World War II veteran Paul Jackson, who landed on the beach during D-Day, signs a photograph from D-Day during an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day at the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, DC. (Photo credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)
This day, June 6th, marks the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. Operation Overlord was the largest invasion by sea in history on the Normandy shores of France and was the turning point in World War II by Allied Forces to liberate the continent of Europe from Nazi Germany.
There are so few surviving veterans. The National World War II Museum estimates that by 2036, there will be no living veterans out of the roughly 16 million who served from the United States.
Prolific character actor, Charles Durning, who died on Christmas Eve 2012, was in the first wave of troops to land on Omaha Beach on D-Day and his unit’s lone survivor of a machine gun ambush.
For much of his life, he avoided discussing the harrowing combat experiences that never left him confessing, “There are many secrets in us, in the depths of our souls that we don’t want anyone to know about. There’s terror and repulsion in us, the terrible spot that we don’t talk about. That place that no one knows about—horrifying things we keep secret.”
In 2007, during the National Memorial Day Concert from the West Lawn of the US Capitol, Durning recounted the horror of the landing on Omaha Beach. It was riveting and left the audience in tears.
Durning was awarded a Silver Star for valor and three Purple Hearts. He spent months in hospitals and was treated for psychological trauma. In 2008, France awarded him the National Order of the Legion of Honor.