On a cloudy, windy early morning of June 6, 1944, the largest amphibious invasion in military history began its quest to recapture most of the European continent from Hitler’s control in what has been called as “The Longest Day.”
Operation Overlord stretched along five Normandy beaches, a massive drive to push the Germans back and put them on the defensive as allied troops planned to storm across France and eventually into Germany. The invasion, informally referred to as Operation Liberation by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was immense with 56,115 U.S., British and Canadian troops, 6,939 ships and landing vessels, and 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders. The invasion’s success became a turning point in the war.
Both Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill discussed more than one year before the actual D-Day invasion that an offensive attack on the European continent must drive back Hitler’s army. Operation Overlord began with paratroopers dropping behind enemy lines in the predawn hours, and warplanes and Navy ships continuously bombarding the northern French coast to take out enemy artillery positions. One such ship was a Pearl Harbor survivor, the battleship USS Nevada, which fired on the Germans, trying to take out as many fortifications as it could.
Witnesses also said a long line of LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) and LSTs (Landing Ship Tanks), an amphibious assault craft that landed on the beaches to unload tanks, extended for miles along the horizon toward the British Isles. When the front ramps on hundreds of landing ships lowered, scores of soldiers entered the water and onto the beaches with a barrage of bullets spraying at them. Scores of young soldiers, many of them barely out of high school, died instantly after German machine gun fire mowed them down during the first wave of landings.
Army Pvt. First Class Lynn Bradt, who grew up in upstate New York but now lives in Reno, witnessed the first-day attack from LCI-99, which landed on Omaha beach at H-Hour+1 or 7 a.m. The chaotic scene of soldiers wading to the shore in strong currents and high tide was harrowing to all including Bradt, a member of the U.S. Army’s 5th Division. LCI-99, though, struck an under-water mine and became immobile after Bradt went to shore in a “Duck” or DUKW, an six-wheel drive amphibious vehicle.
During Operation Overlord, 4,126 landing ships and crafts took part in the invasion, which Bradt called the most harrowing experience in his life.
Bullets whizzed by soldiers’ heads to keep the Americans pinned down on the shore until they could reorganize and begin their drive toward a long bluff dotted with German bunkers. Gunfire grew intense as one soldier described it as the rapid striking of typewriter keys on a metal surface. Of the five beaches, Omaha endured the heaviest fighting with an estimated 34,000 soldiers rushing the heavily-mined beach, many of them falling in a swath of German machine-gun fire. More than 2,400 hundred soldiers and sailors died or were wounded or missing on the first day.
“When we stormed the beach at Normandy, some of the Ducks sank, and there is such a suction when they go down that the drivers could not get out and went down with them,” Bradt said. “I was going back and forth from the beach to the ships with cargo. At one point, the bilge pump came on, and I could see water coming into the hold fast. If it gets up the engine, I’m sunk. So I rode up on top of the cowl on the way back to the beach so I could jump off if I needed to. I made it back and drove the duck up onto the beach and pulled the plug to let the water out.”
Once troops scaled the bluff and wiped out German fortifications, they began their drive to Paris by first capturing Saint-Lô, a German stronghold, over a six to eight-week span.
“Omaha was the first battle I was involved in,” said Bradt, who trained at Camp Young, Calif., and Camp Bradford, Va. “After that I was dodging bullets and picking up body parts.”
Meanwhile, Bradt and others ferried supplies from the ships to the shores and even inland in the DUKWS. He remained behind with other drives for eight weeks to undertake the gruesome task of recovering body parts from hundreds of corpses that were strewn along the beaches and returning them to a central point. Bodies were identified for burial, but at the time, they were placed in a ditch but then moved later to a cemetery on the hill.
After his time in Normandy, Bradt drove a truck into Belgium but eventually became embroiled in another incident. Many American soldiers had moved inland, so Bradt and other DUKW drivers used their vehicles as convoy trucks to transport troops.
“Going alongside the hill, I could see woods at the bottom,” he said. “I had an uneasy feeling there were Germans camped in there lying in wait for us.”
Bradt, who enlisted in February 1943 and left the Army in October 1945, put in 33 months fighting the Nazis. Years later when he was working at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, N.Y., one of his fellow workers, a former German tank driver who was, coincidentally, in the same woods. Hitler’s tanks did not attack the advancing allies, a fact that puzzled Bradt.
“Why didn’t you blow our heads off,” Bradt asked his co-worker.
“We couldn’t. We were out of gas,” came the response. “We would have given away our position and the air power would have wiped us out. We didn’t shoot because we were all out of gas.”
Until Bradt left Europe, he drove supplies to the troops.
Bradt departed Europe on a Liberty ship from Marseille, France, in late August 1945, but at the time, their command didn’t tell troops of their destination. Before the ship reached the Strait of Gibraltar, an announcement on the loudspeaker rapidly changed their moods.
“Attention … our destination is New York City,” bellowed the voice.
The soldiers then rocked the ship with applause and hollering. They were sailing home.
After a long career with Kodak, Bradt and his wife Rose Marie, whom he married in 1946, moved to Nevada to be closer to family and to take Jeffrey to the University of Nevada, Reno. For seven years he lived in Hawthorne, a two-and-half hour drive southeast to Reno, because of Hawthorne’s heritage with both the Navy and Army.
“He loved it there,” said Chuck Bradt, a son who lives in Incline Village on the eastern shore of Lake Tahoe.
Chuck said his parents enjoyed living in a military town and became involved in Hawthorne’s community activities such as the participating in the annual Armed Forces Day.
“He loved to wear his World War II cap, and everyone saluted him,” Chuck said.
Six years ago, Lynn suffered a stroke, but Chuck said his father stayed in rehabilitation in Reno and his sisters looked after their mother at a nursing home in New York State. In 2018, Rose Marie, the love of Lynn’s life, died. The Bradts, who had a large family with 15 children and numerous grandchildren, were married for 72 years.
Lynn Bradt, who was accompanied by Chuck on a 2015 Honor Flight Nevada to Washington, D.C.. and then in February 2020 to Pearl Harbor, said he was in awe with the memorials he saw on both trips. During the trip to the nation’s capital, the formal laying of the wreath at the World War II memorial impressed Lynn.
During the five-day trip to Pearl Harbor, the USS Arizona Memorial may have stood out more than the others. Looking at the names of more than 1,000 sailors and Marines killed aboard the battleship on Dec. 7, 1941, affected Lynn.
“He sat there and got quiet for a long time,” Chuck said, as his father remembered comrades who died before President Roosevelt declared formal war against the Japanese.
(Bradt’s youngest son, Jeffrey, transcribed his father’s thoughts on D-Day and the days after until he returned home.)