75 years ago - June 6, 1944 - 156,000 Allied troops on nearly 7000 ships and landing craft and supported by 11,590 planes dropping both bombs and paratroopers, landed on the beaches of Normandy, France. The top-secret invasion of Europe was code-named Operation Overlord, but is more broadly known the world over as D-Day. That day began the battle to free the continent from the grip of Nazi Germany.
23,000 American soldiers swarmed Utah beach under German fire, and among those following the 4th Division ashore was Stewart Swift, a resident of Pawley's Island, S.C. He admitted to being apprehensive, "because we knew there'd be casualties," though not to the extent of those suffered by the 1st Division next door at Omaha beach. But he was confident in the backup given the landing troops by Navy gunfire and Army Air Corps bombers.
Once Normandy was secured in late June, Swift's group moved inland following tank patrols. "We followed the tanks in many, many engagements," he said. Driving one of those tanks was David Derrick of Columbia. Though emboldened by his armored vehicle, he, too, confessed to fear when he first came ashore and saw dead bodies piled up beside the road. "That was pretty touching, you know."
Both men went on to engage in numerous battles such as St. Lo, and both wound up in the Battle of the Bulge, Hitler's last big gamble to break through the Allied lines in December, 1944. Coincidentally, neither soldier was wounded the entire war, though it wasn't because the enemy didn't try, according to Derrick. Speaking of the German marksmen, he said "Hitler had some good, good bankers. They could shoot and they didn't miss the target very much."
Swift and Derrick both expressed pride in serving their country, and advised of the gratitude of their fellow Americans, pushed aside any suggestion that they were heroes. "You had to be lucky to get through a lot of this," recalled Swift. "And I was lucky." He spoke for many of the Greatest Generation when he said, humbly and matter-of-factly, "I'm not a hero. I was just doing what I was put there to do."