WATERLOO, Iowa (KWWL) – Many of the men and women who were involved in WWII are now well into their 90s, but many remember the days of the war as if it just happened.
Thursday marked 75 years since the D-Day invasion, which is often referred to as the turning point of World War II.
“It seems like it was yesterday, really,” said Glen McClain, 94, a Navy veteran.
In the days leading up to D-Day on June 6, 1944 and the days following, newspapers filled entire pages with news of WWII.
“I wanted to go to the war. My buddies were all getting drafted,” McClain said. “I couldn’t go because I wasn’t old enough. I had to get my parents’ signature.”
McClain said his friends had been drafted and he eventually was able to enlist. His friends wouldn’t make it past the physical in Des Moines, but McClain was put on a track for Europe.
McClain was one the thousands who landed on the beaches of France June 6, 1944. He was on Omaha Beach, one of the toughest fought battles of the day. He is nothing short of a miracle.
“It was sad. The landing craft I was on got sank. Everybody got killed except three. One of them, they had to take his legs off way high. They couldn’t even fit him with artificial legs,” he said.
One of the three died the next day from his injuries. The other man who lost his legs became a lifelong friend of McClain’s. Even after his passing in recent years, McClain keeps in contact with the man’s wife.
More than 2,000 troops died on Omaha Beach alone, but the invasion was heralded as a success in pushing back German forces.
A world away in the Pacific, Evan “Curly” Hultman, now 93 and a decorated Army veteran, was headed into the war against Japan.
“I was 18 then when I went in. That was in 1943, the middle of World War II,” he said.
Hultman said he had studied Europe in preparation to be sent there. He said he was held back in the United State for a time before being sent overseas.
“All of my colleagues went to Europe to the war there. I stayed back for a short time before I ultimately went to the Pacific,” Hultman said.
Even though the war in the Pacific Theater was very much separated from the actions in Europe, Hultman said D-Day still had a big impact.
“I remember this day very well. I was on maneuvers in the 42nd, or the Rainbow Division,” he said.
Now a retired Major General, he said many of the country’s resources were being sent to Europe.
“That was, without a question, the turning point. Up until then, we had been totally on the defensive and we were losers,” he said.
After the D-Day invasion, it freed up resources to be sent to the Pacific to be used against Japan.
Both men agree, had the D-Day invasion failed, the outcome of the war would have been much different.
“If we hadn’t stopped Hitler there, he would have taken England, for sure. We would have been next,” McClain said.