On June 6, 1944, Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy as part of the largest seaborne invasion in history. D-Day lead the liberation of France from Nazi control, and laid the foundation for the Allied victory on the Western Front.
Prior to troops landing on the coastline, over 24,000 airborne troops were dropped behind enemy lines shortly after midnight on June 6th. Around 6:30 AM, the first of the initial 156,000 soldiers began landing on the beach, along with some 10,000 vehicles and tanks. The target 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Troops landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches, and the shore was covered in obstacles such as land mines, wooden stakes and barbed wire, making clearing the beaches difficult and dangerous. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha, with its high cliffs providing an advantage to enemy troops. At Gold, Juno, and Sword, several fortified towns were cleared in house-to-house fighting, and two major gun emplacements at Gold were disabled using tanks.
By June 11th, Allied Forces had taken control of the beach, and by the end of July they had moved beyond the Normandy coast into the rest of France. On August 25th, Paris was liberated, and on September 16th U.S. troops reached the boarder of Germany.
Over 325,000 Allied troops were deployed for the D-Day invasion, and over 10,00 were killed or wounded during invasion and immediate aftermath. Seventy-five years later, we remember a few of their countless stories of bravery and heroism.
Lieutenant Jimmie W. Monteith of the U.S. Army was a member of the 1st Division that fought in Algeria and Italy before transferring to England to prepare for D-Day. During the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy, his unit was left open when the accompanying tanks became bogged in sand and sea water. Monteith led his men into the water to storm the beach, but half were shot or drowned before reaching the shore. Pinned down by German forces, Monteith ran to each of the survivors' hiding places under fire to rally the troops. He led an assault over open terrain, leading the tanks through a minefield on foot, eventually capturing an advantageous hill. Monteith’s unit continued ahead until they were completely surrounded by the enemy. There, Monteith was shot and killed. He was one month shy of his 27th birthday. Monteith received a posthumous Medal of Honor and Purple Heart.
John J. Pinder, Jr. was a professional baseball player when the U.S. entered World War II. He played for several teams, ultimately with the Greenville (Alabama) Lions when he was drafted in 1942. Pinder fought in Africa prior to traveling to England to prepare for D-Day. By then, Pinder was a Technician 5th Grade, in charge of communications for his unit. Landing on Omaha Beach on June 6, Pinder was carrying heavy radio equipment and was shot as he waded ashore. Refusing medical attention, he continued to carry the equipment to shore to deliver the radio. He went back into the water three additional times to salvage other communications equipment. He was shot again on the last trip off shore. Still refusing medical attention, he set up a radio communication station on the beach. Pinder was then shot a third time, this time fatally. June 6, 1944, was his 32nd birthday.
Staff Sergeant Walter Ehlers (joined the Army in 1940 and served in North Africa and Sicily. He was called to England to train troop replacements and prepare for D-Day. On June 6, he led his men onto the shores west of Omaha Beach. While half of the first wave of troops were killed or wounded, Ehlers got all 12 of his men into the trenches safely. On June 9, the squadron was near Goville, France. Coming under fire, Ehlers led his men to destroy several enemy machine gun and mortar positions, himself killing several enemy troops. Ehlers was wounded, but continued on, even carrying one wounded soldier to safety. He refused evacuation, instead staying to lead his unit. Several months later, while recovering from yet another wound, Ehlers read about his Medal of Honor in the military newspaper. He also received three Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, Ehlers worked for the Veterans Administration for 29 years. Prior to his death in 2014, Ehlers was the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor from the D-Day invasion.