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CNN PEOPLE IN THE NEWS
D-Day: A Call to Courage
Aired June 9, 2004 - 02:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special presentation of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS: "D-Day: A Call to Courage."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WALTER CRONKITE, WORLD WAR II CORRESPONDENT: The legacy of D-Day must be remembered as a turning point of the worst war in history, the most costly war and lives in history.
JOHN S.D. EISENHOWER, DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER'S SON: My dad paced the floor by himself, real Hollywood, real dramatic. He finally said, "OK, we'll go."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And as you'd look down, it took your breath. You were looking at a sight no man has seen before or since.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You see the machine gun bullets hitting the water, and you'd see the troops like leaving our boats and wading in towards shore, and every now and then you'd see one of them fall.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The boat on our left blew up. We were covered with wood, metal and body parts and blood. When our ramp went down, it was a signal for almost every machine gun on that beach to open up on the exit to our ship.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Germans didn't believe there was anybody so stupid that would try to climb a 100-foot cliff straight up under fire.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Eisenhower had no plan B. The invasion across the English Channel had to succeed.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Let us all receive the blessing of almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Hi. Welcome to a special edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS. I'm Paula Zahn.
It was the largest invasion force ever assembled, a bold and daring gamble to save the world from Nazi Germany, D-Day, the longest day, the greatest day. Now 60 years later, it remains one of the most pivotal turning points of the 20th century.
Over the next hour, a look at this epic and bloody battle through the eyes of the men who were there. A note: Before we begin, the narrator of our special, "D-Day: A Call to Courage," is Peter A. Thomas, Sr., himself a veteran of the Normandy invasion.
PETER A. THOMAS, SR., HOST (voice over): America 1941, innocent and isolated, struggling to shake off the last years of the Depression. The war raging in Europe, an ocean away.
CRONKITE: Why would we want to get into a war? I mean, for heavens sakes, knowing the cost of war in the blood and in treasure, for heavens sakes, nobody wanted to get in a war.
THOMAS: Nobody, including the Winters family in southeastern Pennsylvania. As Mennonites, they were pacifists.
DICK WINTERS, D-DAY VETERAN: Just about all of them were conscientious objectors. I thought, 'I believe I could be a conscientious objector, too.'
THOMAS: Dick Winters worried less about war and more about money. He worked his way through college digging pole holes and painting power lines. Richard and Edith Winters' only son decided to look to Uncle Sam for a paycheck, volunteering for the paratroopers, but he didn't think he would be in uniform for long.
WINTERS: And I remember looking at the map and thinking, 'We have this Atlantic Ocean between us and them. I hope they can take care of it on their side and leave us alone over here.'
THOMAS: But any hopes of staying stateside were lost on December 7, 1941, the day everything changed.
HAL BAUMGARTEN, D-DAY VETERAN: I was playing in a football game, age 16, on Pearl Harbor day in George Washington High School stadium in New York. After the game, we found out about Pearl Harbor, and all these fellows that were much older than me went right down and enlisted that day.
THOMAS: At 16, Hal Baumgarten was too young to join up and too focused on college plans. It would be a year before he would get his papers.
BAUMGARTEN: I got a notice in the mail, "Greetings, you are going to be part of the United States Army." I was happy about it. I could have asked for an exemption, because on my draft board was my college professor from NYU. And they said, "Why don't you put in for exemption? We'll exempt you. You can keep going to college." It was time to go in. It was time to do my job.
THOMAS: It was time for others, too. Before Pearl Harbor and the draft, Len Lomell managed to graduate from Tennessee Wesleyan College on a football scholarship.
LEN "BUD" LOMELL, D-DAY VETERAN: I knew that war would be there for inevitable, and that sooner or later I'd have to serve. We only had 170,000 men in uniform at that point in time of Pearl Harbor, and we weren't prepared to fight anybody. So, we realized that we would have to get ready to defend our country and do our part in World War II.
THOMAS: After being drafted, Lomell chose one of the more dangerous arms of service, the Rangers, where the pay was good.
