WWII vets recall fateful day: the invasion of Normandy
The two local men are in their 90s. They weren't yet in their 20s when they played a role in the most massive military assault from the sea the world has ever seen. And last week, they shared war stories 75 years to the day after the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
"I can't remember how our day went," said Ben Asquith of Dayton, Oregon, then a 19-year-old U.S. Navy chief mechanic on a 50-foot landing craft that transported hundreds of soldiers from warships to Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944.
"I didn't think about anything. I just remember the firepower — especially the overhead firepower — and the machine gun chatter that vibrated on the water. The most vivid thing in my mind about the invasion was the noise. It was war," he said.
Abe Laurenzo of Vancouver, Washington, was a Navy radioman 1st Class on a larger landing craft carrying 200 soldiers. His was one of the first to make it to Omaha Beach that fateful day.
"What got us through?" Laurenzo asked. "God preserved us. But as far as I'm concerned, I think I was too dumb to appreciate the danger. I didn't tremble or shiver about it. I just went through it and here I am."
Asquith, Laurenzo and Jerry Nudelman of Portland — who was wounded three times as an infantry sergeant in the U.S. Army in Europe — were honored guests at a reception and informal presentation June 6 at the Oregon Historical Society on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Omaha Beach was one of five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of the coast of France that were assaulted that day, and for weeks afterward, in the largest seaborne invasion in history.
A German officer looking out from a bunker on the morning of June 6, 1944, said he saw, "all the ships in the world."
Laurenzo was confined to the radio room of one of 4,126 landing crafts that day and saw no such sight.
"My experience came through the eyes of our signal man and bow gunner," he told 100 rapt listeners on Thursday. "I could hear the noise going on around us — shells dropping all over from those German 88 mm guns — but I didn't see with my eyes what was going on.
"We were among the first of 12 LCIs (landing craft infantry) on the beach," he said. "We were on at 11:03 a.m. and off at 11:11 a.m. In eight minutes, we unloaded 200 troops and I understand our executive officer was yelling 'Get those men moving, get those men moving' the entire time.
"It's a good thing the LCM (landing craft mechanical) guys cleared the way for us to land," Laurenzo said.
Asquith was one of those "LCM guys." His craft could carry 60 troops and a Sherman tank. He was one of just four crew members and, as chief mechanic, was responsible for keeping the landing craft running.
Asquith enlisted and went from Dayton to Farragut, Idaho, in 1943 for his first "boat training," which continued at Ames, Iowa; Norwood, Virginia; and Miami Beach.
"We were training all that time, that preparedness made the difference," Asquith said.
Laurenzo, on the other hand, said: "I never had any training (other than radio training). I was about a week in Norfolk, Virginia (in early 1944), before they put the radioman on the LCI 409 in the brig for some reason. So, I was put on the 409. Twenty-four hours later, I was on my way to England to train on an LCI."
One audience member, 14-year-old Toby Johnson of Vancouver, Washington, waited in line to meet the D-Day veterans.
"I really feel honored when I get to meet these veterans," he said. "I am actually shaking the hands of veterans who were in the war. They served our country and I'm really grateful. They were so young. Imagine me if I was one of those guys going off to war. That would be crazy."
For more veterans' stories see: www.themightyendeavor.com.