What It Was Like

Four stories from the Normandy invasion.

Paratroopers from the 82nd and 101st airborne prepare to jump over Normandy on June 6, 1944. (US Army Signal Corps)
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It was the most dramatic day of the worst war in history, and many of the veterans who lived through D-Day would later tell their stories to relatives, historians, journalists, even strangers. Fortunately for the rest of us, hundreds of these accounts are archived in collections located throughout the country. Here’s a sample.

SOURCES: LOC: Veterans History Project, Library of Congress; RWN: R.W. Norton Art Foundation Oral History Project; WVHP: Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project, University of North Carolina at Greensboro. (Excerpts have been condensed and edited for clarity.)

Donn G. Thompson
466 Bomb Group, European theater. B-24 bombardier

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(Allied forces after the landing in Normandy. (National Archives))

D-Day morning was wild, it was wild. Airplanes everywhere! We came close to running into several of [our own airplanes] that morning, but we broke out and were going over the channel and boy! All the ships were down there.

….I didn’t get to bomb [my first target] because there was cloud cover and we had to bomb on [following the lead of] a radar ship. We got in behind him and we bombed on him. We went back to the base and landed and started to get briefed for another mission. They refueled and re-bombed our airplane and we went on our second mission that day. It was for an inland target, a railroad I think, intersection. We bombed that and came back, and then we thought we were through, and they called us back and said we got another bridge that wasn’t knocked out the first time around. We’d go get that one. The flight surgeon put a benzedrine [tablet] in our mouth and had us swallow it while he was right there. Everybody on the crew got a bennie to keep us awake. We got in the airplane and started the engines and everything. Then they scrubbed the mission because one of the bomb groups going after their target had knocked the bridge out and we didn’t have to go. So all of us went back to quarters and we’re lying there, eyes wide open. We couldn’t sleep. We cussed that flight surgeon all night long! The enlisted men were just the same way. They said, “We couldn’t sleep at all.” But that was my first dope, and my last. (Source: RWN)

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