June 6, 1944: D-Day.
They are in their 90s now, those once-young men from the Mahoning Valley who landed on Normandy’s beaches in France 70 years ago and who helped change the course of World War II in Europe.
Facing zeroed-in German artillery, mortars, and small-arms fire, they overcame gut-wrenching fear of injury and death and the horror of seeing their fellow soldiers bleeding and dying all around them, to establish a toe-hold in German-held France that was the first step in the Allies’ drive across Europe to the German homeland.
It is unlikely many of those young men had any sense of the history of the bloody amphibious assault, dubbed Operation Overlord, that left more than 3,000 American military dead or missing on French beaches code-named Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah and Sword.
The Battle of Normandy is generally considered the turning point for the Allies in Europe.
“We just wanted to survive,” said Felix Bevilacqua of Boardman, one of four Mahoning Valley men who participated in that massive operation.
With Memorial Day events this weekend, they reflected on their experiences 70 years ago and on those who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Don't miss their heart-rending stories in Sunday's Vindicator or on Vindy.com.