LOMELL: I needed all the money I could get to take care of my elderly parents. They were in their 70s, and they needed help to pay the rent and all of the other bills. They had no money. So, I only drew $10 a month for myself. Every other cent that I got went to my parents.
THOMAS: Marvin Perrett, a high school dropout, could barely place Pearl Harbor on a map, but word soon spread that German subs were nearing the Gulf, news that hit home in New Orleans.
MARVIN PERRETT, D-DAY VETERAN: There was doom and gloom over the Perrett household at that moment in time.
THOMAS: But Marvin's father had been wounded by German machine gunfire in World War I and refused to sign the papers. Even so, a day before his 18th birthday, Marvin volunteered for the Coast Guard.
PERRETT: While I was ready, willing and able to go and do my part for my country, still now I wanted to have some odds in my favor of getting back. And I was thinking at the time as a kid that I wanted something like a battle wagon or a cruiser where I knew they had guns, plenty of them, and the bigger the better.
THOMAS: Guns and soldiers were in the making. The United States began gearing up for a two-theater war in the Atlantic and in the Pacific.
CRONKITE: Our Army was a joke before Pearl Harbor forced us to know that we were going to war. Roosevelt tried to gain some preparedness. He said something like, and we're going to have 10,000 airplanes. Well, the whole country laughed -- 10,000 airplanes. Nobody ever heard of 10,000 airplanes.
MARTIN MORGAN, NATIONAL D-DAY MUSEUM: From the time that the United States entered the Second World War on an official basis until the Normandy operation, our ability to produce war material underwent a metamorphosis. It took a lag time of little over a year and a half for American industry to compensate for our state of unpreparedness.
THOMAS: The U.S. had to get its troops ready as well. Training was unrelenting.
LOMELL: Training is so brutal sometimes that you're in pain when you're laying in your bed trying to sleep at night. And you get to feeling so beat up that you think, 'My God, combat must be better than this. Let's get it over with, one way or the other.'
THOMAS: By early 1944, the time came for tens of thousands of American soldiers to begin the journey to the waters edge of the English Channel, the next staging ground of war.
WINTERS: As we were pulling out of the harbor of New York and we passed the Statue of Liberty, you can't help but you're standing there at the rail saying, 'Will I ever see that again?' You're not sure just how this is going to work out. You're hoping that you can return, but you're not too sure you're ever going to be coming back.
THOMAS: When we return, General Eisenhower's agonizing decision.
J. EISENHOWER: It always weighed very heavily on my dad to think of the casualties and the killed.
THOMAS: A decision that would put these men's lives on the line.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to a special PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, "D-Day: a Call to Courage."
THOMAS (voice over): When war broke out in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower was an obscure lieutenant colonel stationed a world away in the Philippines.
J. EISENHOWER: We went to a friend's apartment, my mother and my dad and me, and listened over the short-wave radio, and heard actually in the flesh Chamberlain say that now Britain is at war with Germany.
NEVILLE CHAMBERLAIN, FORMER BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: I am speaking to you from the cabinet room of 10 Downing Street. You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed.
J. EISENHOWER: At that point, my dad said, "Enough of this Philippines. The Army is doing things back home. I want to leave."
THOMAS: December 8, 1941, another fateful announcement.
FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.
THOMAS: Five days after Pearl Harbor, Eisenhower was summoned to the War Department in Washington. His expertise on Southeast Asia was needed in drawing up the battle plans.
J. EISENHOWER: He was working around the clock. He was so busy he couldn't go to his father's funeral.
THOMAS: But early on, the allies decided to focus their efforts on the Nazi threat before fully engaging Japan.
ROBERT H. BERLIN, MILITARY HISTORIAN: The decision had been made actually prior to U.S. entry into World War II that Germany would be first, that the Pacific would be the second theater of operations. So the decision was made that the United States would invade North Africa and take the Germans on there.
THOMAS: Eisenhower, anxious for combat, hoped to leave Washington and command troops in the Mediterranean. In a letter to his son, Ike hinted about his next move.
