Long Island D-Day veterans, 50 years later
June 6, 2014 marks the 70th anniversary of the Normandy invasion. Back in 1994, on the 50th anniversary, Newsday caught up with some of Long Island's D-Day heroes. Here are their stories.
James Leone(Credit: David Pokress)
Seaman first class; landing craft gunner's mate
Owner of a shoe repair store
Of 24 four-man boats taking demolition crews onto Omaha Beach, his was one of four that survived. "The landmark was a church steeple, but who saw the church steeple from under smoke?"
The craft's payload was a rubber raft full of heavy explosives, fuel and about 15 Army demolition men. "We were supposed to let them off at high tide. We made three landings, and we couldn't get them off. There were boats all over the place, blowing up, burning, everything."
Instead, the boat returned to a transport ship and, in heavy seas, unloaded GIs. "They had all the nitroglycerine around their waists, but we didn't know that. I can gear this guy on the ship say, 'Get that craft out of here,' because they know we had all high-explosives on board. But you're 19; you don't really think of those things."
Ed MacLean(Credit: Karen Stabile)
Ed MacLean, president of the 9th Air Force Association and a D-Day veteran, holds a picture of Republic P-47 Thunderbolts in 1994.
James Glamore(Credit: Eric Michelson)
Second lieutenant, 26th Infantry Battalion
75, St. James
Runs automobile dealership
"When I joined the outfit in England, I didn't know a helluva lot. My sergeants and the rest had been through two invasions. They were very great people. When we hit the beach, and I said, 'Follow me!' then I was in charge.
"I'm 6-foot-3 and I had to help some of the others; some drowned, unfortunately."
Later, after Glamore's platoon had been pounded by enemy fire, two German soldiers wandered near them. "I think every one of us shot them."
Glamore felt that German inaction had made the difference in the campaign. "If the Germans had come at us, we wouldn't have made it. That's the way we all felt. The fields of vision they had were fantastic -- but they weren't there."
Glamore later rose to the rank of captain and lost a leg in combat.
Erben, of Lindenhurst, is one of four Brooklyn buddies who reunited on Long Island after the war and had annual barbecues.
Buddy Mazzara(Credit: Dick Kraus)
Buddy Mazzara is one of four Brooklyn buddies who reunited after the war on Long Island and had annual barbecues.
Stephen Humsjo(Credit: Bill Davis)
Lieutenant, junior grade. Captain of LCI (L) 502
Humsjo's craft carried 350 troop of the British Eight Army, Northumberland Brigade, to Sword Beach. "It was flat-bottomed so we pounded all the way over. There were times we hit so hard some of the troops thought we were going to break up. I think during the crossing the troops were just as happy to go to war as to stay on that boat.
"The beaches were still alive when we hit them and the German tanks were still moving around there. I saw one hit by a battlewagon or cruiser and blown right up. Some of the tanks were rolling over our men. There was a lot of death there. It was not a pretty sight.
"The dawn was breaking. I went right in. There were all kinds of railroad ties with mines on them. Two ships to the right and left of me hit mines. I was lucky."
ABOVE: Humsjo with a copy of a photo of a landing craft like the one he commanded during World War II and on D-Day at his home in Great River on April 21, 1994.
Al Nendza(Credit: Dick Kraus)
Nendza, of Syosset, is one of four Brooklyn buddies who reunited on Long Island after the war and had annual barbecues.
Edward Foley(Credit: Dick Kraus)
Foley is one of four Brooklyn buddies and D-Day veterans who reunited after the war on Long Island and held annual barbecues.
Joseph Ludwig(Credit: Thomas Ferrara)
79, Cold Spring Hills
Retired letter carrier
A communications NCO, Ludwig was in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101 Airborne Division.
"What I remember is looking down and seeing all the ships. It looked like you could walk across the Channel.
"The jump was screwed up. The planes were going too fast -- and too low. They were supposed to be four or five hundred feet; it must have been three hundred. I was down before I got out of the plane, almost. I was in good shape except I lost my rifle in the jump. When I landed I had a pistol and four hand grenades. I wasn't looking for Germans. I was looking for an M-1.
"It was a general mixup, which in a way was good because the Germans didn't know what was going on. We knew what our objectives were, and they were all taken -- with the help of the Air Corps."
It took four hours before Ludwig got a rifle and much longer before he got his radio, vital to company-level communications. "I never did see it. We didn't see a radio until we took Carentan, June 10th, 11th and 12th. That's when we tied up with Division 1."
Werner Kleeman(Credit: Richard Lee)
D-Day veteran Werner Kleeman at his desk with WWII memorabilia in Flushing on May 6, 1994.
