One South Bend man who fought in Normandy and lives on to tell his first-hand stories about that day is Navy 1st Class Seaman Frank McCalment.
Seven decades later, he says he still has the utmost respect for military leadership's organization of the invasion.
Tricia Harte sat down with Frank last year on the D-Day anniversary. The following story is from that day.
Nearly 4,000 miles away and only 22 years old, Frank McCalment bravely fought alongside thousands of Allied troops during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944.
McCalment jokingly says he chose the Navy over the military’s other branches because of his father’s experience during World War I.
“Well my father was in WWI and he was in the trenches in Europe and France and I heard him talk about hearing the Germans talk, talking and I thought I sure don't want to be that close so I joined the Navy.”
Now 69 years later, McCalment can still vividly describe the sights and sounds surrounding him as he manned a five-inch gun onboard the U.S.S. Augusta. His first night on board he and other gunman shot down a German plane.
“I was just as scared as the guy next to me, but neither one let each other know. But I’m sure we were all scared because we naturally didn’t know what was going to happen,” says McCalment when he reflects on the night before D-Day.
Just like the thousands of other servicemen storming Normandy, McCalment says no one could have fully prepared themselves for the sheer size and magnitude of the invasion.
“The sky was blackened with Allied planes, and that water was ships everywhere,” says McCalment, “we were well-equipped for that invasion to convince Hitler he wasn’t invincible and that we did.”
The Augusta began firing at German planes and other installations along Omaha Beach at around 6:00 a.m. McCalment and his shipmates watched boat after boat pass, each one bringing more ground soldiers to the take the coastline.
“How grateful I was that I was on that heavy cruiser out a ways because I knew those fellas that were going past me and waving, many of them weren't going to come back,” McCalment adds.
Some 6,600 U.S. troops died on D-Day in addition to about 3,700 other Allied forces. Looking back, McCalment says he has immense respect for General Eisenhower and General Patton who bravely led the Allies throughout Europe.
“I felt like we were very well prepared. I always thought a lot of General Eisenhower with the over 1 million people he had under him,” says McCalment considering the weather delay and the incredible number of troops to command, “our leadership was excellent; always had a lot of respect for General Eisenhower.”
It is estimated that about 1,000 World War II veterans die each and every day. Their dwindling numbers makes capturing and sharing their first-hand experiences all the more important.