J. EISENHOWER: It was early June, 1942. I was a new sophomore yearling at West Point. And I got this letter one day. "Dear Johnnie, confidentially, I am soon to leave the United States for an unidentified stay. Naturally, I am anxious to have a few hours with you and say goodbye and have a good talk." And here's the zinger: "P.S.: The bosses are certainly giving me a tough job this time. I'll tell you about it when I see you."
THOMAS: As it turned out, Ike was too busy to make a trip to West Point to tell his son, John, about his new tough job. In 15 months, he had risen in the ranks from lieutenant colonel to commanding an entire theater of war.
From North Africa to Sicily, American and British troops had gained some ground, but never a grip. The allies knew a cross-channel invasion into occupied France would be the only way to stop Hitler's armies.
DOUGLAS BRINKLEY, AUTHOR, "VOICES OF VALOR: D-DAY, JUNE 6, 1944": The coast of France was very much under German control. It was always realized by the Nazis that France was vulnerable, and hence they were armed to the teeth.
THOMAS: While Germany was busy pouring concrete fortresses and laying beach mines, the Americans, the British and the Canadians were amassing along the coast of England, all under the newly-appointed supreme allied commander General Eisenhower.
BERLIN: Some people said the south coast was going to sink into the sea because they are so many Americans there and British forces.
THOMAS: Beyond the buildup of arms and troops, an elaborate deception plan was under way. The aim: convince the Germans the invasion would launch from the most logical place, the Pas de Calais, an easy 20-mile trip from coast to coast, rather than the actual points of invasion, the less-fortified beaches of Normandy, code named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
BERLIN: They employed the London theatrical set designers and builders to build fake tanks, fake landing craft and ships and installations, and convinced the Germans that there was a large force there.
THOMAS: The timing of the invasion was also given careful thought. Low tides were necessary to avoid the German mines, and a full moon would help the paratroopers find each other in the night sky. On June 5, the conditions were to be perfect. D-Day was set -- for the moment. J. EISENHOWER: In the very early morning of June 4, beautiful weather. So, here comes the meteorologist, Group Captain Stagg. And he said, "I have bad news for you. The weather tomorrow is going to be terrible." So, Ike said, "Put it off a day."
BERLIN: Eisenhower had tested Stagg's forecasts before and relied on it. Of course, he was, you know, tired, tense. Eisenhower was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day, drinking buckets of coffee. The strain and tension on him was enormous.
J. EISENHOWER: The next morning in a driving rain, Group Captain Stagg said, "I think maybe I got a little good news for you here. I think we're getting a high coming across the North Atlantic, and I think that I can promise you good weather." So, dad thought it over, and he paced the floor by himself, real Hollywood, real dramatic. And he finally said, "OK, we'll go." And he said, "The second after that, the room was empty."
THOMAS: With that, the gamble was on. The fate of the allied war effort and the lives of tens of thousands would be determined within the next 24 hours on the beaches of Normandy.
BRINKLEY: Eisenhower knew that that day, if they won, he was going to go down forever as a military genius and a man who oversaw the greatest battle. And if we failed, his name was going to be synonymous with the worst kind of failure.
J. EISENHOWER: So, he wrote this note issue in case the invasion failed. And the punchline of it all, "If there's any blame to be attached to this, it's mine alone."
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You are about to embark upon the great crusade toward which we have striven these many months.
THOMAS: Next, the 101st Airborne takes flight. The great crusade begins.
WINTERS: The plane was getting hit, and each time the pilot would throw us a green light to get out, to move.
ANNOUNCER: This is a special presentation of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, "D-Day: A Call to Courage."
THOMAS (voice over): Years of planning had finally come to a head. General Eisenhower made the call. The invasion of Normandy was on. To boost morale for himself as much as for the troops, Eisenhower paid a personal visit to the men he was sending off to battle.
J. EISENHOWER: There is one famous picture where he's talking to paratroopers with their faces blackened and they were ready to go. He's going like this. Well, the picture is that he was saying, "Go get them." He wasn't saying that. But he was talking about fly fishing, you understand. He was talking about anything in the world but the war.
