D-Day, June 6, 1944. The greatest armada in the history of the world descends on the beaches of Normandy.
Preparing the way were the paratroopers and the engineers.
Private Daniel Klute of Amsterdam parachuted behind enemy lines in the early morning hours and immediately found himself facing a startled German soldier. He waved his rifle and addressed him in a universal language.
The German cheerfully obeyed and Klute walked away in search of his unit.
Regulations prohibited his simply shooting his adversary. Paratroopers were not to engage the enemy until they had organized themselves into a fighting force.
Fellow paratrooper PFC Harold Premo was not so lucky. The Malone, NY native who had been living with his sister on Florida Avenue when he was inducted was Amsterdam's first Supreme Sacrifice on the Longest Day.
Eighteen-year-old Richard Dantini from the South Side was in the first wave to hit Omaha Beach, the ones who got chopped to pieces by the mortar and machine gun fire of the Nazi defenders. He was with the famous “Company A”. Of the 197 men on the landing craft, only 18 were still fighting two hours later. All of the officers were killed or wounded in the first ten minutes. Seventy per cent of the casualties came in the first half hour.
“Scared? Oh my God was I scared! Everybody was. Men were praying, crying, getting sick. It was hell,” he remembered vividly almost half a century later.
The Germans opened fire on them when they were still five hundred yards from shore. Dantini was the third man out. The first, a lieutenant, took a round in the neck and died in the surf. Dantini fired three or four clips from his rifle, then took cover behind a concrete obstruction in the water. When he finally noticed the live floating mine attached to it he decided to take his chances and headed for shore.
He only made it twenty or thirty feet before being hit the first time, a shot to the arm. He kept going.
Once on the beach, he bent over to help a wounded comrade. They came under machine gun fire and the friend and a medic died right there, while Dantini was hit in the right leg.
The longest hour and a half in his life had passed since exiting the landing craft. The tide was coming in, and the Germans shot at anything that moved.
“I started to crawl-- I tried to get up, but I couldn't. And then I got hit for the third time – the worst – it was in my left leg.”
His body resembling bloody swiss cheese, he managed to crawl behind a rock at the end of the beach before losing consciousness.
The next day, after the fighting had moved inland, a crew assigned to recovering the bodies of the dead found him alive, barely.
After thirteen months of recovery in military hospitals, he made it home and resumed the life of a neighborhood grocer.
Private John Schilling of Tribes Hill, 19, a graduate of Wilbur Lynch High School and a member of an anti-aircraft machine gun unit, died on the beach, as did Technical Sergeant Nicholas Foti of Gray Street.
Foti, 23, had been in the Infantry since 1939, and wounded in North Africa. He returned to action in time to take part in the decisive push on Troina in Sicily. When asked to compare his experiences at the time, he told a war correspondent, “I don't know if there is any particular difference between here and Tunisia, but I do know we didn't have to do so much walking and climbing in Tunisia.”
D-Day was his last day.
Being General Eisenhower's barber didn't exempt Nick Fratangelo from service on D-Day, and his future competitor Arthur Iannuzzi was there as well.
The son of an American citizen, Iannuzzi's father brought him to America from his native Italy on the last boat the Mussolini regime allowed to leave for the United States before they declared war on us. He was sixteen. Two years later, having safely avoided the Italian draft, he received his greetings from President Roosevelt.
He was part of a cannon platoon. Their orders were to remain off-shore until the beach had been cleared. As it happened, that took three days. Stranded on a small launch, artillery fire landed all around them.
“When you have the big guns, it's very easy to get hit, so they don't send you in until near the end. When we got there, though, there were a lot of wounded and dead soldiers. The beach was covered with them. I was scared and thinking, 'I don't want to die.'”
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