D-Day: The 70th anniversary of a day that changed the world

D-Day
D-Day
Chris Togneri
| Thursday, June 5, 2014, 11:03 p.m.

They made up the greatest armada the world has ever seen — nearly 156,000 troops, about 5,000 ships and more than 11,000 airplanes — all headed to a 50-mile stretch of beach in northern France.

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower told Allied forces in World War II they had embarked on a “great and noble undertaking,” a “crusade,” but one in which the enemy would fight savagely.

“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle,” he told them.

The first Allied troops to see action were British and American airborne divisions. They dropped behind landing sites to seize exits, capture key locations and block German counterattacks. Then assault troops hit the beaches.

More than 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded on D-Day, June 6, 1944 , according to Army figures, with the Americans on Omaha Beach suffering the heaviest losses — roughly 6,600 dead or wounded. But by June 7, the Allies established a foothold in France. Within a year, the Third Reich would be in ruins.

Seventy years later, survivors of that day still can hear artillery fire and see the bodies of their fallen comrades. They remember fear and bravery, courage and loss.

•••••

At first he insists he was not afraid. Then he starts remembering.

Army veteran Paul Joseph Klimovich - dressed in camo, sitting in his recliner with his war medals nearby - slowly summons details from that day.

He recalls how he and tens of thousands of Allied soldiers boarded Higgins Boats in England, and cut a straight line through choppy water toward a heavily fortified French coast thick with Nazi soldiers.

Paul Klimovich, 92, a World War II Army veteran talks about his participation in the D-Day landing and displays his release papers and a picture of himself when he was in the service.

He remembers the ramp lowering, the frigid water, the weight of his gun held above his head to keep it dry. He recalls mine explosions, bullets ripping through air and water and flesh, good men dying. He returns in his mind to the chaos and terror and truth of that day.

"I was scared," Klimovich, 92, of Oakland finally admits. "We all were. But we had a job to do. We had to get through. We had to."

Veterans who were there talk today about the lessons they learned, as men and as Americans.

For Klimovich, who stormed Utah Beach as a 22-year-old private with the Army Infantry, First Scout, the lesson was simple:

"Stick together. Even when you're scared, stick together. Then you can do it."

He smiles. An American flag hanging in his window reflects off his glasses.

"There were so many times I almost died," Klimovich said. "I took a lot of chances there. I thank God because there were so many close calls. We were pretty lucky. But we stuck together and we did it."

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