nd Platoon of D Company, Sergeant Kuhn and I went looking for the guns. And we just happened upon this little road that ran from the coast road along the English Channel. It ran inland, and it looked like wagon marks or something on the dirt road between these mammoth hedgerows, nine-feet tall. The hedgerows in Normandy are not like here in America, where they're three or four, maybe five foot from time to time. These were giant, tanks couldn't get through them. Sergeant Kuhn, my platoon sergeant, and I leapfrogged, that is to say I brought up 50 feet, look over the hedgerows and see whether I could find any evidence of any guns, I'd hold that position, he'd ran up and catch up, and take over position. While I ran the other 50 feet. And we kept doing this, protecting each other, never knowing if we're going to run into a machine gun nest or something.

But, as luck would have it, within the first couple hundred feet, we came to this hedgerow and it was my turn to peer over it and examine what lay on the other side, and there were the guns. So, by 8:30 in the morning, we had destroyed those guns, so they could not be used. And we had heavy casualties, I think I had, out of 65 men, I had 15 men left. But those of us did this, that did survive, of course, were just plain lucky. And we knew what we were doing, and we accomplished the mission by 8:30 in the morning of D-Day.

Mark Calhoun
The fighting became a slog, and reserve units were called into action. Cosmo Uttero, Company H, 2nd Battalion, 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, recalls that moment.

Cosmo Uttero
When we were told about going in, the 116th would be the assault, the 115th and the 175th were in reserve. That made me feel pretty good, because I figured then how at least I'm not the assault. But that's the way, where they went in, the 116th, really took a beating. And that's when, even though the 175th was not due to land, a lot of them didn't land until later on, as my platoon commander or platoon leader said, this guy's coming out from PT boats or something with megaphones saying that it was pretty hectic on the beach, they needed all the help they could get. That's how I went in earlier.

Those seas were terribly rough. It was gray, you know how when it's going to rain any minute? And so that's the condition, it was like... I even forget the ship that I was on, but I know I had to climb down in the rope ladders... I mean, the nets. Since I went to Normandy, I came back and read about the ship that I saw on fire, it was an LCI, that was a landing craft infantry. So, there was ships that get right up near the coast, and then lets men off on either side. But the majority of men land to landing craft, come down off a ship that's out there a few miles, and then fight your way in there. I don't know how many men on there, I don't know why... I keep thinking of 40, but there might've been more or maybe less, all cramped in there.

There again, there again, I got wildly seasick, and I remember throwing up on the side, and I remember an officer, he's kind of angry at me, because I was throwing up there, and he says, "Get over, throw up over the side," or something or other. As I remember now, the landing craft that I saw at Utah Beach is higher than I am tall, so it'd be difficult for me to throw up over there. So, even at that point, I really didn't care at that time anyway. First thing I saw was a body floating by. That was the first casualty I saw. At that point, I said this before, I said, "I wonder what it's like to die?" Because I figure, I didn't see, that I was still out at sea. I didn't see how you're going to get out of it, battleship firing, all the things, all the firing going on. I guess everyone was just anxious. We're a sitting target right there, a shell or something lands in here and the boat there. So, couldn't wait to get near shore there and kept going.

The engineers or somebody had cleared some of the area there. They had these irons that crisscross that were supposed to prevent gliders from landing there, and I guess there were mines attached to them. So, the engineers did a good job of blowing a lot of them up. So, there was an opening for us to go in there to land. But in doing that, they also, I guess, ships bombing and planes bombed them before, there were craters everywhere. These landing crafts do not like to go right up to the sand. I don't know whether their motors might get stuck, the propellers or something, I don't know. They'd open that ramp and you just fly out, whether the water's up to your knees or up to your waist.

I think I probably was carrying 75 pounds of stuff, of equipment, everything, shovels, ammunition. A helmet weighs six, seven pounds. Your rifle weighs seven or eight pounds. Rations, so forth. I went down. Not only that, stumbled, and with everyone else trying to get out, I wasn't going anywhere. So, I unhooked everything, just let everything go and figured... I wasn't thinking then what to do, I just did that. And by the time I reached the sand, solid ground, I had nothing. And, of course, soaked and cold, so that's when I said I didn't go far before I picked up a rifle from someone that was hit just before me. And picked up a rifle, and with firing coming in, I just wanted to get on shore, and then, from there, see what I could do.

Mark Calhoun
As the operation continued, the wounded were evacuated to hospitals back in England. Once again, we hear from Opal Grapes, who served as a nurse at the 10th Station Hospital.

