All at once, Charles Shay tried to stanch the bleeding from a ripped-open stomach, dull the pain with morphine and soothe the mind of a dying fellow American army medic. It was a tall order for a 19-year-old who had just set foot on the European mainland for the first time.
But nothing could have prepared him for what happened on June 6, 1944, on five cold, forbidding beaches in northern France. It was D-Day, one of the most significant 24-hour periods of the 20th century, the horrifying tipping point in World War II that defined the future of Europe.
That morning, Shay could not yet fathom what the event would ultimately mean. He was more concerned with the bleeding soldiers, body parts and corpses strewn around him, and the machine-gun fire and shells that filled the air.
“You have to realize my vision of the beach was very small. I could only experience what I could see,” he told The Associated Press, speaking from the now-glimmering Omaha Beach, where he landed 75 years ago.
International leaders will gather again this week to honor the dwindling number of D-Day veterans. U.S. President Donald Trump is set to join a commemoration Wednesday on the southern English coast in Portsmouth before traveling to Normandy and the U.S. cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, which stands on a bluff overlooking the English Channel where some 160,000 made the perilous D-Day crossing.
There, Shay plans to be among the crowd Thursday to welcome Trump as he pays homage to 9,388 dead Americans, most of whom lost their lives on D-Day or in the aftermath of the Normandy offensive.