HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – 73 years ago this week, the Allied forces set sail from Portsmouth, England, for Normandy, France, to invade Nazi territory in Europe.
History trumpets D-Day as a sweeping victory for the United States and our allies. But it’s easy to forget, thousands of young men died doing so and the ones who survived would be forever changed.
Society wouldn’t call them celebrities. But on this night, that’s how they were treated.
“Three years of my life. But, I’m proud I gave it to my country. I’m proud of that,” says Vince Rowell, a D-Day survivor.
Young and old, clutching autograph booklets, went around the room for signatures of heroes.
“There’s never a day that goes by that I don’t think of something of the war,” says Rowell.
95-year-old Ross Malone, Jr., is one of those heroes.
“You could see all the bodies out there in the Harbor and that still bothers me now,” says Malone Jr.
So is 93-year-old Vincent Rowell.
“Sailor that was operating says, ‘When I strike bottom, you gotta get off.’ And so we were picking up machine gunfire before we ever got off that thing,” says Rowell.
Even 73 years later, Vince, as his fellow soldiers called him, can vividly remember arriving with the morning tide.
“I waded in water up to here with my rifle over the top of my head pushing bodies aside. The water in the English Channel is a beautiful, beautiful blue. The water was as red as that flag behind you there,” he says.
It’s not just painful images. He recalls heartbreaking screams, too.
“Never forget so many men saying, ‘Mama, mama come and help me. I need you mama.’ That lives with me all my life,” says Rowell.
He says it never gets easier telling his story and it probably never will. But for as long as we have these living heroes to remind us of what they endured, the least we can do is listen.
“That’s the debt we all had to pay. No kidding around,” says Malone, Jr.
In addition to sharing their stories, Tuesday night’s event was also a fundraiser for Forever Young Senior Veterans who grant wishes for combat veterans over the age of 65.
If you’d like to learn more about their projects or even donate, you can go to their website.