PLATTSBURGH — The ranks of those who survived one of America’s most monumental military events ever are getting smaller and smaller each year.
But there are still people alive who were there on that “Day of Days” 70 years ago on the coast of France, where nearly 200,000 soldiers took part in the greatest military invasion ever.
They’ve got a story to tell. And what a story it is.
CAUGHT IN CROSSFIRE
“I wouldn’t want to have missed it for the world, but I wouldn’t want to do it all over again,” D-Day veteran Henry Gurney told the Press-Republican during a recent interview at American Legion Post 83 in his hometown of Whitehall, about 25 miles south of Ticonderoga.
Gurney, 89, was part of the American Army’s Second Division, which landed at Omaha Beach on June 7, otherwise known as D-Plus 1.
Many historical accounts of D-Day portray the combat ending on the beachheads by mid-afternoon of June 6, but that was not the case.
“There was still a lot of action going on, and the beach got crowded quickly,” Gurney recalled.
His unit was dropped about 200 yards off shore, in water up to his neck. With about 50 pounds of gear on, Gurney said, it was all he could do to keep his head above water and make it to land.
When he got there, the 19-year-old private took cover behind an iron criss-crossed structure designed to slow down craft and soldiers from invading. The obstacles were known as “Rommel’s asparagus,” after Germany’s notorious Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was in charge of protecting the French coast for the occupying Germans.
“When I was behind that thing, I could feel the bullets pinging off that metal,” Gurney said.
“We were in a crossfire of machine guns.”