Remembering D-Day

From the beaches at Arromanches to the deadly cliffs at Point du Hoc to the American Cemetery at Colleville, Sunday was a day to say thank you to the Americans who fought and died for the liberation of Europe.

President George W. Bush in his speech said, "All who are buried and named in this place are held in the loving memory of America. And we still look with pride on the men of D-Day, on those who served and went on."

The shadow of Ronald Reagan's death hung heavily over this ceremony Sunday.

President Bush said, "He always told us that for America, the best was yet to come. We comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this is true for him, too."

Before more than 9,000 white crosses, and old warriors who came back for what is perhaps a final look, Presidents Bush and Chirac declared the alliance between the U.S, and France has - and will stand the test of time.

"America is our eternal ally," said President Chirac, and President Bush noted, "Our great alliance of freedom is strong and it is still needed today."

But even on this solemn day - where the unity that saved a continent 60 years ago was proudly on display - the deep divisions over current conflicts could not be covered over.

President Chirac pointed out, "We must never forget that without a compass, without remaining faithful to the lessons of history, there can be no future."

It was a clear reference to Iraq - a war that has strained the historic transatlantic relationship.

President Bush has urged world leaders to move past their differences. His subtle, but unmistakable message today: America sacrificed to save France, now France must help save America in Iraq.

"America honors all the liberators who fought here in the noblest of causes," said Mr. Bush. "And America would do it again for our friends."

D-Day's success hinged on taking a 6-mile stretch of sand and stone. It was at Omaha Beach, where some twenty four hundred U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded.

For three veterans of the assault's first wave, the memories of that day remain as vivid as ever.

"To tell you the truth," Peter Rubino of New Jersey told CBS News Correspondent John Roberts, "I was scared, but I had a job to do."

Roy Stevens added, "The only thing you could look forward to was getting hurt or getting killed."

And Hal Baumgarten noted, "The beach was an armed camp so it was a suicide wave."

The western edge of Omaha Beach was the objective of the 29th Infantry Division. "A" Company of the 116th Regiment led the way. Forty-six of them were from the tiny farm town of Bedford, Va. Roy Stevens and his twin brother Ray - who'd never left each other's side - enlisted there for the dollar-a-day pay.

Roy Stevens said, "The only thing that separated us was June 6, 1944."

On that same misty morning, a rugged Jewish kid from New York was spoiling for a fight.

Baumgarten said, "I drew a large star of David on my field jacket, because I made up my mind that I was probably going to die." Baumgarten was just 19 with no plans for the future.

For Rubino it was not the Germans to be feared, it was the water of the English Channel.

"Well, I couldn't swim," he explained, "I had two Texans, they were on my side, and they used to call me Dago. 'Dago,' they said, 'you'll have no problem. We'll catch you. Put your arms around us and we'll walk you to where you have to walk.'"

Roy Stevens extended a hand to his brother. But Ray wouldn't take it.

Roy noted, "And after that it dawned on me that he said, 'I'll never make it back.'"

It was 6:30 a.m.

Baumgarten said, "When our ramp went down it was a signal to every machine gun on that beach, and there were a lot of them to open up on our little boat."

Rubino added, "And that's when I really prayed to my mother because that machine gun was really raking."

Roy Stevens' landing craft sank before it reached the beach. He could barely see the battle as he struggled to keep from drowning.

Stevens said, "I just couldn't believe that a company could be butchered up like we were."

Of 170 men in "A" company - only 15 made it past the sea wall.

Rubino recalled, "So one officer says, 'You know, we got two choices - either we stay here or get up the hill and get killed.'"

With slaughter all around them, soldiers who'd never been in combat dug deep - and found the courage to charge ahead.

Baumgarten said, "I always tell people I fought till I ran out of blood."

Baumgarten had his face half ripped apart by shrapnel, but fought on. He was wounded twice more before collapsing in a ditch.

He said, "I'm laying with six dead soldiers, there's German planes going over, there's a German machine gun down the road. I figured we lost. What would you have thought?"

Roy Stevens, who'd been rescued and shipped back to England, finally made it to Omaha Beach four days later. Boats and bodies were everywhere.

Stevens said, "The first cross I came to was my twin brother's cross, and I couldn't believe that. I couldn't believe it could be him. That's not the way it's supposed to be."

It was one of the greatest and most tragic moments in history, when everyday men became heroes, and turned the tide of war.

Rubino said, "There was no qualms about what we had to to do. There was no 'I'm going to duck this' or 'I'm going to duck that.' We had a job to do and we did it to our ability."

Peter Rubino fought his way into Germany. He never did learn to swim. Hal Baumgarten worked as a doctor in Jacksonville, Fla., for 40 years. As for Roy Stevens, he can been seen almost every day lecturing to school groups at the National D-Day Memorial, just a short drive from his brother's grave in Bedford, Va.

And when American paratroopers dropped into the little French town of Ste Mere Eglise, France, the night before D-Day, it became the first town liberated, but it was a bit of an accident.

Retired Cpl. Howard Manoian of the 82nd Airborne tells CBS News Correspondent Tom Fenton, "I landed in the cemetery, then when I realized where I was, I said, 'oh, I'm in the wrong place,' cause there was no cemetery down where we were supposed to land."

Manoian went home to America, but came back to Ste. Mere Eglise to retire. Now he defends the image of the U.S. from his perch in the local bar.

With a smile in his face, Manoian says, "There is a sign over there, 'Don't talk politics with Howard.'"

There was a bond formed between America and Ste. Mere Eglise in 1944 that has never been broken. No matter what America may do elsewhere, this is a town that will never forget what America did for them here.

For Phillip Jutras, the bond began when he bivouaced with the Castel family, Antoinette and Emille.

Jutras spent 20 more years in the army, married and had a family back in the states. But his marriage fell apart, says his daughter Phyllis; he remembered the Castels.

Phyllis says, "He looked them up, found out Antoinette was a widow. In 1972, he went over for good, and the rest is history."

And history became Jutras' life. For thirty-two years, he ran, without pay, the town's memorial to its liberators.

He met Hollywood stars, like Tom Hanks and generals, like Colin Powell, and even presidents.

Phillip Jutras died there exactly two months ago.

As for Howard Manoian, he says, "I will be buried here, if I die here in this country."

In the same graveyard he landed in.

"That's right," he says, "because the town has given me a life."

And a meaning to the lives and deaths of all the Americans who were here sixty years ago.
  • Tatiana Morales

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