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Norman Grossman spoke with WBUR in 2004, before he went back to Normandy, France, for the 60th anniversary of D-Day.
"I was very lucky to get across the beach," Grossman recalled. "It was a couple of hundred yards, and I just ran across. I saw the machine gunfire, the tracers."
The Brookline native was a 19-year-old private in the 29th Infantry Division.
He was among the first American soldiers to land on Omaha Beach.
If you've seen the film "Saving Private Ryan," you know the landing didn't go as planned. Grossman described what happened:
We thought that we could land on the beach, that the Higgins boat would open on the beach and that the ramp would go down and we would run on out to the sand and then be able to run out across the beach, and we would have resistance but not as much as we encountered. What happened was the Higgins boat couldn't get all the way in. Most of us landed in the water, which was probably waist deep. We had so much equipment; I had to shed a bunch of equipment right away. We had to just throw it away, threw away the gas mask. I kept a little food, my shovel and rifle. It was the only way I could move. And I ran across the beach and onto a bluff. We were pinned down for a couple of hours.
Grossman later wrote a diary about D-Day. Here he is reading from that diary:
We were on the beach about two hours. During that time the shells burst all around us. I saw one shell burst among a group of soldiers just as they were running off the assault boat. I turned my head quickly so I wouldn't see the result. Finally I saw some members of my boat team crawling through a bombed-out pillbox. This served as protection from the machine gunfire covering the sand dunes. I heard bullets whistling over my head as I crawled through.
The ground sloped down a little. About 50 yards behind us was a big hill, [and] the hill was booby-trapped with anti-personnel mines. The fellas at the top yelled a warning as we approached. We went up single file; we knew if the man in front of us didn't get blown up, we wouldn't either.
I didn't see anyone hit a mine but I heard that one of my best friends hit one as he neared the top and was blown all the way down to the bottom of the hill.
Grossman said only about half the 31 men from his landing craft made it to the top of that hill on D-Day. By nightfall, his division had lost more than 500 men.
Grossman was badly wounded in another battle in France about a month later and came home. He recovered and did what so many of the Greatest Generation did — went to college, married, raised five children, operated a clothing business.
Years later, he said he just did what was asked of him during World War II:
For our country, which is the greatest in the world, we'll pay the supreme sacrifice, do whatever we have to do to ensure the freedom of our country. All generations will do that. I remember as a kid people would say World War I veterans used to say, "You guys could never do anything we did." We proved we could do it and I think any generation can. All generations love this country and well they should. Everything that's wrong, it's still got so much that's right.
This segment aired on June 6, 2019.
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- Norman Grossman, a WWII veteran & part of the D-Day invasion, shares life experiences
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