What to Know
- The 92 year old Army veteran now calls Boca Raton home - but in the 1940’s, Schwartz never saw Normandy Beach coming his way.
In the darkness while America was asleep on June 6, 1944, the largest invasion in human history was underway. The hour had come for D-Day. Not many people were alive back then who are still around today as Thursday marks the 75th Anniversary of the most pivotal battle in Europe during World War II.
Those who were there, for the good and the bad, still carry those hours with them.
One of those men is South Florida’s Bill Schwartz.
Schwartz first heard the naval gunfire, then it was off his landing craft and into the water.
”We’re getting shot right at in the water. Right away I lost a few men right there," the 92-year-old Boca Raton resident told NBC 6's Willard Shepard. "We scrambled up to the beaches. We are looking at the cliff’s in front of you and we are unprotected—no place for cover what so ever. “
In the 1940’s, Schwartz never saw Normandy Beach coming his way. Already a stunt pilot at age 16, he signed up for the Army Air Corps and spent months in pilot training but says he faced discrimination because he was Jewish, and instead of flight wings the Army made him a 17 year old infantry officer.
“My position as a Captain at that time I am leading a whole company,” Schwartz said, adding the 250 men under his command had an array of emotions when they hit the waters off the beach.
“I saw how courageous the guys were to kill them. We’ll get them and everything," he added. "Whether they were that really or just covering their emotions, nobody could tell. You had those who were scared stiff."
"They were almost like frozen, but not quite.” Schwartz said as the reality of the battle quickly sunk in. “We got on the beach and we are losing men like unbelievably fast."
Over seven decades later, Schwartz remembers how he came to grips with his own fears like they were yesterday.
“This is my country. It won’t be my country. We’ll end up either as slaves or dead. One of the two. This is my job. I have to do it," he said.
Schwartz one of the lucky ones making it up the cliff where the German defenses were eliminated. Those 48 hours though have impacted him a lifetime.
“I lost 80 percent of the men in my command. I live with that this day. That’s one of my big problems. It took its toll so bad on me,” he said.
Schwartz had his down moments after leaving the Army, but ended up building a successful construction company before coming to South Florida. Taking the trip with the Honor Flight to Washington to see the WWII Memorial brought the emotions of the battles and his men all back.
“I cried. I cried,” he said.
Tears to remember his fallen comrades, but also the day of their finest hour when they opened the door for Germany’s defeat and the Allied victory.