WELCOME, N.C. -- Even the man planning the largest amphibious assault in history wasn’t sure it would work.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower was the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. The Allies knew they had to attack the Germans on the continent and drive into Germany to force a surrender. So, in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944, nearly 12,000 aircraft and 7,000 ships began moving more than 150,000 men and their munitions across the English Channel.
For soldiers like DeWitt “Lucky” Wells, it was his first combat action.
He was in high school, in 1943, when: “I was just drafted and woosh! Away I went.”
The Army sent him to England where he trained for Operation Overlord, the official code name of the invasion. The “D” in D-Day is something of a placeholder – it doesn’t mean anything other than being the first letter in day.
When Wells was coming into Utah Beach on the landing craft, “I didn't think I'd ever get to shore, because of German planes overhead were bombing and strafing us when we were on ship before we went in,” he said.
But his landing craft got within about a hundred yards of the beach and he and his comrades made their leap into the water.
“We just went waist deep, got on shore and laid down with our rifles cross this way here and walked ashore on our stomachs until we got where we could stand up,” he said.
Although it was Lucky’s first invasion, Bob Benbow was a veteran.
“Normandy was my fourth invasion,” said Benbow, a Quaker who grew up in Greensboro. He landed at Juno Beach, several miles to the west of Omaha, where the fiercest fighting was for the Americans.
“I went back to Omaha Beach six days after the invasion and they hadn't picked up a person. Everyone was on the beach, laying there, dead,” Benbow said.
It is that kind of heroism that inspires NASCAR legend Richard Childress to honor veterans every month at his racing compound in Welcome. But the day before the D-Day anniversary, he brought hundreds of veterans in – including 57 from World War II – to celebrate their sacrifices from so many years ago.
“None of us would be here if it wasn't for the sacrifices of ever man and woman in this room today,” Childress told them. “America - we've got the greatest country on earth.”
Sixteen million American men and women wore the uniform, during World War II. The federal government estimates there are only about 400,000 still alive, today. Hear from two of them, in this edition of the Buckley Report.