Opal Grapes
One of the worst things for me, this young soldier, he was 19. He was wounded very, very badly in an abdominal wound. We expected him to die that night, but he didn't. I stood with him all night. He simply was crying, and screaming, and praying all night. And I stood there praying and crying with him all night. And that is the worst thing that I really went through. It was a very hard thing. And then in the morning, early in the morning, then he died.

Mark Calhoun
The troops had managed to make it past the seawall, and began to fight inland. Hal Baumgarten, with Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, was one of those soldiers. Hal Baumgarten's company suffered heavy losses as they fought their way off the beach. He was wounded by mortar shell explosions, one tearing through his left cheek and mouth, and another causing heavy bleeding near the top of his head.

Harold Baumgarten
Now, we got up to the beach road that goes all the way down the beach to Pointe du Hoc. We crossed the beach, got behind the bocage, or the hedgerow. We had to crawl, because we were under fire by shells. And while I was crawling, I felt something hit me in the left foot. It turned out later that it was a castrator mine. A castrator mine is a mine that the Germans put in the ground with three metal prongs sticking up, so when a guy steps on these prongs and steps forward, they got like a pistol in the ground, shoots a bullet between your legs. So, that's why they call it a castrator mine. But instead, this bullet went on my left foot, between the great toe and the third toe. Split the big toe in half, blew out my second metatarsal, compound fractured the third metatarsal, and I later lost the second toe.

So, I got against the hedgerow, I took off my shoe, there was a bullet hole through my legging, in fact. Took the shoe off, and emptied the blood out like you would empty water from a vase. And I put on a beautiful bandage. I was always good in medicine. I put a powder in, I put a nice pressure bandage on. There was a hole completely through the foot. I could look right through it. And a bigger hole on the top, bottom had a small hole.

But anyway, shells started coming in right then. Ripped off the bandage, pulled the shoe up, laced it, and jumped behind the hedgerow. We stayed there until about 12:30 in the morning, June 7. We didn't know where the rest of the 29th division was. We heard explosions in the distance. There was a huge moon, it's the biggest moon I've ever seen. But anyway, we crossed the road. Why? I don't know. But I followed the other guys, and I had to drag the foot, because I don't how I made it across the road. And I was hunched over, lost a lot of blood, and we were ambushed by a machine gun, about 50 meters down that road. And all the guys were mortally wounded, except me.

I got a bullet through my mouth again, took away my right upper jaw, more teeth and gums, laying on my tongue. And now I started to get in pain. I fell on top of two of the guys, but they didn't feel anything anymore, because they were dead. One was the ranger, so I had a submachine gun and I had a rifle. The guys were alive for a little while. They were yelling. Some of the guys were saying, "Help me, Jesus." And I heard them moaning. And finally, silence. Just then, I gave myself a shot of morphine, right under the skin of my left hand, top of my left hand. And I gave a big dose this time. During the day, I was giving small dose. This time, I gave myself a big dose. I had one grain. One grain's a pretty big dose. I must have given half a grain.

And right before I fell asleep, I saw three German planes coming over. And the reason I knew it was German planes, not only by seeing the insignias, they have a different sound to their engines. Their engines go... Not the steady drone of an American plane. So, what would you have thought? I'm laying in the dark with six dead bodies, German planes are going over, there's a guy with a machine gun down the road, an MG 42, I was sure, who was going to come down the road and finish me off, probably. I was going to go out in a blaze of glory, though. But I thought we lost the battle. I didn't know 29th Division guys around. So, I had a nice sleep, a morphine sleep, till about 3:00 in the morning.

Mark Calhoun
Hal Baumgarten was evacuated on June 7 to receive medical attention after being wounded five times. On D-Day, the fate of Europe hung in the balance. For some, learning of the success or failure of the Allies would not come easy. James Golden, 374th Fighter Squadron, 361st Fighter Group, Eighth Air Force, was strafing with his P-51 when his plane was shot down.

James Golden
Last thing I was trying to do was strafe a supply train, and our group was banging away at anything and... Like that, and so I was doing the same thing. And I looked at my mirror and I thought, "Man, that looked like a lot of black stuff back there." And the guy that I was flying with, I said, "Hey, am I smoking badly, or got a lot of oil?" And this person went, "Oh my God." Said, "You're just absolutely being drowned on your left side." So, he said, "You're not going to last long like that." So, he said, "Come up, we're trying to get you. We're heading, all of us, as you know, we're heading back home." And he said, "Stay in here as long as you can, and we'll try to go a speed that you can save as much fuel as you can, and particularly your oil."