BERLIN: Eisenhower wished them well. They boarded their planes. He stood there watching them until the last plane had gone. And one reporter who was there said he had tears in his eyes.
THOMAS: Just over 20,000 American and British paratroopers took to the sky that night. Their mission: To drop behind enemy lines, to attack German defenses and make the invasion safer for the men who would storm the beaches.
Among the troopers, Lieutenant Dick Winters, the second most senior officer in Company E of the 101st Airborne:
WINTERS: Basically you were saying, 'This is it,' and as a platoon leader you were saying, 'I can't let my men down.' I told them I was saying a prayer, and that prayer just continued on and on and on until they came back and took the door off. And as you looked down, it took your breath. You were looking at a sight no man has seen before or since. You were looking at about 7,000 ships, about 4,000 landing craft, over 250 battleships.
THOMAS: Two hours into the flight, as the planes crossed the Norman coast, clouds obscured visibility just when the pilots needed it most. As anti-aircraft tracers lit up the night, paratroopers jumped into high winds and chaos.
J. EISENHOWER: Because of the winds, they were scattered all over the area. Now, to (UNINTELLIGIBLE) it's enough to tear your hair out, "Where are my troops?" My gosh, the psychological effect it had on the Germans, they thought there were Americans all over the place.
MORGAN: There were cases where paratroopers were dropped almost on Utah Beach. Some were dropped on Utah Beach. Some were even, unfortunately, dropped in the English Channel on the other side of Utah Beach. And for those men, it meant death, because they were carrying equipment that exceeded their body weight.
WINTERS: I was in plane 67, and plane 66 was the company commander's plane. And he had a direct hit, and he went down. Not everybody on board was killed. Pat Christenson (ph) was the next guy to jump. He was right behind me. He's an artist. After the war was over, he came home and he painted his memory. From that picture, it looked to him like I was jumping right into the middle of a burst of fire that we were getting from the planes.
THOMAS: As Winters began his 300-foot descent, strong winds ripped away his equipment bag. In it: all of his weapons.
WINTERS: I can remember watching that bag. That's all my equipment. Watching, watching.
THOMAS: Winters' plane missed the drop zone. He landed in an orchid with only a trench knife and a map. Lost behind enemy lines, his commander's plane shot down, the lieutenant knew he had to take charge of the company. He scrambled to avoid the swarming Germans and assemble what was left of his unit.
WINTERS: And I was fortunate enough to bump into Sergeant Lipton (ph). He had run into this stone marker alongside the road, and it said "Ste. Mere-Eglise." With the help of a map, I knew exactly where I was.
THOMAS: Throughout the night, more paratroopers joined Winters' band.
WINTERS: We were running across dead Germans and dead troopers, and you took their weapon. And that's how you got yourself armed.
THOMAS: At daybreak, Winters' group stumbled onto his battalion's ad-hoc headquarters. With 12 men from his company, the lieutenant was ordered to attack what appeared to be a German machine gun nest.
WINTERS: The men from the scouting mission came back and said, "We better hit them from the flank. We're going to go straight for this machine gun. And it looks like there's a cannon off to the right here."
THOMAS: That cannon and three others nearby were a key part of the German's Utah Beach defense. Winters led his men through a series of lightning attacks. The troopers destroyed the guns one cannon at a time and routed the German artillery men. When the smoke cleared, Winters' men held four demolished cannons and one pivotal German map.
WINTERS: I took one look at that map, and I realized I am looking at the entire defense for the complete Utah Beach! I didn't spend a lot of time looking at it. I just grabbed it up, gave it to one of the men and said, 'Get that back to the battalion as quick as possible.' I think it saved a few lives.
THOMAS: As the paratroopers continued their risky missions behind the lines, allied forces in the channel braced for a bloody slog. Ahead, a daring assault 100 feet straight up.
LOMELL: And we got up to the top, and we then, to our horror and anger, discovered none of the guns were there.
ZAHN: Welcome back to this special edition of PEOPLE IN THE NEWS.
