70 years ago today, news of the massive D-Day invasion of Normandy first came from Germany.
CBS news reporter Bob Trout delivered the news: “Shortly after 1 a.m. Eastern War Time, Columbia short wave listening station heard the Berlin Radio make this announcement, quote: ‘Here is a special bulletin: early this morning the long awaited British and American invasion began.’”
President Franklin D. Roosevelt said a prayer for those in harm’s way.
On the day of this “mighty endeavor” the weather forecast wasn’t good, but Allied Commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower had made the decision. June 6 was the day that more than 150,000 troops would cross the treacherous English Channel.
Charles “Bud” Dasey of Winthrop, Massachusetts, was one of the sailors sent to Normandy. Dasey was a gunner’s mate, second class. His ship, LST-344, was loaded down with Sherman tanks, ambulances, jeeps and men. Now 70 years later, he still vividly remembers how the invasion unfolded.
“We all headed for Normandy and when we got there it was so rough that we had to wait, we couldn’t even land. So we anchored off the coast of France and when [the waves] subsided to a certain extent they unloaded the small boats and everybody headed for shore,” he said.
And he remembers what it sounded like. “I thought at first that it was the ships behind it,” he said. “We had a couple of battleships that fired over our heads inland to try to eliminate some of the activity that was firing back at us, and I can remember thinking these guys behind us, they’d better start raising their guns up high enough, they’re not shooting high enough — the shells are landing, and the guy says, ‘stupid, those are the Germans shooting at us!’”
Dasey was just 19 and already a seasoned sailor. He had served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He later finished his enlistment at Pearl Harbor, but he never forgot the thousands who died while serving with him in Normandy.
Dasey is now 89. In his small condo outside of Boston, he brings out a box packed full of D-Day memorabilia. This is what Dasey calls his “D-Day in a box,” which over the years has grown to several boxes. He uses it for presentations he gives to children at schools and museums.
Its many treasures include a black medal with a tiny swastika that a German prisoner of war gave him. “This is a German purple heart," he said, comparing the German medal to the medal given by the US military to wounded servicemen and women. "German purple hearts came in many different types." He also has a brass colored “cricket clicker” used by paratroopers who landed behind enemy lines on D-Day.
“The way it was operated, you clicked twice and you waited and you were supposed to get two clicks in return,” he said. “If you did, you knew it was one of our guys. If you didn’t you could figure it was a German so you started shooting into the bushes or wherever you heard any noise coming from.”
Dasey’s box also contains hundreds of small pieces that he and his wife have painstakingly made for a 3-D model of the invasion. When it’s assembled, it covers a canvas five feet long and three feet wide.
“A lot of our trees are made out of, when you buy a bottle of aspirin there’s a little piece of cotton inside,” he said. “We took the cotton and we put it over a matchstick and then I put a pin in the bottom and we spray painted it green and the matchstick brown to look like the tree trunk.”
A few years ago, Dasey visited Normandy and the beach he’d landed on back in 1944. He returned home with two last items for his “D-Day in a box:" sand and a photograph of the American cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach.
“When I show this to the kids, what I tell them is all of these guys (and) girls that are under these little white crosses, can’t talk anymore, so I think that they would like me to tell you people what they did here” he said.
And when Dasey’s no longer able to tell them what they did, he hopes someone else will share his “D-Day in a box,” with others, although it is hard to imagine it ever being the same without him.