Trying To Die

Posted by GVT Admin on May 29, 2024 11:51:07 AM

Honoring those who gave it all, as well as those who remain

As Memorial Day 2024 drew near, this blog interviewed a 98-year-old World War II veteran who landed on Normandy beach with his brother and two high school classmates when he was 18 years old. He was the only one who survived.

WWIIV: "We were more afraid to jump in the cold Atlantic than of getting shot by the enemy. When the Higgins ramp splashed down in that rough sea we just tumbled off with the rest of the troops. My brother was hit the minute he jumped in, but he was behind me and Tommy and Jake, so we didn't see him go down. When we found our footing and stumbled onto the beach, we noticed he wasn't with us. We turned around to look for him and that's when Tommy took a machine gun round through the helmet. Jake and I grabbed Tommy and dragged him out of the water. He was dead but we were just kids and weren't even sure what death was. I can't describe the shock."

GVT: Your brother was wounded too?

WWIIV: "He was dead too. Two other GIs dragged his body out of the water as the enemy fire got really thick. We all hit the beach on our stomachs and began to belly crawl up the beach to get shelter under the cliff. Jake didn't make it. Ten minutes in everyone I knew was dead. I was still breathing, but I felt like I died with them. I was only 18. I went into shock.”

GVT: "How did you survive?"

WWIIV: "It was a miracle, really. I was in shock and angry that I didn't die. I wanted to die with my brother and friends. If they were killed so quickly, I believed it was my duty to die along with them. Later, as I slogged through France with my platoon driving the Nazis out one village at a time, I knew that what appeared to the other soldiers in my platoon as my bravery was really my death wish. Eventually, I was shot through the shoulder trying to run the Nazis out of a small village church, and a doctor in the field hospital took one look at me and sent me home. That made me even angrier. I did not want to be the only one that made it home. It felt dishonorable and disloyal to my brother and friends."

GVT: Did you get help when you got home?

WWIIV: "Yes. I was depressed and not functioning well. I couldn't hold a job. I was drinking. I got in fights because I thought people secretly felt I was dishonorable. I was mad at myself for surviving. Thank God, after about ten years of that, a woman doctor at the VA in Omaha diagnosed my mental illness. I was suffering from one of the first cases that they began to call PTSD. She and an army of therapists worked with me until I finally began to understand that I was a victim of the horrors of war just like my brother and Tommy and Jake."

GVT: "The rest of your life seems to be a tribute to your recovery."

WWIIV: "The rest of my life has been a tribute to those dedicated therapists and social workers who saved me. They helped me see that my survival had a purpose. That I was left alive to contribute to the country that my brother and friends had died to defend. I became a lawyer and eventually served as a judge for twenty-five years. I have always tried to contribute to the proper functioning of our democracy. It's what my brother and friends would have wanted me to do."

GVT: Thank you for sharing your story with us on this Memorial Day. It is important to honor the service of all veterans, not only those who died in combat but also those who survived to continue contributing to this country we all love.


Topics: Veterans Issues, mental health

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