Joseph Kissane(Credit: Dick Kraus)
Retired investigative government accountant
A paratrooper in the 508th Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, he parachuted into the dark.
"They never told us one important thing. They never told us the ground was flooded . . . They figure everything down to the closest detail, and then you jump and everything's different. We were supposed to look fort a farmhouse by a pond -- well, the whole damn area was a pond.
"When I landed I was hopelessly tangled up and in two feet of water. At some points I almost had to swim -- and I threw my land mine away almost immediately. I said, "I'm not going to carry this thing." My uncle sent me cigars. I put them in a nice leather case, a machine-gun firing pin case. Not too many guys there had cigars."That morning we started going along the beach -- there was no action there. Walking along, someone started a rumor: Maybe the invasion failed and there was nobody else there. We were lucky because so many guys died in other parts of the battle."
Frank Burke(Credit: Dave Pokress)
Flight officer, pilot
72, North Merrick
Retired telephone installation foreman
Burke, who lived in Astoria, Queens, when he enlisted, was assigned to the 53rd Wing, 436th Troop Carrier Group.
"I flew a Horsa glider. I was carrying a jeep trailer with medics. I remember I had a big flak protector -- on the chest. Then when I saw the flak I moved it to my seat where it would do more good.
"The glider got hit with machine-gun fire; it went through the wings; they were made of canvas. It sounded like somebody stabbing a paper bag with a pencil. But it's happening so fast you don't think about anything but getting down.
"When I landed, I landed on a plateau and the nose fell off. So we couldn't get our equipment out right away; we had to chop it out. I went to get across a road, and the machine guns opened up.
"It was too hectic; you had to hide. The paratroopers were all yelling, 'We're all going to be dead or in the stockade in the morning.'
"That night I said to my buddy, 'Let's go and ned down with this infantry group because they seem to think they're winning.' I remember walking down the road; they had a German field kitchen. There were horses; they were dead. And there were Germans sitting against a tree with plates of food in their hands, and they were dead."
Leonard Jindra(Credit: Julia Gaines)
Private, 115th Regiment, 29th Division
72, Floral Park
Retired watchmaker, aerospace worker
"I was born in Czechoslovakia and I came to this country when I was 16 years old. I knew what the Nazis did to Czechs. So somehow I just had the feeling, 'I have to do something, too'. . .
"The ramp opened up and we started to get off and go towards the beach. When got past the sandbar, it was deeper over some men's heads. We were told back in England that the Air Force would bomb the beach, and there would be holes. And we would advance from hole to hole. They didn't bomb the beach and there were no holes."
As an advance scout, Jindra signaled by scratching his backside. "If you scratch the right cheek, they are on the right, if you scratch the left they are on the left; if you scratch the middle, they are all around. Then you just hit the dirt, and you hope your own troops don't shoot you."
Irving Berger(Credit: Dick Kraus)
Medic (T-4), medical detachment
80, Floral Park
Retired pharmacist; owned a drug store in Manhattan
Berger was in the 80th Airborne Antiaircraft Battalion, 82nd Division. He served in Salerno, Italy, where he donated a pint of his blood on the battlefield to save the life of another soldier.
"When I was training, the 82nd needed medics desperately. I had the misfortune of being a college graduate, a pharmacist, so they took me out of training. What they don't tell you is once you're in the 82nd Airborne can never get out."
Berger landed in Normandy in a large glider with a jeep and a medical equipment. We went in between two trees and we got out of the plane. We put 'Band-Aids' on those who were hurt. Things went really smoothly after the landing.
"After I had been through the Salerno affair -- it was such bloody affair -- you become callous to the situation. That was the only way could survive. Otherwise you would go bananas."
Sol Molofsky(Credit: Don Jacobsen)
76, Valley Stream
Secretary, Long Island Federation of Labor
Molofsky, in the Ninth Air Force, was a radio operator on a C-47 transport plane.
"We dropped Maxwell Taylor and his staff. As I recall, the general was reclining on some biscuits for most of the trip. We dropped him 100 feet from where he was supposed toy be. He jumped on time.
"We took off in the dark; it was around midnight. You figured any minute something could happen. We lost some planes." One of them carried a demolition team. "I looked out the window and saw him go. Jeez, it blew up right in the air. Most of us came back, though.
"After we dropped them we were hit -- our right engine was on fire. We saw it, and we got very nervous until the pilot was able to turn off the engine and use the extinguisher on it. We mannered away from the beach, turned out and flew all the way around to the Irish Sea; it took three hours. The plane flew on one engine; nobody was hurt in our plane. People thought we were shot down, but we fooled them."
Eugene Langan(Credit: Thomas Ferrara)
Langan, pictured on May 24, 1994, was just 18 years old when he was a seaman first class aboard LST-510 on D-Day.