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LI veterans recall D-Day decades later

James J. Treuchtlinger, of East Meadow, a WWII

James J. Treuchtlinger, of East Meadow, a WWII veteran, stated "it was scary, but my regiment went in like gentlemen. The beach was secured, but for an 18 year old it was scary. We went 2 days before my 19th birthday, what a birthday present." Credit: Chris Ware

As D-Day roiled across the water, Jim Treuchtlinger awaited his turn to hit the beach that would become known as Bloody Omaha.

A raw draftee, the 18-year-old infantryman knew little more of war than he had a year earlier, when he was a Columbia University freshman.

"We had not the least idea of what awaited us," the East Meadow resident said Tuesday, recalling what he saw when he reached Normandy after D-Day began. "There were bodies everywhere."

Treuchtlinger, now 86, is among a dwindling number of living Americans who survived the pivotal Allied invasion of Western Europe 68 years ago Wednesday.

The Allies landed 326,000 troops and 100,000 tons of military equipment on the shores of Normandy during a titanic five-day struggle, forcing Nazi Germany to defend its western flank. Germany surrendered less than a year later, on May 8, 1945. But the invasion, which involved a massive flotilla of 5,000 ships and landing craft, exacted a huge cost.

To secure a toehold on the French coast, tens of thousand of Allied troops, mostly American, British and Canadian soldiers, had to wade onto shore and make their way across Normandy's wide beaches. As they did, German machine gunners and artillery crews fired from concrete bunkers dug into the cliffs. Within a few hours, some 1,465 Americans were killed and nearly 5,000 were wounded.

Harry Wurth, 85, commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 5253 in Albertson, was an 18-year-old enlistee in the Pacific aboard the aircraft carrier USS Belleau Wood when word arrived of the invasion.

A native of College Point, Queens, Wurth recalled worrying about some of his relatives in arms -- a brother and several cousins. He had no idea where they were. "I was just hoping they would come through it," said Wurth, who learned after the war that a cousin had been part of D-Day, losing a finger in the invasion.

"You knew that something was happening, but it didn't dawn on me until later the extent of it," Wurth said. "You look back on what happened, all the men killed, so many of them drowned before they even made the beach, and you say, 'I'm glad I didn't know the details of what was happening at the time.' "

Treuchtlinger knew the details all too well. The young soldier walked past a beach littered with corpses to join the advancing Allied front lines.

As he recalled the horror Tuesday, his voice broke several times. "It was a long time ago," he said. "And I'm still trying to put it out of my mind."

Treuchtlinger said he will take a moment Wednesday to honor that time. He credits D-Day with saving Europe and America from Nazi domination.

"I'll put the flag out if it's not raining," he said. "That battle saved our way of life."

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