East Northport resident Mortimer Roberts, was an 18-year-old training to be an aviation mechanic for the Navy just outside of Miami on June 6, 1944.
That’s the day when allied forces in World War II stormed five beaches in Normandy, France in what became known as D-Day. Roberts said he remembers in the days before the invasion a feeling in the air that something big was going to happen. Then the news of the invasion reached them.
“It was upsetting,” said Roberts, now 97. “But we were wondering what were we going to do; were we going to go over to help,” Roberts said. “But we got no information from the government … we were glad we were on the offensive and not defensive.”
Tuesday marks the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in military history.
The day was a turning point in the war with the allied forces coming together from the air, land and sea. While most of the troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy were from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, troops from across Europe as well as Greece, Australia and New Zealand were also there.
According to the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood home website, 10,300 people were killed during the landing.
The Town of Huntington will fly the flag over Town Hall at half-staff in memory of the event Tuesday. .
East Northport resident Paul Fazio, who will turn 100 on Sept. 22, said he was training in Albany, Georgia to be a pilot when the invasion happened. Still he said his patriotic pride was brimming.
“As an American I’m so glad we took on that dirty job,” Fazio said. “I have nothing but admiration for all those people involved.”
He said when he reflects on his time in the war, D-Day and about all of the “good guys” that died that day and the days after, service to country always comes to mind. He said he is often asked if he volunteered for service.
“I didn’t l know anybody that didn’t volunteer, you just felt that this was something you had to do,” he said.
Gene Leavy, 97, who was in the Army at Fort Bragg on D-Day, said he still gets emotional when he thinks about how far the troops, mostly men about 18 years old, had to go after the ships landed without protection or cover. In their memory, he said, Americans must do their part to honor their sacrifice.
“We all have a piece of this country and a responsibility to it,” the East Northport resident said. “Each of us must find some way, even if it's tiny, of making a contribution, it could be voting, attending school board meeting.”
Huntington resident Bill Ober, 82, served in the Marine Corps infantry from 1961 to 1964 and is chairman of the Huntington Veterans Advisory Board. He said the world might be a different place if not for the invasion.
“That was the beginning of the end to the Third Reich as we know it,” Ober said.
“All too often as history goes on, people do forget and they are consumed with other activities and veterans come second, if at all, so for a day like D-Day, even all these years later we should remember.”
Honor Flight Long Island is the local chapter of the national nonprofit based in Arlington, Virginia that flies veterans for free to Washington D.C. to see their respective memorials.
Bill Donahue, a board member, advises seeking out a World War II veteran today to shake their hand and say thank you.
“Male or female veteran, we still have them, there here,” he said. “They went to bed hungry during the depression and they lost a lot of their buddies during World War II, so every day to them was a gift, it’s very tough to get a World World II veteran down and because every day after the depression and World War II was a gift.”
Town Supervisor Ed Smyth, a veteran who served in the Marines, said as a history and military affairs buff, D-Day is one of the most historical military events in United States history and one of its most memorable.
“D-Day stands as an enduring example that the United States will stop at nothing to fight for a just cause,” Smyth said.
The Invasion of Normandy: D-Day
General of the U.S. Army Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to bring an end to World War II. He oversaw operation OVERLORD which delivered five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. The operation was from land, air, and sea forces of the allied armies.
Invasion force: 7,000 ships and landing craft manned by over 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries.
Almost 133,000 troops from the United States, the Commonwealth, and their allies, landed on June 6, 1944