The Longest Day

The Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial sits on a French cliffside overlooking the coastline in Colleville-sur-Mer. It is home to the graves of 9,388 American soldiers; and a memorial to the 73,000 American Allied forces who landed in Normandy on June 6, 1944. D-Day.

On that day, 13,000 paratroopers were suiting up in the marshaling area.

ARMY SGT, 101st: “Before the jump, Eisenhower came to every one of us and said, “What’s your name, son?” Some guy would answer, “I’m So-And-So, from Ohio,” and Eisenhower would say, “Are you afraid?” And we all answered “No, sir.”

The planes took off under the cover of darkness. Some 15,000 aircraft were in the air on D-Day. You could walk across the wings like stepping stones.

TOM POCELLA, 82ND: “With the roar of the engines in my ears, I [jumped] out the door and into the silence of the night. I realized I had made the jump into darkness.”

It was a hard jump.

TURK SEELYE, 82ND: “After I left the door, the plane [got hit by a shell and] nosed downward, and I watched the tail pass a few feet over my head.”

ED BOCCAFOGLI, 82ND: “I fell out because I slipped on vomit. Some guys were throwing up from nerves… my feet went out from under me, and I fell out upside down.”

Planes were going down left and right. The Allies lost 127 aircraft in a matter of hours.

HAROLD CANYON, 82ND: “Just as I approached the door, the top of the airplane opened up. It had been hit by some type of explosive shell. …The plane started going into its death spiral. It took everything I had to get over the threshold… I was the last man out of the plane.”

The paratroopers sailed to the ground and into a food processor.

CHARLES MILLER, 82ND: “It looked like a great big Fourth of July celebration. The whole sky was lit up like a big show.”

ANONYMOUS, 101ST: “I got shot in the eye before I hit the ground, I had to get my chute off with blood in my eyes.”

Meantime, on the beach, a Biblical hell.

CPT. JOSEPH DAWSON: “The beach was total chaos, with bodies everywhere, wounded men crying… The beach sounded like a beehive with the bullets flying around. You could hear them hit and you could hear them pass through the air.”

SGT. RICHARD HERKLOTZ, 29TH: “As we got closer to the beach we saw casualties floating in the water just like refuse in a harbor… We watched the tide bring out the debris and the bodies of those who had died.”

UNNAMED BRITISH SEARGANT: “We got to the top of the rise [when] I saw my first German. He was alive, but not for long.”

PLATOON COMMANDER, CANADIAN SCOTTISH: “To our surprise two enemy infantry sections surprised us, just 125-150 yards ahead. They were shocked to see us, too. But the stunned silence did not last. There was only one course of action…”

Only a few thousand Normandy survivors are still living. Most in their late 90s.

Like the veteran I interviewed last year, at an assisted living facility. He looked at me from beneath his Army cap and said:

“My grandkids were in twelfth grade. They were learning calculus and how to use fancy computers, but somehow they never learned about the War. Never even heard the words D-Day. Please remind them of what we did.”

I’ll do the best I can.


  1. Mac - June 6, 2024 11:18 am

    So many gave so much. Some gave all they had. They were truly the Greatest Generation!

  2. stephenpe - June 6, 2024 12:12 pm

    I have been to Normandy with a WW2 vet. Most somber place I ever went to after the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC. You have to watch John Barry’s Hymn To The Fallen.

  3. debbyshehane - June 6, 2024 9:06 pm

    Thank you for writing this.

  4. Paul Dennis Kelly - June 7, 2024 1:25 am


    Thanks for sharing this. I wish more people, especially the younger generations knew how costly a sacrifice was made for freedom. I was watching a video of medic who landed with the first wave and he had a handful of sand sifting through his hand when visiting Normandy last year. He said the sand wasn’t red anymore. That puts in all in perspective.


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