June 6, 1944, D-Day. The invasion of Normandy was on. Despite years of planning, despite an overwhelming force however, the outcome of Operation Overlord was far from certain.
We continue now with "D-Day: A Call to Courage."
THOMAS (voice over): Monday morning, June 5, in the nervous hours before moving out, each soldier in his own way tried to make his peace and prepare for war.
BAUMGARTEN: I drew this big Star of David on my field jacket, with the "Bronx, New York," underneath it. It was my act of defiance. I didn't expect to live through it. I wrote home to my sister, Ethel, who lived in a two-family house with my folks, that when the telegram comes, run down and get the telegram first and break the news gently. I had made up my mind I wasn't coming back.
LOMELL: We left at 9:00 in the morning. The ships would come out of these coastal ports of England to join the big parade, some 5,000 plus ships in this armada.
BAUMGARTEN: Everybody is getting his equipment ready. Some guys are playing cards. They're gambling.
LOMELL: I'm not a gambler, but somehow I got in a poker game with several guys, and I was making money. And about 11:00 at night, one of the noncoms of the Rangers came through and announced that Father Lacy (ph) was going to have a midnight mass.
THOMAS: Lem Lomell skipped the church service and stayed at the poker table. He was feeling lucky. The seas grew rougher and the landing neared. It was Marvin Perrett's job to ferry the soldiers to shore in his Higgins Landing Craft.
PERRETT: We were ever mindful that there are mines on the top of many of those obstacles, assuming we were going to come in on a high tide, which we did not do. At 2:30 a.m., they lowered all boats, and we would pull off the mother ship and form circles.
BAUMGARTEN: When the boats hit the water, they were thrown around like matchsticks. The waves were 10 to 20 feet high. Every man was immediately soaked with the icy cold English Channel water.
LOMELL: The sea was running high and stormy, and it was raining and it was miserable. And we were taking on water over the bow, and our bilge pumps weren't pumping it out fast enough. So, the guys had to bail with their helmets.
THOMAS: As the landing craft headed for shore, Lem Lomell focused on his mission ahead: the destruction of five giant 155 cannons atop the 100-foot Pointe du Hoc.
BRINKLEY: The Pointe du Hoc is a cliff that juts out into the ocean. So, from German guns placed up there, you could cover all of the beaches along there, and it's a very hard place to take over.
THOMAS: Until the Rangers knocked out those big German guns, allied warships and their vital cannons would stay 12 miles offshore, out of the effective shooting range. As the Rangers made landfall, a German machine gunner made it clear Lomell was well within range.
LOMELL: I would see the machine gun bullets on my right side. It burned like the dickens, but I didn't have time to think about it.
The boat leader goes off first, straight away off the ramp. I did the minute I stepped off the ramp I went out of sight. I stepped into water over my head. It was a bomb crater. And the guys helped me out of the water, and we got out of the water. And I could move, and the hell with it. We just went to the ropes and started climbing.
CRONKITE: Our Rangers went up by ropes. They were shot up there by artillery pieces. They dangled down, and they climbed up these ropes with the Germans shooting really fish in the barrel, our troops in a barrel.
LOMELL: There were hits all around. They were shooting at you, the bullets hitting right within inches of you. You could see it hit.
And we got up to the top right through the Germans who were there over to the three gun positions that were our original objective and discovered they weren't there. And we then, through our horror and anger, discovered none of the guns were there. And here we are in the middle of a hornet's nest of Germans, and we've got to go looking for them.
THOMAS: The Rangers found the German guns about a mile inland. Lomell and another soldier crept up to the cannons and destroyed them with silent incendiary grenades.
LOMELL: A whole bunch of Germans came within 20 feet of us. That's how we were in the midst of them. And we're trying to sneak in on those gun positions and destroy the guns. And now, people think, "Well, you were lucky." Yes, we were lucky.
THOMAS: Lomell's poker table luck was intact, but a price had been paid. Half of the Rangers Lomell landed with died on June 6.
LOMELL: The guys that had gone to church that night all were killed, and us that stayed there at the gambling table lived. And I thought that was ironic. And we never forget that, the rest of us.