And so that's what they did. And it wasn't about 10 minutes, I guess, and that prop just froze up. All the oil is gone. So, over I went. Not a pleasure, doing that, because I did a few things wrong, but I had to get out. So, I took off my helmet, and unfortunately it has a radio thing passed through it, and my helmet went that way, but it's still being held on by the cord, until I finally got that out of the way. And then I thought I just released my seat, and apparently that wasn't all I did, because when I went out, I couldn't find the ripcord. And they always say that, they didn't tell you how to do it, because they figured when you got that part... Anyhow, so, you know it's gone.

But anyway, I jumped out of that, and start tumbling, and I couldn't find the ripcord, and I was just absolutely twirling all over the skies. And I finally got... You just hear things every now and then. I always heard if you're tumbling and can't stop the chute, just keep crossing your legs. So, I'm up there, holding on. And finally, I got the ripcord. I could see it, but stupidly, I hadn't hooked all the rest of the stuff. So, I finally got the ripcord, and pulled it, and this brass piece on it went over. And I took a chunk, that big, out of my tongue. And the tongue, when it bleeds, it bleeds, boy. But I did, finally, I got all that somehow settled, and I held onto that parachute with my arms and nothing else. I just finally crooked the arms around those straps, and I hit the ground going pretty fast. And right by five, six Frenchmen, old men, standing there, talking. I gave them a good sight, I guess.

And then I realized that I almost landed in a little German camp. So, they were after me before I hit the ground, that's where I was going to be. So boy, that's what I did. I ran to that place with all the car and junk like that. And it was in June, of course, but the vines were growing down the side, like an old pit, you know? And so I scooted up under some of those darn things, and they were chasing me all over the place, and hollering stuff. They needn't holler at me, I couldn't speak their language anyway. And so I just stayed there all night long. And it was raining, and I wasn't going to move a muscle, not a muscle. And I didn't. And the next morning, I waited around and I saw some kids playing ball, and so I stuck my head up like this, and they obviously knew that somebody was round in there, somewhere [?] the night before. So, they saw me and started giggling in their hand, I says... And made myself known enough to get me some adults.

In about an hour and a half, here comes this man and his wife. I've always admired what they did. He jumped down with a little satchel, he jumped down in there with me, and she stayed on top, to be sure nobody knows we're there yet. And so he left, and they motion like this. Bless her heart, I got up there, she just puts my hand on it, and we walking down there, just as funny as can be. And walked in and she took me home. Wanted to know if I wanted something to eat, or some wine to drink, or anything like that. And I said, "No, thank you very much." And so she said, "If you wanted to know, if I wanted to know where the front was?" In other words, had the thing succeeded, or we've been pushed back in? And I said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah."

So, she looked around, and took me to this little trailer house type thing. And we went in there, and she looked around to make sure nobody's around, and she got a little radio out. And I heard, for the first time, that we were at least on the shore, that we hadn't been pushed. But before I could get any more, here comes eight soldiers. Two of them got in that little old thing with no outing to it, and the others were outside with their guns going like this. And so they came back and pulled that cover. She pulled it over my head, and they pulled it open, and "[German 00:37:56]!" And all that stuff that goes with it.

So, finally, I said, "Okay." Hauled me out, hauled her out. And so I always remember how silly it seemed. Here, really, it was a total of eight soldiers with rifles that were about as long as hitting the ceiling, is what it looked like it, anyway. And they're going like this, and here I am, I ain't even got a toothpick. But we going down that clay road and they did a... So, I went into their little encampment, and they had a few tents there. Think he said about 200 people in it.

Mark Calhoun
Walt Ehlers and his older brother, Roland Ehlers, enlisted in the army in 1940. They trained together and fought together in North Africa and Sicily as part of the 1st Infantry Division. By 1943, they were headed to England where, for the first time since they enlisted, the brothers were separated, in an attempt by the US military to minimize loss and impact to any one family. Roland Ehlers stayed in K Company, and Walt Ehlers was reassigned to L Company. Before D-Day, they met shortly before boarding their respective landing craft. Walt Ehlers's company was assigned the mission to head inland toward Trevieres and conduct reconnaissance, but they encountered heavy resistance as they advanced through the hedgerows. Days after the landing, the fighting was still intense.

Walter Ehlers
Then, on the 9th of June, we were sending out a platoon in this field over here, and a platoon in this field. And then there was... I don't know what was over in the other field. I don't even know what was over on the right anymore. I don't even know if there was anybody over there, because we were still attacking forward. And so when they got fired on over there, I didn't want to get caught out in the middle of the field, so I rushed my men up to the hedgerow in front of me with me.

