'The day that saved the world': D-Day vets reflect, keeping fading memory alive

By Allen G. Breed

Associated Press

Published: Monday, June 2 2014 12:00 a.m. MDT

In this April 17, 2014 photo, Ray Lambert, a combat veteran of the D-Day invasion, stands for a photo at his home in Seven Lakes, N.C. "You can hear the boats hitting the waves, and you can hear guys calling for a medic on those waves," said Lambert when talking about the invasion.

Gerry Broome, Associated Press

SEVEN LAKES, N.C. — Seventy years later, Ray Lambert is still haunted by waves.

Listening to the waters of Lake Auman lapping against the dock behind his pine-shaded home, the 93-year-old is transported back to a beach on the northern coast of France. With a faraway look in his eyes, Lambert is suddenly a young soldier again, racing frantically among the wounded and dying as German rockets on the cliffs above erupt with tongues of fire and a sound "like women screaming."

"You can hear the boats hitting the waves, and you can hear guys calling for a medic on those waves," the retired bank director says. "And I still, after all these years, I wake up at night sometimes, thinking about the guys ..."

It is, he says, "as if the waves are telling me stories that I already knew."

They are stories of D-Day — June 6, 1944.

That stormy morning, 156,000 Allied troops crossed the English Channel and into the maw of Adolf Hitler's killing machine. The assault by 7,000 ships and landing craft along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast remains the largest amphibious invasion in history.

Lambert, a combat medic, was with the 1st Infantry Division, which accounted for more than half of the 32,000-strong U.S. force that landed on Omaha Beach. Of the more than 16,000 members of the "Big Red One" who staggered out of the landing craft, 3,000 were killed, wounded or captured. Today, only Lambert and a couple dozen others are known to remain.

Many of those who survived that "longest day" have felt compelled over the years to bear witness for those who didn't make it. As their own candles begin to falter, that need burns fiercer than ever.

Some don't trust future generations to keep that flame alive.

"They don't talk about it in schools," says 92-year-old James Krucas of Racine, Wisconsin, whose actions earned him the Silver Star. "In 20 years, there will be no veterans around to tell them this was the day that saved the world."

After months of planning and waiting for the right conditions, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower gave the green light to "Operation Overlord." The plan was to land 133,000 American, British and Canadian troops on five Normandy beaches, code-named Gold, Juno, Omaha, Sword and Utah.

The attack was supposed to have commenced on June 5, but rain and high seas in the English Channel forced planners to push things back a day. The night before, at Cottesmore Airdrome north of London, PFC Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr. and the other members of H Co., 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne were all geared up when they got the word to stand down.

The paratroopers were disappointed, said the retired architect from Horsham, Pennsylvania. But late on the 5th, the order came to assemble, and soon the sound of planes all winding up their engines simultaneously was like thunder.

As the Douglas C-47 carrying him and his 21 fellow paratroopers moved over the Channel, Cruise looked down to see the outlines of thousands of ships, "all sizes and kinds," on the water below.

Awaiting orders in the troop ships and landing craft bobbing offshore, men read Bibles, played cards and wrote letters home. Others tried to choke down what some were calling the "last supper" of powdered eggs, oranges and little sausages.

"There was a saying going around," recalls Richard Crum of Williamston, Michigan. "'They're fattening us up for the slaughter.'"

Aboard the USS Chase after a sleepless night, the men were given the opportunity to be received by a chaplain. Two lines formed.

"It was about four in the morning, and you could hear a pin drop," recalled Cpl. Bill Falcone, now 94, a former New York City police officer.

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