75 years later, one Central Valley veteran is proud to be part of a unit that had a hand in the invasion we’ve come to know as D-Day. Vernon Schmidt was only 19-years-old at the time.
The D-Day invasion is credited for laying the foundation for the Allied victory in World War II.
His division, the 90th Infantry Division, hit Utah Beach that fateful day in 1944. While Schmidt wasn’t a part of the initial round of troops, he remembers the moment he arrived.
“I still have [a friend] I know that lives in Arizona, he came ashore right where I was sitting on June 6, 1944,” said Schmidt.
The invasion on the coast of Normandy, France, is the largest seaborne invasion in history. The U.S. and other Allied forces landed at five parts of the coast to push Nazi forces from France. To this day, Schmidt said the monumental effort still confuses many he tells his stories to.
“The Germans were waiting for us with everything they had. Fortunately, we were softening it up by our ships and with our weapons. Our airplanes had dominion over the air that day,” Schmidt said.
The exact number of casualties the U.S. had during D-Day is still up in the air. But Schmidt can give you an idea how many from his division perished by walking through the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial — saying one out of 10 there comes from his division.
The reason he’s so proud to have been a part of it is because for him, it helped preserve freedom for the world. He hopes on this 75th anniversary, people remember their freedom was saved because of it.
“Hitler had world domination in his mind and he was going to accomplish it — but we interrupted his plan,” Schmidt said. “When [people] drive up and down the street, going to McDonald’s or a hotel, it’s because somebody paid a price.”
Since 1944, Schmidt has been to Normandy three times. Most recently, last year for the 74th anniversary.
During his last visit in Normandy, Schmidt said his soon turned to him at one point to say it was a “momentous occasion” to be there.