And then because I was the experienced one in combat, I could smell the Germans before I could see them. So, I just went down the hedgerow there, and I started going up this hedgerow, because the sound of machine guns was down in a corner down there next to the hedgerow that went down... Up further, rather. And I went up on the bank and I heard some rattling, and I came face-to-face with four Germans on the patrol. All of them had their guns pointed at me, and they were pretty close together, maybe as far as this room is wide. And I didn't have any choice, I had to make a real fast decision: either I shot them, or they're going to shoot me.

So, I just went like this, pulled my trigger four times, and got all four of them. It was with my M1 rifle. And so I had my men affix bayonets, because here these guys were right here in front of me, and I had to reload. So, I reloaded and I had all the guys fix their bayonets, and so they followed me up the hedgerow. I came up on a machine gun nest out there, and I ran out of there and knocked the guy out, and I think the guy was still alive. And the guys said, "Stab him." I said, "Stab him? I've still got bullets in my gun." I shot him, but I wasn't going to stab anybody with my bayonet if I didn't have to.

And so then we came... There was a mound back there, and I went up on the mound, and there was, right below the mound, in the back of that mound, was two mortar positions, 80 millimeter type mortars, the big, heavy ones. And when they saw me come up there, their eyes got big. And I asked them to halt and they wouldn't do it. They started to turn. And the other men came up with me, and of course, they really got frightened and ran. We had to shoot them all in order to stop them, because I told them that they had to shoot them, or else they're going to have to fight them again. So, that's what we did. And because we had to go up to that, there was another machine gun later on up in the hedgerow, further up. We got hit that day, and that was the last part of the day.

And then the next day, next morning, we had a similar situation come up again, because you know hedgerows, it's all the same, anywhere you go, because there's square fields all the way around you. So, we're going up this next hedgerow that we were attacking, and our squad got clear up to almost to the hedgerow in front of us, in front of along here. There's a hedgerow over here, a hedgerow over there, and two across the front there. And so when we're going up there, we start getting fire from here and from here.

Company commander said to withdraw, because we had to go at this from a different situation, and couldn't penetrate with one squad in there. And I knew that if we turned around, they'd probably shoot us all in the back. So, I went up on the hedge, on a kind of a mound, there was a little mound sitting there on the right, and I went up there, and I started firing on the left. An automatic rifleman came up, and he fired around to the right to keep the Germans pinned down, and we kept them pinned down, and our squad got back the hedgerow behind us. Then we turned around to come back, and I saw them putting a machine gun down in the corner down there.

So, I'm busy shooting at these three guys who are putting in the machine gun down there when I got hit in the back. It hit me in the back, went into my rib here, and then glanced off of the rib, went out. Made two holes, one where it went in, one where it came out, and went into my pack and it hit a bar of soap, went through my mother's picture there, and came out my trench shovel in the back.

But I got up and went over and picked up the BAR man, and I saw him laying on the field when I got up. And so I carried him back, even though I was wounded myself. He had right leg wounded, and he couldn't walk. And his right arm was wounded, and he couldn't carry his rifle, so I carried him back. And then after I got him back behind the hedgerow and turned him over to the medics, and then I went back and got his rifle under fire, then I came back. And then after I got back, when we started loading the automatic rifleman on the ambulance, I told the company commander, "You better have the medics look at that wound in my back." He says, "You've been wounded?" I said, "Yeah." So, he turned me around, he saw that bullet hole come through my trench shovel. He says, "My God, you should be dead. You've been shot clear through." I said, "Oh no." It was kind of a miracle. I don't know. It looked like I should have been dead, but I wasn't.

Mark Calhoun

For his actions, Walt Ehlers received the Medal of Honor. Ehlers continued to fight deeper into Normandy. By July, while sheltering in an abandoned farmhouse, he received devastating news. His older brother never left the beach on June 6, 1944. Roland Ehlers's landing craft was struck by a mortar, killing him instantly.

D-Day marked a major turning point in the war, and in history, with over 300,000 Allied troops ultimately making the crossing into Europe. But with over 10,000 Allied casualties, today we honor and remember those who did not return home. A few days after June 6, war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote a series of columns describing what he witnessed on the beaches, the carnage of war. He wrote, in part, "I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France. It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead." This quote is a stark reminder of the immense cost of the Allied victory on D-Day, and the ultimate sacrifice made by so many for freedom and democracy. On June 6, Anne Frank wrote in her diary, "This is the day. The invasion has begun. Is this really the beginning of the long awaited liberation? Will this year, 1944, bring us victory?" Anne Frank did not live to see her liberation. But the Allied attack on June 6, 1944, marked the beginning of the end of World War II in Europe.