By Danielle DeSimone
There was a time when it was relatively easy to hear a D-Day veteran’s story first-hand. All you had to do was ask your neighbor, uncle, grandpa or dad.
Now, however, with approximately 348 World War II veterans passing away every day – only around 300,000 of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII are still alive – the stories of those who were at the beaches in Normandy are harder and harder to find.
As the anniversary of D-Day and the Normandy invasions approaches, here are the memories of four World War II veterans from that historic day and the months that followed.
Here’s what they had to say.
Robert Fischman – 95 years old
Robert Fischman was 18 years old when he was aboard the USS Texas, a Navy battleship from World War I that was utilized during the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944.
The USS Texas fired over 250 rounds of 14-inch shells on German positions along Omaha Beach in just 34 minutes. It also provided cover for the stranded U.S. Ranger battalion at Pointe du Hoc, all while receiving return fire from Germans positioned on the cliffs. The ship was hit three times.
I didn’t know what was happening,“ Fischman. "I only knew I had to do what I had to do.
While all this was going on, Fischman was tasked with rescuing and retrieving Rangers from the choppy waters beneath the cliffs and on Omaha Beach from a small rescue boat. In the end, the USS Texas, Fischman and his men rescued 93 Army Rangers.
“I learned a lot when I was just eighteen,” Fischman said.
Vernon Foster – 101 years old
Vernon Foster arrived on the shores of Normandy a few months following D-Day and made his way inland into France with the Army 714th Tank Battalion. His M-4 Sherman tank, named “Dottie” after his wife, was part of the 12th Armored Division, and was briefly attached to General Patton’s command.
I never cried, but I cried that day,” Foster said. “Three of my men were injured, and there I was – needing a whole new crew of sergeants – and that day I cried, I never cried before or since. Tough day.
Foster – then a lieutenant – fought in the Battle of the Bulge as well as made his way deep into Germany, fighting Nazis in Herrlisheim and Ludwigshafen. When recalling the Army’s efforts in liberating France, Foster has fond memories of the kindness of the French, and how they would offer American soldiers homecooked meals – a welcome respite from GI food.
“They were kind to us,” Foster said. “And we worked hard for them.”
Frank Kaszuba, Sr. – 98 years old
“I’m one of the fortunate ones. I know it, and I don’t try to take advantage of it. But somebody had to do it.”
Frank Kaszuba, Sr., arrived in the fourth wave of the Normandy landings, just a few weeks after D-Day, as part of the 28th Infantry Division.
And after that,” Kaszuba said. “It was hell all over.
The division would make its way across France and into Germany, where Kaszuba would be captured and held as a prisoner of war in a German concentration camp for 6 months. He was 22 years old.
John T. Siewert – 96 years old
John T. Siewert enlisted in the Navy at age 18 and would go on to serve on the USS Satterlee on D-Day, which, after escorting minesweepers along Omaha Beach, bombarded the German-occupied coastlines to break up the enemy line.
We were all kids between the ages of 17 and 24…and instead of a rowboat put on a small lake, I was trained to steer a destroyer,” Siewert said. “And it was like a movie…the horizon just erupted.
USS Satterlee specifically provided gunfire support for the famous 200 U.S. Army Rangers who scaled the sheer cliffs of Pointe du Hoc throughout the entire day of June 6, 1944. Siewert spent the next 40 days defending the beaches of Normandy, eventually serving 20 months in the Atlantic and 10 months in the Pacific.
“It was an adventure,” Siewert said, when asked how he remembered feeling on D-Day. “We were trained to do something, and we knew that if every man did his job, then everything was going to be okay.”
* * *
In May 2019, Robert Fischman, Vernon Foster and Frank Kaszuba, Sr., were recognized by the Republic of France and awarded the French Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits, for their actions on D-Day and in World War II. Siewert was presented with the French Legion of Honor in 1944. We thank them, and all those who served on this momentous day in history, for their tremendous service and sacrifice.
-This story originally appeared on USO.org in 2019. It has been updated in 2020.
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