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D-Day Changed 20th Century
News Bytes 06/6/2019 11 Comments

June 6, 1944. Nothing could have prepared 19-year-old Charles Shay for what happened 75 years ago in northern France. It was D-Day, one of the most significant 24-hour periods of the 20th century, the tipping point in World War II.

That morning, Shay couldn’t understand what the event would mean. He was more concerned with the wounded soldiers and the machine-gun fire and shells all around him.

“My vision of the beach was very small. I could only experience what I could see,” he says, speaking from the now-glimmering Omaha Beach, where he landed 75 years ago today.

International leaders gathered this week to honor the dwindling number of D-Day veterans. U.S. President Donald Trump traveled to Normandy and the U.S. cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which stands on a bluff overlooking the English Channel where some 160,000 soldiers made the perilous D-Day crossing.

Shay plans to be among the crowd today to welcome President Trump as he pays tribute to 9,388 dead Americans, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day or in the aftermath of the Normandy offensive.

With the wisdom of his 94 years, Shay knows another war can never be discounted. “Some men cannot get enough of power,” he says. “And it still continues today.”

American soldiers took Omaha and Utah Beaches, but British and Canadian troops made similar acts of sacrifice and heroism on three other beachheads to the east. In all, the invasion covered 50 miles of French shoreline.

Shay survived, but he did not talk about the experience for well over half a century. “So many dead,” he says. “It was difficult to see and absorb.”

Few soldiers in the first wave fully realized the risks of their daring attack. Shay can still recount that day as if it just happened. When the ramp to shore dropped, Shay landed in water up to his chest. Many soldiers were overloaded with equipment. Sadly, they “sank immediately and a lot of men drowned,” he says.

Those who stayed afloat had to face German gunfire. Shay, a medic, sought cover behind the “high portions” of the beach and started treating the wounded. “I happened to look back out to the water,” he says. Many wounded men were lying on the beach as the tide began rising. Without help, they would drown.

“I dropped what I was doing, and I returned to the water,” Shay says. Germans were still shooting at any American who moved under their protected bunker above Omaha Beach. With bullets hitting the sand, Shay started pulling men out of the water. He received the Silver Star for his bravery.

When Shay left the beach late that afternoon, his company had lost dozens of men. But from that moment on, the war moved in the Allies’ favor.

D-Day also started a race against the Soviets to control as much territory as possible by the time Germany surrendered on May 7, 1945. The competition between the Allies and the Soviets set the stage for the Cold War lines that defined Europe for the next five decades.

All these decades later, Shay is back at the same shores, walking across pristine lawns covered with white gravestones and pondering the sacrifice.

“Definitely it was worth it,” he says. “It was a rogue regime that was trying to take over the world, and the people had to be stopped.”

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. — John 15:13

(World War II and D-Day veteran Charles Norman Shay, poses on a dune at Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. Shay was a medic who on June 6, 1944, landed on Omaha Beach, where he helped drag wounded soldiers out of the rising tide, saving them from drowning. For his courage, he was awarded the Silver Star. AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

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Most recent comments

1st Comment

its sad that war has to happen

Emily K

That was a very brave thing that Shay did! I can't imagine what it must have been like to fight in WW2. I'm Canadian, and last summer our family visited Juno Beach in Normandy, France, which is where the majority of the Canadian troops landed. We visited a museum and got a tour of the bunkers. It was really moving to stand on the place where thousands of men gave their lives for the freedom of people living far away from them. Before the visit, D-Day had been quite impersonal for me, but actually getting to climb inside the German bunkers, see where the Canadians landed, hear audio recordings of soldiers sharing their experiences, and see their equipment really made a difference. Also, my Great-Grandpa fought on D-Day, and he survived. So that makes it even more personal.

I think that it is really important to remember the lives of those who risked their lives for freedom.

Lest we forget

Emily K

If any of you visit France, I would very highly recommend going to the beaches and possibly visiting a war museum. The museum we went to was dedicated to Canadians, but there are also museums for Americans.

World War 2

Wow! Imagine fighting in a war when you're only 19! I'm so thankful for all the men who died to help defeat Germany. My great-grandpa fought in WWII also, and he survived.

Oh My!

the greed of man can be so sad,
-money is the root to all evil, this kinda goes with that.......

Wow.... I don't think I would

Wow.... I don't think I would be brave enough to do something like that. Actually, I read in another article in which some of the soldiers during D-Day said that they were sweating blood, you know, like Jesus did before he was arrested? I thought that must mean like they are very scared or very nervous over what would happen. I mean, I would probably have a heart attack if I was to go to war.

Praise God for willing men!

Such a moving story. So sad ; ( I have never been to That beach.........Praise God for all those willing men young and old who put there lives on the line for our freedom. I am glad he was rewarded him ..A Job Well done...

Wow. Shay is a very brave man

Wow. Shay is a very brave man.

@Isaiah B

Maybe the Axis powers weren't in WWII for freedom, but the Allies were.

This is so sad!!!

War is such a tragic thing!!
Three of my great grandpas were involved in WWII. One was a transport pilot, another an officer on a transport ship, and the last was actually in battle on land.

@ Beth G.

That's amazing! We have ancestors that were involved in the Revolutionary and Civil wars.

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