THOMAS: When we come back, the bloody battle for Omaha Beach.
BAUMGARTEN: I was crying mad; mad, meaning really you get to the point where you go psycho.
ANNOUNCER: We now return to a special PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, "D- Day: A Call to Courage."
THOMAS (voice over): While the Rangers scaled the cliff at Pointe du Hoc, another brutal assault was playing out just a few kilometers to the east. Omaha Beach was a key allied objective. But with overwhelming German defenses, to land in the first wave at Omaha was to step into hell.
BAUMGARTEN: The first thing that we noted, the boat on our left blew up. We were covered with wood, metal and body parts and blood.
When our ramp went down, Clarius Riggs (ph) was in front of me from Tennessee, 6 foot 2, dying to get off and fight Germany. He got machine gunned on the ramp and went face down into the water. I dove behind him. Only my helmet was creased by a bullet. There I was standing in neck-deep bloody water.
It was mostly a fight for survival. Most guys never fired a shot. I fired one shot. Most guys never did. In fact, they were killed in the water, or they were hiding behind the tanks. They were hiding behind dead bodies in the water. They were hiding behind smashed pieces of wood from the assault boats. And they were trying to take cover in the water.
But going across the beach, machine gun spray came from right to left from the bluff. I heard a loud thud on my right front and my rifle vibrated. I turned it over. It was a clean hole in its receiver, which is right in front of the trigger. My seven bullets in the magazine section saved my life, because there was another loud thud behind me on the left, and that soldier was gone.
I looked over to my left and staggering by me without his helmet was Sergeant Clarence Robison (ph) from my boat, a gaping hole in the left side of his forehead. His blonde hair was streaked with blood. He was out of it. Anyway, he staggered all the way behind me to the left, knelt down facing the wall, took out his rosary beads and started praying. And the machine gun up on the bluff to our right cut him in half.
A shell went off in front of me, and I'm about 110 yards from the sea wall. It went off in front of me, shrapnel caught me here, ripped this cheek off, ripped the roof of my mouth out. I had teeth and gums laying on my tongue.
THOMAS: Hal Baumgarten made it to the sea wall at the end of Omaha Beach. His run lasted 20 minutes and covered the length of six football fields. While pulling another wounded soldier to the sea wall's relative safety, a second shell fragment gashed the young private's head. Shortly after a medic bandaged his wounds, Baumgarten stumbled across his best friend's lifeless body.
BAUMGARTEN: I started to cry when I saw my buddy. I used to tell my officers, 'I'll never be able to kill anybody. I never went hunting. I never killed an animal. I would never be able to kill a human.' The officers used to tell me, "Don't worry, when you get into combat, you'll kill." And they were right. You get -- I was crying mad, I call it; mad, meaning really you get to the point where you go psycho more or less. You want to kill.
I got together with 11 other guys, all wounded. I call them now 'the walking wounded.' We went up the bluff, and we hit up finally with some Germans behind a -- in a little low-walled farm yard. And they were firing at us. The fight ended with a hand grenade that we threw. And when we moved on, there were only eight of us left.
THOMAS: As nightfall set in, a landmine badly injured Baumgarten's foot. It was his third wound. As he struggled to keep pace with his comrades, a German machine gun ambushed the group. Baumgarten was hit yet again in the face. Blood concealed his Star of David as he slumped over his dying cohorts.
BAUMGARTEN: I'm laying there on top of these guys, because when I came over, I fell on top of them. You know, I had just got wounded. And there was moaning, groaning, "Help me, Jesus," and then all of a sudden silence.
So it gets close to 1:00 in the morning, and I look up. I thought I was hallucinating. I thought I heard, "Don't worry, Yankee boy, you're going to be all right." But in later years I found out it was a German patrol coming down the road looking for cigarettes, and they saw the one guy alive, and they didn't kill me.
THOMAS: In Baumgarten's dark hour, hope was not far away.
BAUMGARTEN: At 3:00 in the morning I'm looking up at this big moon, and it was a tremendous moon. I saw the silver lead of an army ambulance. I took the submachine gun, never fired in my life, aimed over the ambulance, and I fired a burst. They stopped, came out with their hands up. They looked down. They saw it was one of their own.
