Friday, June 6 marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day, which began the invasion of Europe that would eventually topple Nazi Germany and end World War II.
It was—and remains—the largest amphibious assault ever made; 150,000 men took part. One of them, John L. “Jack” Burke shared his memories of that day with ABC 8News.
Burke is on the right in the 1944 photo at right, flanked by pals in the Army’s 5th Ranger Battalion. They were training in England for the invasion of Europe.
“When we went in, we were told we’d have light resistance,” Burke said.
Just the opposite was true on D-Day. As the largest invasion force ever assembled approached the Normandy beaches in France, bad weather had prevented bombers and battleships from knocking out enemy positions.
“Rough. Seas were very rough. We were taking on water, had to bail it out,” Burke said.
When he hit Omaha Beach, the Germans were waiting.
“They had fire that was flanking fire on the beach. So, when you went in, they’d catch you coming in off the landing craft, and you’d see the guys dropping as you were going in, they were in the water hitting the beach,” Burke said. “And they had 88’s and mortars and screaming Mimi’s, Hedgehogs and spikes and mines on top of them if you hit them, and landmines up on the hills and whatnot.”
None of the Allied troops landed exactly where they were supposed to when they were supposed to. Few achieved their objectives on time.
“What could go wrong did go wrong,” Burke said. “On D-Day, our primary mission was to knock out the guns on top of Point du Hoc. We got up to the top of the cliffs, the Vierville Road, and that’s as far as we went, D-Day and D-Plus One. That wasn’t the difficult part. The difficult part was trying to stay alive on the beach.”
More than 4,000 Allied troops died on D-Day. Burke and his unit fought on through France and Belgium and eventually into Germany. He was sent home in February 1945. D-Day was his very first day of combat.
“They say, ‘How did you do it?’ It didn’t take talent, it took luck,” Burke said. “And I just thank God that I got through it.”
Burke got out of the Army in February 1945. His brother, killed in the Ardennes, was one of the brave Americans who didn’t make it home.