Hastings, NE -
As world leaders gathered in Normandy, France to mark 70 years since the Allied invasion, local veterans were reflecting on the mission and the war.
Raymond Rutt, who grew up near Minden, has photographs and vivid memories of the largest seaborne invasion in history called Operation Overlord, but known better by its nickname: D-Day.
“The ships weave back and forth and you had to crawl down over there, and had about a hundred pound pack on me and the rifle, and then they put us down in the landing barge and then they took us toward the beach, then we had to get out and walk in the water,” recalls the Army veteran.
Rutt and twelve men from his company all survived the landing on Omaha beach, and the Army supply movers started preparing for the supplies that would follow. 150,000 Allied troops took part in D-Day, bringing 30,000 vehicles with them plus tons of ammunition, food, and gas.
“I couldn’t, I couldn’t believe it,” Rutt says of the endless ships and manpower pushing toward the shores of France on June 6, 1944. “It was terrible...of course a lot of men got killed on the beach.”
The beaches weren’t the only place World War II was being fought.
Air Force pilot Vergale Jensen, who also grew up in Minden, was flying troops in and casualties out of what’s called the “Forgotten Theater” of the war: China-Burma-India.
“We didn’t know what was going on until we heard the announcement on our radio - just coming out of Burma into India, and that’s when I said, I’ll bet we get some help now,” says Jensen.
Jensen says the hope for help was a joke, knowing supplies and personnel were stretched thin on all fronts. But many believed D-Day might hasten the war’s end.
“We didn’t have enough pilots, we didn’t have enough airplanes, or have enough everything to do the job we were supposed to,” Jensen says.
Seventy years to the day later, there’s no flying or running into enemy fire for either veteran, both of whom served overseas long after D-Day, and both of whom now live in Hastings.
“I guess it’s kind of hard to believe it’s 70 years - that’s a long time to try to remember,” says Rutt.
“Some of the things I did at 21-22 years old, now I look back and that was really kind of stupid, but I didn’t know anything could happen to me at that age,” says Jensen.