DUNEDIN — Paul Martinez was 16 at the onset of World War II — legally too young to join the U.S. Army.
But Martinez joined, remembering the date of his older brother’s birthday. After two years of rigorous training and nearly being discharged when his superiors found out how old he was, the Texas youth became a member of the new 101st Airborne Division.
On June 6, Martinez was one of the youngest men to land by parachute in Normandy. He was shot in the face while his unit was trying to capture the French city of Carentan. Recovering, he later jumped into Holland during another military operation. He also fought during the Battle of the Bulge.
That’s one of the stories of heroism that Chester Pyatt shared with veterans at Dunedin VFW Post 2550 on the anniversary of D-Day, June 6.
“Today we’ve been here to honor our fallen and brave soldiers and thank survivors on the 75th anniversary of D-Day,” said Pyatt, the post commander. “The values, the work ethics and bold, unapologetic patriotism of greatest generation remains the truest emblems of our American spirit.”
Pyatt, a past state commander and Vietnam War veteran, also presented some statistics and facts that put the magnitude of D-Day as well as the Normandy invasion in perspective.
More than 160,000 allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily fortified French coastline to fight the German forces.
“Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which we will accept nothing less than a full victory,” he said. “More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircrafts supported the D-Day invasion and by day’s end the allies gained a foothold in continental Europe. The cost of lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded.”
“What was D-Day? It was the largest invasion ever assembled before or since,” Pyatt said.
The majority of troops who landed on the beaches were from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States, but he noted that many other allies participated in D-Day and the Battle of Normandy. Those allies were Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Denmark, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland, Pyatt said.
By the end of 11 June 1944, 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles, 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches, he said.
Operation Neptune, including D-Day, involved huge naval forces: 6,939 vessels, 1,213 naval combat ships, 4,126 landing ships and landing craft, 736 auxiliary craft and 864 merchant vessels.
As for Allied forces, 11,590 aircraft were available,
“They flew 14,764 sorties and 127 were lost,” he said.
The Battle of Normandy is the name given to the fighting in Normandy from D-Day to the end of August in 1944, Pyatt said.
“The liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 is sometimes used as the endpoint of the battle of Normandy,” he said.
As for Paul Martinez, when World War II ended, Martinez headed back to Texas and lives today in the Los Angeles, California, area.