Tom Brokaw termed “the greatest generation” to describe those fearless men who stared death in the face on those Normandy beaches in 1944 and bravely marched towards it. The immeasurable courage these men showed resulted in a victory—a turning point of World War II—and the Allied forces’ retaking of Europe.
The D-Day invasion was the largest in the world’s history and some of the few men living 75 years later to tell the tale of the battle describe the triumphant odds stacked against them, the hopelessness they witnessed, their determination to defy these odds, and their ultimate victory.
The Washington Examiner caught with some of these veterans, who recalled the unforgettable details of that historic day.
From the report:
George Westlake, 100, is one of them. He boarded a ship in England the night of June 5 before reaching of the French coast in the wee hours of June 6.
“It was a very noisy, wild day with lots of wounded coming back to the ships and lots of bodies in the water,” Westlake, then a 25-year-old United States Army captain, told the Washington Examiner.
Westlake’s 3rd Tank Destroyer Group was unable to land on the short Omaha Beach — the most fiercely contested of five landing beaches, and where most of 2,500 Americans died — because of barriers impeding wheeled artillery and tanks.
“There was nothing we could do about it. We were sitting ducks, you might say, and we just prayed you wouldn’t get hit. The Germans were just firing away willy-nilly,” he said.
Westlake described how the early moments of the battle ushered a series of setbacks. Some infantry soldiers, wearing 100 pounds of gear, drowned as they entered the water. And, when Allied tanks finally got to the beaches, some of them were trapped in the sand and became stuck.
Still, they persisted.
“There was no plan as to what we were going to do,” Westlake continued. “The plan was to get the boats onto the sand. That was the only plan we got.”
When he hit the beach, Westlake, who rose to become a colonel in the U.S. Cavalry, recalls lots of trash but few bodies, which had been cleared off despite the continued threat of German mortar fire. The artillery and tanks helped change the equation of the invasion force, giving firepower to the Allies’ beachheads.
The Washington Examiner met up with another veteran from that day, Clarence Dotson—who was just 18 years old at the time—and asked him to describe the day and what it meant to him.
“Sitting in the [water] was frightening because we were helpless. We were bombed and shelled,” Dotson, now 93 years old, said. “I realized life expectancy was not very much. A lot of my comrades were killed.”
And, for what it meant to him: “I want people to know about the sacrifices young people did to make the world free of Nazism.”
According to the Washington Examiner, Westlake and Dotson fought in the Battle of the Bulge and through to the end of the war in May of 1945.
The report adds:
As Allies advanced, Westlake recalled admiring a pair of abandoned German military boots in the field. He picked them up, hoping to keep the sleek pair, but found they were heavier than anticipated — filled with rotting feet.
As his generation fades into history, Westlake said he wants younger generations to reflect on possible lessons.
“We were hopelessly unprepared. We turned a blind eye to what other people were doing,” he said, adding: “Whatever happened in the past is a pretty good indication of what’s going to happen in the future. I say, just be alert.”