Seventy years ago today, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the coast of France on D-Day. It was the start of the offensive that ultimately led, less than a year later, to the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.
On this anniversary, veterans around the state who helped win World War II remember the urgency of the attack, the importance of the mission, and the need to serve their country and aid America’s allies.
They know that in a matter of hours on June 6, 1944, more than 9,000 Allied troops — several thousand of them Americans — were killed trying to get ashore from their floating personnel carriers amid a hail of bullets and shells from the fortified German positions above the beaches.
“We lost a lot of people,” said former Army Sgt. Oliver Thomas Carver, 89, of Litchfield, who landed on Utah Beach on D-Day 10 (June 16), and served as a communications officer in France and Belgium. “But we had 13 or 14 million Americans in that war. It’s not such a big number when you look at what was at stake.”
Seaman Robert Mozer of Deerfield, who broke the age rule by joining the Navy when he was 17, said those who died knew what they were facing.
“There was no questioning anything on D-Day. We were there because we were supposed to be there. Many of us enlisted to try to get there. We all felt an obligation to our country and our allies,” said Mozer, who was not part of the D-Day landing.
Daisy Howe, 97, was an Army communications officer serving in Europe, while her late husband, Sgt. Clayton Emerson Howe, drove a half-track onto Omaha Beach on D-Day 5 (June 11).
The Howes were both raised in Sanbornton. After the war, they opened a small store in the Gaza part of town; Clayton Howe died in 2000.
Sitting Thursday at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton, where she now lives, Daisy Howe was briefly sad at the thought of “the terrible loss of lives.”
But her eyes brightened as she told of her husband’s drive with his 2nd Armored Brigade to the Battle of the Bulge and later to meet Russian soldiers in the capture of Berlin.
“What they did on that day was almost impossible, going up against all those Germans in the cliffs; it was such a miracle that it worked,” she said. “I was proud of all of our men and women who served then ... but especially Clayte.”
Former Army Sgt. Elliot Finn, 86, of Meredith said he tried to enlist as a 17-year-old so he could serve on D-Day, but unlike Mozer and many others who got in at that age, he was kept out of the Army until he turned 18 in 1945, after the Nazis had been defeated.
“All of us wanted to join up and fight for our country, because it was the thing to do. That’s all we wanted to do,” Finn said. “That, and high school kids tend to think they are immortal.”
Carver remembers crossing the English Channel to an almost indescribable sight.
“It was nasty weather that night when we left England, and everybody got seasick on the transports,” he said. “When we got near the shore, it was early morning, and I could not believe all the ships, and planes, tanks ... it was an awesome sight.”
“But so was Paris after we liberated it,” he said proudly.
Howe said she was training on an Army base in the states when D-Day occurred. It took weeks, even months before people stateside heard the full details of the attack, she said.
“It was quite a while before we knew the full extent of what happened that day,” she said. “It was the biggest (seaborne) invasion in history. It had to be. Hitler had to be stopped.”