The D-Day Dozen


Thirteen interviews by Aaron Elson with World War 2 veterans of D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and the Huertgen Forest. These include two veterans of the famed Big Red One, the 1st Infantry Division, who landed on Omaha Beach; a Ranger who earned a Distinguished Service Cross on Pointe du Hoc, a group conversation with five combat engineers whose battalion was divided between Omaha and Utah beaches; a doctor who was in Bastogne; a veteran of the 4th Infantry Division, and a 101st Airborne veteran whose mother “sent a salami to her boy in the Army,” a slogan made popular by Katz’s Delicatessen in New York City.

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Leonard Lebenson, a member of Headquarters Company of the 82nd Airborne Division, went into Normandy on a glider that crashed. Len Goodgal, a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division, was one of only four men to jump from his plane when it was struck by antiaircraft fire and exploded. He landed on the beach at the base of a cliff in the middle of the night, and wound up scaling Pointe du Hoc when the Rangers arrived at dawn. When “Saving Private Ryan” came out, Sam Trinca of the 299th Combat Engineer battalion, was interviewed on television. While he was in a local supermarket, a woman recognized him and said “You’re the guy who peed in his pants on Omaha Beach.” “Some did a lot worse,” he responded. Vincent McKinney was watching the 50th anniversary of D-Day ceremonies on television at his home in Rio Rancho, New Mexico, with his son, who noticed that his dad face was turning red with anger when then President Clinton introduced a veteran as the first American to set foot on Omaha Beach. His father had never talked about the war, and his son asked why he was getting upset. McKinney had always thought he was the first American to set foot on Omaha Beach. Jack Prior, a doctor in the 10th Armored Division, was about to enter the building where Balgian nurs Renee LeMaire, the “Angel of Bastogne,” was tending to the severely wounded patients, when one of his men asked Jack if he knew what day it was. He didn’t, and the colleague told him it was Christmas Eve. So before entering the building next door, the two men shared a drink from a bottle of champagne the medic was saving. Just then a plane flew overhead and dropped a bomb on the building next door, killing most of the people inside, including Renee Lemaire, the real-life nurse on whom a character in “Band of Brothers” is based. These and other stories are among those you’ll find in this compelling collection of interviews by oral historian Aaron Elson


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