The moment Charles Cino and his Navy brothers stormed the beaches of Normandy is still fresh in his mind 75 years later.
“We liberated so many people,” said Cino, 93, during a ceremony Thursday at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University where he and two other veterans of one of the largest seaborne military assaults in history were honored along with other World War II veterans.
“People should know this is a great day," Cino said.
U.S. Army veterans Philip DiMarco, 97, and Frank DePergola, 96, both D-Day survivors, also were among about 100 World War II veterans recognized.
DePergola was an infantryman who landed at Normandy on June 6, 1944, and later earned a Bronze Star for Valor.
“It was a job that had to be taken care of and we did it, we did it. And that’s it," DePergola said Wednesday, in an interview on the eve of the 75th anniversary of the assault that began the liberation of most of Europe from Nazi clutches and changed the course of World War II.
The Brooklyn-born DiMarco said he does not consider himself a hero.
“I just did what I had to do,” said DiMarco, a first sergeant in the 310th Infantry who also fought in the Battle of the Bulge. “We were just there when we were needed.”
DePergola and DiMarco received the New York State Conspicuous Service Cross at the ceremony. Cino, a Navy storekeeper third-class the day he landed at Normandy, received the New York State Medal for Merit.
Fred Sganga, executive director of the Long Island State Veterans Home, called the D-Day veterans "living legends" who answered the call of duty to protect freedom and democracy.
"They knew back in 1944 that some things are worth dying for," Sganga said. "One's nation is worth dying for. And the democracy it represents is worth dying for because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by a people. … They knew that they were for fighting for all humanity."
Of the 900,000 New Yorkers who served in Western Europe during World War II, 43,000 of them never came home, said Col. James McDonough Jr., director of the State Division of Veterans' Services.
McDonough said it's difficult to imagine what it must have been like to be a young man landing on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified coast of Normandy "facing death, facing an uncertain future."
At another Long Island ceremony marking 75 years since D-Day, an audience of more than 200 at the Museum of American Armor in Old Bethpage paid tribute to seven men, ranging in age from 94 to 99, who fought in World War II, including some who landed at Normandy.
Rep Peter King (R-Seaford), who earlier was among several speakers to address the crowd, said his two visits to the Normandy battlefield left him moved by the enormity of what Allied troops faced.
“Those who see it for the first time are absolutely awe-struck by how difficult that was, the height of the cliffs, the width of the beach," King said, "and also by the gratitude of the people of France for what the Americans did.”
Most of those who attended had not been born when D-Day dawned.
Nicholas Casseus, 20, of Amityville, said he came in honor of a relative who immigrated from Haiti, volunteered for the Army in 1943, and served in a racially segregated Army Signal Corps unit that arrived six days after the invasion and laid telephone lines used to relay commands to the front lines.
“This means everything to me,” said Casseus, who volunteers at the museum as a historic re-enactor and wore an Army uniform Thursday while posing aboard a Sherman tank. “I dreamed of putting on this uniform to honor not only him, but the rest of the African Americans who fought for their country, not only then, but prior and post D-Day.”
But not everyone wanted to remember.
Donald Parker, 95, of West Babylon, in the audience at the museum Thursday and among the first wave of troops to reach Normandy's Utah Beach with the Army’s 4th Infantry Division, mostly demurred when asked to describe what he saw that day.
“That’s a long time ago,” Parker said. “I don’t know if I want to remember D-Day.”
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