United States military veterans of World War II are dying at a rate of 348 per day, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.
It stated that of the 16 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the war, only 496,777 were alive in 2018.
However, the remaining World War II veterans, including two local ones, said they remember what they were doing when Allied troops stormed the well-fortified Normandy beaches, codenamed Gold, Juno Omaha, Sword and Utah, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
On that day 160,000 Allied soldiers, supported by 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft, landed on a 50-mile stretch of French coastline, according to the Army’s website. Though more than 9,000 men were killed or wounded, they laid the groundwork for more than 100,000 soldiers to slowly march across Europe to defeat the Nazis.
Although neither Dunwoody resident and former World War II Army artillery gunner Hilbert Margol nor Buckhead resident and former WWII Marine aviator Jim Corr, both 96, took part in the Normandy invasion, each vividly remembers his reaction to the news of the invasion.
Corr, then a captain flying Corsairs, was part of a four-plane group that in June 1945 was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and other medals. He and the three other pilots in his group shot down nine Japanese fighter-bombers which were trying to sink the USS Pennsylvania.
“We were fighting the Japanese on islands in the Pacific when we were informed about D-Day,” Corr said.
“To me, it meant American forces were on the ground in Europe fighting Nazi Germany, while we were on islands in the Pacific fighting the Japanese empire.”
One of Corr’s fondest memories of the war, he said, actually came when he and his flight group buzzed the USS Missouri, which was anchored in Tokyo Bay and on which the Japanese were surrendering Sept. 2, 1945. Corr said he might get thrown in the brig for it but didn’t care because the war was over.
Margol, a private first class with the 42nd Army Infantry Division who manned a 105 mm howitzer, was actually stateside as his division was on maneuvers in Oklahoma on D-Day.
“We were in a wooded area when we got word that the D-Day landings had begun,” he said. “At that moment we said a prayer for the GIs taking part in the landing.”
However, after receiving official word of the Normandy landing, Margol said they would then only be able to get what he called “bits and pieces” of how things were going, primarily through the Armed Forces’ newspaper, the Stars and Stripes.
Margol said, despite the D-Day landings occurring 75 years ago, “memories of what we were doing when we were told of the landings will always be with us, and well they should.”