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80 years later, veterans reflect on D-Day

by BILL BULEY
Hagadone News Network | June 6, 2024 1:00 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — When David Morgensen reflects on D-Day, one thing comes to mind.

“Ordinary men and women did extraordinary things," the Navy veteran said. 

Today is the 80th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944, when 160,000 Allied troops, nearly half from the United States, landed on the beaches of Normandy and opened a second front against Nazi Germany. 

It was a turning point of World War II and was the beginning of the end for Germany, but the price was high. 

At least 4,414 troops were killed, about 2,500 Americans, and another 5,900 were listed as missing or wounded “as Allied forces broke through the Nazis’ heavily fortified ‘Atlantic Wall’ to secure a foothold in Northern Europe,” the Associated Press reported.

D-Day is considered one of the greatest military achievements in war.

Morgensen and fellow VFW Post 889 in Coeur d’Alene veterans Bob Martin and Paul Mahlow shared their thoughts on D-Day over a cup of coffee with The Press.

“It is, as Dave said, the regular guy, citizens, answering the call of a nation,” Mahlow said. “The normal citizen responded.”

Mahlow said after Pearl Harbor, there was no question of need, and the nation responded immediately.

“This nation gives you so much. When it calls, you try to answer,” Mahlow said.

Morgensen nodded in agreement. Today, he’ll think of those who died on D-Day and what they went through.

“We stepped up,” he said. “It seems like for every conflict to keep the country free, we step up.”

Martin said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Expeditionary Force Supreme Commander, had to make a tough decision, considering bad weather, on whether to proceed with Operation Overlord.

He did, and the impact was felt worldwide. It changed the course of World War II and the future of America.

“As it turns out, the Lord was with us, and we won,” Martin said.

He said that the Allied forces, with great planning and creating fake soldiers and tanks, fooled Germany into believing the invasion was coming at Pas de Calais. 

“To me, that was a brilliant stroke of intelligence,” Martin said. “It was absolutely crucial."

“There’s no argument that if the D-Day landing had not occurred the war could have been extended indefinitely,” Martin continued. “It had to be done. There was no more waiting.”

But the fighting that followed until Germany surrendered May 7, 1945 was horrific, Martin said. Nearly 20,000 Americans were killed in the Battle of the Bulge. All told, about 150,000 troops were killed in Europe.

Still, America's resolve to win the war remained strong.

“It illustrates the valor of our troops and the courage of our leaders at that time,” Martin said. 

“It reflects the patriotism and courage of regular citizens who responded to the call,” Mahlow added.

Many American troops who went on D-Day likely knew they wouldn’t survive. Yet, they carried out their duty. Martin is not surprised. He said during his service, he saw young soldiers charge into machine fire to help a friend.

He has witnessed bravery in action.

“It was demonstrated then, it was demonstrated in World War II, and I think it was demonstrated all the way back to our history as Americans, freedom is number one,” Martin said. “We’ll negotiate, try to maintain peace, but in the end, I think it’s in the DNA. Americans are patriots at heart.”

Mahlow credited the foundation of values children were raised with back then, God, family and country, as instilling them with what seems today like unbelievable courage when they grew into young men and women.

“The freedoms we value are worth the price. D-Day demonstrates a willingness to pay the price. And whatever that price may be, people will step up to pay,” he said.

Martin used the word “sacrifice” often as he spoke about D-Day, from those who stormed the beaches to the paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines. They deserve the thanks of Americans today, he said.

“D-Day basically saved the world,” Martin said. 

Morgensen agreed D-Day was marked by sacrifice of many, not just for the freedom of their country, but other countries.

“Our nation is so much better because of it," he said "Without it, we wouldn't be here today.”