“Many of us had just woke up…if we did sleep, where we anchored at sea when we heard bombing, and incoming shells all around. As I looked all around all I could see were ships everywhere, it was the most awesome sight that I would ever see. One, that to this day I will never forget!”
World War II Veteran Milton “Milt” Staley was like many of his comrades on that day. He was young, inexperienced, scared as all-out hell – yet eager to fight.
“I was 23 years old and months prior survived the mining attack of the SS President Coolidge,” Staley said. “We were going through the Guadalcanal when we hit two mines and had to abandon ship. I survived by climbing down a rope off the side of the ship.”
Months later Staley would find himself on Utah Beach, maneuvering tanks across enemy lines, living in austere conditions and fighting for his survival, for a second time, as part of the 90th Infantry Division.
“We screwed things up a lot in the beginning and it cost us dearly,” Staley said. “We found ourselves soaking wet and sleeping in foxholes just to get a little bit of rest. We were tired but we had a job to do.”
Staley, now 98 years old, has spent the past several years returning to Normandy to commemorate all those who sacrificed their lives for freedom.
“Ten years ago, I didn’t think twice about setting foot back in Normandy,” said Staley. “I was afraid to open up old wounds. But a friend called me back in 2010 and he convinced me to return.”
And Staley is so glad he did.
“The place where I lost so many friends is now a place of healing,” Staley stated. “It feels good for me to commemorate those lost while at the same time laugh and talk with those who survived, like I did.”
Every year during the first week of June, Sainte-Mere-Eglise and the surrounding towns commemorate Operation Overlord and honor those who sacrificed their lives. As visitors walk around towns such as Carentan, Picauville and Saint-Laurent-sur-Mer, or visit the La Fiere Bridge, dozens of memorial sites spread throughout the Normandy area are decorated with brightly colored streamers and balloons honoring those who served in WWII – and especially the ones who made the ultimate sacrifice.
“I know I am 98 years old,” Staley said with a smile, “but as long as I can move around, I plan to continue to visit until I no longer can.”