THOMAS: On the morning after D-Day, Hal Baumgarten lay on the beach awaiting evacuation from Normandy. Medics were tending his wounds, but even then the soldier wasn't out of danger.
BAUMGARTEN: A sniper or snipers opened up on us from the bluff of Saint Laron Sumeir (ph). They also put a bullet through the Red Cross and the aid man that was taking care of us. They started bumping off the wounded GIs. When they came to me, they put a bullet through my right knee.
At 3:00 in the afternoon, I was evacuated off Omaha Beach by four Navy men, who picked up my stretcher, put me out on an assault boat, put me out on the deck, and I looked up and I saw this huge U.S. flag. Then I realized that we hadn't lost.
THOMAS: When we come back, how D-Day changed history and changed lives.
CRONKITE: As Ike and I finished our little tour, we sat there on the wall, and I asked him his thoughts as we came out of that vast cemetery.
ANNOUNCER: Welcome back to a special PEOPLE IN THE NEWS, "D-Day: A Call to Courage,"
THOMAS (voice over): Within two days of the allied landing, the beachheads were secure, but the battle of Normandy raged on for three more months, and the war in Europe almost another year.
BRINKLEY: The war does not end because of D-Day. In fact, bloodier carnage is just around the corner at the Battle of the Bulge and then, of course, the march to Berlin. But it was really the beginning of the liberation.
THOMAS: Twenty years after D-Day, the former commander revisited Normandy with Walter Cronkite. The man who ordered the invasion still carried the burden of lives lost.
CRONKITE: I asked him his thoughts as we came out of that vast cemetery.
DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Walter, this D-Day has a very special meaning for me. On D-Day, my own son graduated from West Point. But on the very day he was graduating, these men came here -- British and our other allies and Americans -- to storm these beaches for one purpose only: Not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom.
CRONKITE: D-Day must be remembered as a turning point of the worst war in history, the most costly war in lives and history. But I'd prefer, really in a sense, that it be remembered with the sacrifices it took to win it.
And the foolishness of war, the ridiculousness of war, the ridiculousness of so-called civilized people killing each other, spending billions of dollars to build weapons that will kill more people more efficiently, murder en masse, there's got to be -- there's got to be a devotion to peace like we've never had before.
THOMAS: Peace the world over has always eluded humankind, but the men who fought on D-Day, those who returned home, went on with their lives and found a certain peace, however large or small.
PERRETT: Just to walking this thing brings back all sorts of memories for me. I have often said that when that recruiter back in New Orleans handed me that envelope and sent me off that very day that he changed my life drastically at that moment. For 60 years I've been looking for that recruiter, and if I ever find him, I'm going to shake his hand for making a man out of me.
LOMELL: Well, I had done my part, and I was out now to take advantage of the GI bill, get more education, and start climbing the ladder of success financially and otherwise. I was so happy to get out of the Army and get on with my life and all my plans and all my dreams.
BAUMGARTEN: I got discharged February 12, 1945. And February 14 I was back in the classroom at New York University taking, of all things, German. I was taking chemistry and biology. I got all A's. THOMAS: And for Winters, a prayer he said the night of D-Day has been answered.
WINTERS: Thank you for helping me get through today. I hope to get through tomorrow. And if I live through this and go home, all I ask for is that I would like to find a quiet place and find some peace and quiet.
BRINKLEY: It's June 6 out of all of the World War II dates that we have to pause and honor the men that died that day. When you walk the beaches of Normandy and you see the white crosses that are there, these are people that put their life on the line at that moment, and we are forever in those veterans' debt.
PERRETT: I guess I rather felt that if freedom is worthwhile living for, it has to be worthwhile dying for.
BAUMGARTEN: I don't consider myself a hero. I consider myself a survivor.
LOMELL: We weren't heroes. We were just doing our jobs, and we survived. We were lucky. But there were an awful lot that weren't lucky. That's the way it goes.
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