“Our mission was to secure the beaches from mines, requiring our ship to precede the fleet and troop carriers by an hour,” remembers Marvin Solomon, a then 23-year old captain of a mine sweeper. “We left Plymouth, England, on June 5, 1944, but had to turn back due to bad weather, delaying the invasion until June 6, now recognized as D-Day.”
On the 75th anniversary of D-Day, memories came pouring back to the five residents of North Oaks Senior Living in Pikesville who were part of the Allied forces that stormed the Normandy coast to liberate France.
Cpl. Jerry Rosenbloom, at the age of 19, was a member of the 819th Engineer Battalion attached to the Army Air Corps to build emergency air strips. After landing on the beach at Cherbourg during the Normandy invasion of France, he fought his way through five campaigns including the Battle of the Bulge, before arriving in Germany. On the 69th anniversary of D-Day, at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Mr. Rosenbloom was awarded the French Legion of Honor for his participation in the liberation of France.
Staff Sgt. Gordon Salganik, at the age of 19, was a medic with the 295th Engineer Combat Battalion of the 83rd Division. They shipped out of the port of Southampton on the evening of June 4 and spent almost a week on the English Channel awaiting their turn to land at Omaha Beach. The medical detachment debarked first to set up an aid station.
“It was five days after D-Day, and Omaha Beach was still covered with the bodies of dead American soldiers,” he said. “It haunts me to this day.”
Fighting their way through France from the Omaha Beach to the Elbe River in Germany, Salganik’s engineer battalion built more than 100 bridges and removed 6,000 mines.
PFC Aaron Seiden, at age 18, landed in France on June 13, as a member of the 83rd Infantry Division to relieve the paratroopers of the famous 101st that preceded them. Their mission was to disrupt the Germans by cutting wires and destroying anything they found. Spotting a German soldier pretending to surrender, but holding a grenade, Seiden had no choice, and shot him.
PFC Ted Montouri, at age 20, was a radio operator in the Army Signal Corps’ 10th Signal Detachment. His outfit’s mission was to set up radio stations. After going in with heavy equipment on barges, they sat on the beach overnight, before they were sent back to London where he experienced the blitzkrieg.
“I have the greatest respect for the Brits,” Montouri said. “They grabbed their children, went into shelters, and then got up the next day and went to work as always.”
On D-Day plus three, June 9, 1944, Marvin Solomon was able to write a 17-page letter to his wife, describing what he experienced.
“Our job was to sweep a lane free of mines parallel to the shore about a mile off the beach and 6 to 7 miles long,” he said. “I’m proud to say, we successfully carried out our mission.”
While sweeping, the crew was so fascinated by observing the constant shuttle of landing crafts, they almost forgot the danger to themselves. Coming across army and navy dead floating in the water, they understood what the first wave endured. Most impressive was the air support of the allied forces.
“Not one enemy plane was seen throughout D-Day,” he recalled. “On the third day, an English trawler hit a big mine within 200 yards of us and sank immediately. Five men were blown clear; only one survived. Then, three American ships hit mines; all sunk.”
Many veterans and spouses of veterans reside at North Oaks. They volunteered or or were drafted, most during World War II, some the Korean War and one the Vietnam War. They all have their memories and all are special. But so very special are the memories surrounding June 6, 1944, the opening of the second front, the longest day, the beginning of the end to free the world of Nazi tyranny.
Marty Waxman, 89, is a resident of North Oaks and a veteran of the Korean War.