NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – As America pauses to remember those who died fighting for our freedom, a special anniversary has come around this Memorial Day.
The invasion of Normandy on D-Day changed the course of history, but there are few World War II soldiers still alive to share their memories, reports CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.
The event has been depicted so vividly by Hollywood, you can almost imagine what it was like to be among the Americans, British and Canadians who stormed Normandy 75 years ago.
For 95-year-old John McHugh, he doesn’t have to imagine it. He lived it.
“It’s hell day, it really is a hell day,” he said. “Scared stiff, petrified and running like hell… It was a lot of bodies around, I didn’t want to be one of them.”
At 20 years old, right out of a Bronx high school, he found himself in the epic invasion that changed the course of the war.
On June 6, 1944, saying his prayers, he crawled the beach under heavy Nazi fire and into history, defeating Adolf Hitler.
“We went up against a great army, but we won out, and he’s gone, we’re here,” said McHugh. “I hope the guys that didn’t come back feel it was worthwhile.”
“He’s always been my hero,” said son John McHugh Jr. “I’ve always had to pull stories out of him, his generation is so humble and selfless… The whole world would have changed had we not invaded France.”
“This is an American flag that was flown over the capitol in your honor,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi in making a presentation to McHugh.
Souzzi will be is heading to France for 75th anniversary ceremonies.
“The sacrifice of men like John McHugh was for freedom and democracy, and freedom and democracy is politics and government, and politics can’t be so small and petty and cynical,” he said. “It’s not worthy of the sacrifice of people like John McHugh.”
A Long Island contingent is already in Normandy where there is a special connection: 9,300 Americans buried including Theodore Roosevelt’s son.
“These veterans who made such a sacrifice defending our western civilization successfully, they want us to be able to pass down to the lessons of this history to next generation so that they understand the costs of freedom and democracy,” said Cathey Soref, executive director of Operation Democracy.
As for the lesson learned by history, McHugh is succinct.
“Stay out of wars,” he said.
On Monday, McHugh will lead the Whitestone Memorial Day parade. His street will be named in his honor on D-Day.