Charles Durning recounts D-Day landing

Published on Friday, 6 June 2014 22:36 - Written by Rebecca Hoeffner rhoeffner@tylerpaper.com

Friday was the anniversary of D-Day, and I was surprised to learn that some (young) people don’t know what happened that historic day 70 years ago.

D-Day is the day U.S. troops landed at the beaches of Normandy, France, beginning our countries involvement in WWII.

More than 100,000 men landed on the heavily-fortified enemy territory that day; 9,000 Americans lost their lives.

Some of the veterans who we interviewed for the newspaper’s anniversary story on Friday talked about how whole communities came together to pray for the troops. And, even in the military, people gathered to pray in tents. Everyone knew the risks and the costs of such an enormous war, but they came together anyway instead of letting themselves be divided.

At the 2007 National Memorial Day Concert, actor Charles Durning recounted his experience as a 20-year-old infantryman who was among the first wave of men to land on Omaha Beach. Durning was later awarded a Silver Star and three Purple Hearts.

“We were frightened all the time,” he said in the video from the event. “You’re not thinking about anything; you’re just hoping the shell that just went off isn’t going to hit this boat. Even the guys who had seen a lot of action before, they were just as ashen as I was. I was the second man off my barge, and the first and third man got killed … All around me people were being shot at. I saw bodies all over the place. But you didn’t know whether they were alive or dead.”

Durning choked up as he talked about the sacrifices soldiers made for one another on that beach.

“I saw wounded guys, dying, crawl up to the front of us to act as barricades to protect us from being hit, with their own bodies. They would come up and just lay there and take the shot. … There was this eerie sight of bodies floating in the water, like driftwood. The beach was covered with the bodies of American soldiers. I can’t count how many of my buddies are in the cemetery at Normandy. The heroes are still there, the real heroes.”

We should never forget the unfathomable courage and the sacrifices those soldiers made for us. It’s no wonder author and journalist Tom Brokaw called them “The greatest generation.”

As Jesus said in the Gospel of John, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”