D-Day veterans share their story, 75 years later

Two veterans recount their experiences at Omaha beach when Allied forces invaded German-occupied France.

SHARE D-Day veterans share their story, 75 years later

Ray Wagner’s landing craft was sinking in the English Channel. So were about a dozen others around him.

Wagner, an Army private, was crammed in the ship with 50 other soldiers, approaching Omaha beach in Normandy.

It was D-Day, June 6, 1944, and Wagner felt lucky — he knew how to swim.

“I noticed a lieutenant was floundering in the water next to me. I grabbed ahold of him,” said Wagner, now 94 and living on Chicago’s South Side.

The two men floated in the English Channel for an hour before being rescued — and sent back into battle, after getting dry gear.

“They dressed us in Navy clothes,” Wagner said.

To get back to shore, Wagner and the lieutenant boarded a barge filled with artillery, a tank, and troops. A German artillery shell hit the barge and “blew us all off of there.”

Wagner stripped off his heavy gear and swam, finally reaching the beach.

“There were bodies lying all over the ground,” he recalled.

Despite heavy machine-gun and artillery fire from German troops above them in concrete bunkers, the U.S. troops held the beach.

In all, about 156,000 U.S., British, and Canadian troops invaded Normandy that day, beginning the liberation of Europe from the Nazis.

Wagner was among the first wave at Omaha beach, where the day’s deadliest battle was waged.

Wounded in his knee, Wagner continued to fight until medics reached him; he eventually was shipped back to a hospital in England.

After two months in the hospital, Wagner returned to Europe, knee still swollen, to serve in a field artillery battalion in France, Belgium, and Germany. He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last large German offensive.

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Richard Rung, 94, of Carol Stream, was a Navy machinist aboard the Landing Craft Tank 539 ship. His crew unloaded supplies for Allied forces at Omaha beach.

Wagner said he never told his parents he was part of the invasion. He didn’t really tell them — or anyone. The real heroes, he said, were the ones who didn’t make it.

Richard Rung of Carol Stream also was at Omaha beach. The Navy machinist, now 94, was aboard LCT-539, a ship used to bring tanks to shore.

In the confusion, the channel jammed with hundreds of ships, they were able to make only one trip.

“When we finally got unloaded and the tank ramps were let down, the tank deck became flooded with blood,” said Rung.

“Omaha is not 75 years ago,” Rung added. The memories are still vivid.

“Sometimes, because of what happened during that day, it’s yesterday.”

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