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This Day in History: D-Day's Medals of Honor

On this day in 1944, Allied troops land on the beaches of Normandy, France. This year is the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion! Did you know that four soldiers earned Medals of Honor that day? They came from a variety of backgrounds. One was a minor league baseball player. One was a salesman. One was the son of a President.

But their different backgrounds had become irrelevant. Instead, all four men were united, working toward a single cause.

Private Carlton W. Barrett made his landing at “Bloody Omaha” in neck-deep water. The surf was rough! Wounded men were piling up on the beach. In the face of intense enemy fire, Barrett repeatedly carried wounded soldiers through difficult surf and over a sandbar, helping them into evacuation boats. “[H]e assisted the wounded,” his citation explains, “he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion.” He was “constantly risking his life.”

First Lieutenant Jimmie W. Monteith Jr. was also at Bloody Omaha. He landed and led his men through two mine fields before returning to the beach. Once there, he found two tanks “buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machinegun fire.” He walked right up to those tanks and banged on the sides to get the attention of the men inside. Then he led the tanks through a minefield where they were able to take out several enemy positions. Monteith was mortally wounded later that day, but not before he’d led his men in capturing an advantageous position on a hill.

Technician Fifth Grade John J. Pinder, Jr. was carrying important communications equipment. He landed under such heavy enemy fire that he hadn’t even made it ashore before his ship began sinking and he was wounded. “[T]he worst wound,” one fellow soldier reportedly said, “was to the left side of his face, which was cut off and hanging by a piece of flesh.” Gravely wounded or not, Pinder wouldn’t stop. Instead, he pulled his radio ashore, then returned to the surf to find and salvage more equipment. He was wounded twice during his three trips into the surf. As he worked onshore to establish radio communications, he was hit a third time and killed.

Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was the oldest man and the only general in the first wave of the invasion. Roosevelt had to ask for permission to land three times before he was finally given the go-ahead. Once onshore, he led his men rapidly inland. “His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack,” his citation states, “and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.”

Each of these men—to say nothing of many more unsung heroes—contributed to the successful effort that day. Ronald Reagan later spoke of the effort:

“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy . . . [It was the deep knowledge] that there is a profound, moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest. . . .”

In the end, of course, the D-Day invasion gave Allied forces an important foothold on European shores. The liberation of Paris would soon follow.

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