Very few of us could even imagine what Tom Fetzer of Milton was about to face 75 years ago today — when he was just 23 years old.
“It was 3 a.m. when preparation for the invasion began,” he recalls. “They gave us something to eat when we got on the landing craft. I remember our captain saying, ‘Fetzer, are you ready to go? When we hit land, you take off.”
Fetzer, now 98 years old, was one of more than 156,000 men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944, during “Operation Overlord,” a strategic battle against the Germans during the height of World War II.
This single day in 1944 — D-Day — would claim the lives of 2,499 Americans and 1,914 other Allied forces. Before it would end, more than 209,000 Allied forces would lose their lives during the entire Battle of Normandy, an invasion that would turn the tide of the entire war in the European theater.
Fetzer, the son of a farmer, born near Potts Grove in Northumberland County, was there.
“The boat didn’t reach the shore, we jumped out into about knee-deep water,” he said. “We were lucky, we were supposed to go to Omaha beach. Those boys got killed. The Germans were on high ground looking down and our boys didn’t have much of a chance.”
The invasion was just the beginning. It wasn’t long until Fetzer’s unit began a three-week bloody battle to liberate Cherbourg from the Germans. “That was pretty rough,” he said, shaking his head.
At one point during battle, a sniper’s bullet hit Fetzer’s helmet. He was not hurt, and he continued to advance with troops to Paris and into Germany, then on to the decisive Battle of the Bulge, where he was injured by an explosion.
Carson Shrawder, 94, of Hummels Wharf, was assigned to the Army’s 4th Infantry Division and was among the second infantry wave during the invasion on Normandy at Utah Beach.
He fought in several battles but has frightening recollections of his time in German’s Hurtgen Forest and the Battle of the Bulge.
“Hurtgen. That was…murder,” he said. “One of our officers offered money to anybody that could find a tree in that forest that wasn’t hit with gunfire. I was in the forest for quite a while, three, four weeks. It is something that nobody would want to go through.”
Few of us can even imagine.
What we can do today, on this 75th anniversary of D-Day, is take a moment to silently remember the troops who were killed and give thanks for people like Tom Fetzer and Carson Shrawder.
These two men, along with the thousands who fought for our freedom during World War II, are American heroes.
NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher and top newsroom executives. Today’s was written by Digital Editor Dave Hilliard.