Yesterday marked the 69th anniversary of D-day, the largest amphibious invasion in history and the beginning of the end for the Axis Powers. After 160,000 US, British, and Canadian troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and secured a foothold for the Allies, war photographer Frank Scherschel surveyed the French town's nearly complete destruction. Only a dwindling number of veterans witnesses the attack, but these unusual color photos bring us a bit closer to the action. Check out the full gallery of architectural annihilation over at Time Life.
My Great Uncle Ralph Benavides was an Army medic who landed at Normandy on D-Day. We was pushed overboard while exiting the landing craft and lost his rifle, medical bag, and helmet. After wading ashore he scavenged gear from dead soldiers and made his way up the beach, returning fire when he could and yanking belts or anything he could find to tie off tourniquets, still lacking any actual medical gear.
After the beach was secured, he and the other surviving medics set up triage, which was eventually converted into a full-blown MASH.
Apparently, this unit was left behind to get injured soldiers coming back form the advancing front ready to travel back to the fleet's hospital ship. A small German unit captured the hospital, taking staff and supplies. However, these soldiers were all conscripted Wehrmacht, and basically kept the medics as guests, although under guard, for the majority of the remainder of the war. After moving all over France and Germany for the next three years as POWs, they were finally liberated by British soldiers. The Germans who held them surrendered without a shot fired.
After the war, he spent several years in and out of VA hospitals for psychiatric treatments before finally being able to go back to work for Texaco as a surveyor.
My family was in San Antonio visiting him the summer of 1991. He'd never told anyone but his wife, his son and his doctor this story, but that day, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, he told me and my brother. I hope I didn't screw anything up in the retelling. He died in 2002 with full military honors. The friendliest, most gentle, humble and funny old man I've ever known. I can't even imagine him in a war. Even looking at photos of him in uniform, shipping off, coming home (none from the conflict itself), I just can't make that connection.
War is hell. Yup.