ALEX CHADWICK, host:
This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Alex Chadwick.
Today is the 61st anniversary of D-Day in World War II, the massive Allied assault on the beaches of Normandy, France. The numbers are huge--150,000 Allied soldiers, 5,000 vessels, 13,000 paratroopers dropping from the air. By the evening of this day in 1944, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were dead or wounded in the invasion, but the Allies had regained a beachhead in northern Europe and from there, they would go on to Berlin.
Dewey Fifer was a petty officer third class with the Navy amphibian forces on D-Day. He joins us from a commemoration ceremony at the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.
Hi, Dewey Fifer. Welcome to DAY TO DAY.
Petty Officer Third Class DEWEY FIFER (US Navy, Retired): Thank you. Thank you, sir.
CHADWICK: Tell me about what you did on D-Day so long ago.
PO3 FIFER: OK. The first job that we were assigned was carrying high-octane gasoline in five-gallon jerry cans. That's the cans that they strap on the tanks and trucks and jeeps.
CHADWICK: I would have been a little nervous carrying a whole boatload of high-octane gasoline into that beach.
PO3 FIFER: Now getting to the beach was the problem, see. We--there was five of us boats. We finally got into the beach. We got around the jack rock structures(ph). Now that was these structures that they had, iron beams were crossed and welded together.
CHADWICK: That was...
PO3 FIFER: And they had mines sticking all over them, see.
CHADWICK: That was to keep you from landing there.
PO3 FIFER: That's exactly right, to keep us off the beach. We could see some of them, so we got around them. We worked our way right around them, and we finally got into the sandy beach. We let our ramp down, and of course the Canadians there were to unload those gasoline cans, see, so we got in and out OK. Now one of our boats, one of the five, hit a mine, and it killed one of the guys and the other three were wounded, and the officer was--so that's the only casualties that we had in our group was one killed and about four wounded that morning, see.
CHADWICK: I know it must have been a very busy time back then, Dewey, and very dangerous, but did you have the thought at any moment during that day that world history is changing at this moment because of what you were doing?
PO3 FIFER: Oh, yeah, we thought about it. This was something that was great taking place. It had to take place and it just happened it was that we were doing part of the job there, getting this job done. We actually stayed on Gold Beach there for probably five or six weeks, just running errands, living out of our little old LCVP, getting our food wherever a ship would take us aboard to eat, and maybe take a shower once in a while. At nighttime, we just dropped the anchor and the Germans would send over a few planes at night to bomb us. They--we just had to lay there and sleep in the boat.
CHADWICK: What difference has that D-Day invasion made in the rest of your life? Do people still recognize you for it? What happens when you participate in something like that?
PO3 FIFER: Well, sir, you--it gets stamped in your mind and you don't ever forget it, see. I know things that happen right now that 61 years ago I can remember just about all the details in it, see. It's just something that's just branded in your system that you never get over. I don't expect a day hardly goes by that I don't think about a 17-year-old lad in a place like that, you know. I just was one of the young ones that got stuck in there some kind of way or another. I didn't think they were supposed to put you in combat until you was about 18, but I found out different mighty quick.
CHADWICK: Dewey Fifer, thank you for speaking with us today, and thank you for what you did back then.
PO3 FIFER: You're entirely welcome, sir. I was just doing my job, see.
CHADWICK: Dewey Fifer, a petty officer third class with the Navy amphibian forces that landed at Normandy Beach 61 years ago today and began the end of World War II.
PO3 FIFER: That is correct, sir.
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