This D-Day vet will never forget; Neither should we
At his home in Bedford, World War II Navy veteran Vincent Kordack points to a map of Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, as he tells about his experience on D-Day. (THOMAS ROY/UNION LEADER)
Vincent Kordack is 89 years old and has been married to his wife, Verna, for 62 years. They have kids and grandkids, and they get to see some of them often, having moved from Maryland to Bedford a few years ago to be near their daughter and her family.
Vince may not hear so well nowadays, but he still gets around, still manages to take Verna out for a nice dinner down the street at the Bedford Village Inn.
You can store up a lot of memories over 89 years, and Vince has more than his share.
He is a husband, a father and a grandfather. He was an educator. He is the son of immigrants and part of the Greatest Generation.
From all those memories, from all those years of experience, there are many stories, and Vince is more than happy to tell them. But there are stories about one moment that Vince doesn't talk much about, and it's not because the details have been lost over the years.
June 6, 1944. D-Day. Operation Overlord. The invasion of Normandy, France.
It was the beginning of the end of World War II. Most of us were not yet born. Some of us may have had parents or grandparents who told us about it. For others, it's just another battle on the pages of the history books.
Ever see "Saving Private Ryan"? Remember the first battle scene, when the troops land on Omaha Beach? Remember the men mowed down the second they stepped onto the beach, some killed before they even got out of the water?
Vincent Kordack was there, a Navy corpsman assigned to help tend to the wounded on the beach. The first person he saw when he landed on the beach was another corpsman he had befriended, Morris Rickenbach. Morris was dead, a bullet through his head.
The American forces at Omaha Beach suffered at least 3,000 casualties that day. Kordack helped care for the wounded and the dying. Visions of them along the beach stay with him.
"You can't forget," Kordack said.
Today is Veterans Day, proclaimed in 1919 by President Woodrow Wilson to commemorate Armistice Day, the day World War I ended. The legal holiday officially became known as Veterans Day in 1954.
This is the day we honor all those who have served in the armed forces and sacrificed for our country. The wars and the generations differ; the sacrifice does not. We were reminded of that sacrifice again last month when Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Savard, 29, who grew up in Jefferson, was killed in Afghanistan.
Kordack survived D-Day, even went on to serve a tour in Pacific, aiding others during invasions in the Philippines and Okinawa. For his service, he is among those we honor today.
Kordack and other surviving members of the U.S. 6th Naval Beach Battalion who were part of the landing on Omaha Beach each will receive a Bronze Star Medal and Combat Medical Badge today aboard the battleship New Jersey in Camden, N.J.
The governments of both the United States and France have honored the battalion before, but Kordack said this medal is special because it comes from the U.S. Army in appreciation for what the Navy did that day for soldiers on Omaha Beach.
The medal is a bittersweet one for Kordack. He's grateful to get it, but wishes more of his comrades were still alive to join him. Until now, the battalion was never fully recognized because so many of its officers were either killed or wounded during the operation that the battalion was dispersed immediately after the invasion.
Verna Kordack thinks there may be three veterans in attendance out of the nine doctors and 72 corpsmen originally assigned to the battalion. The group had been holding reunions regularly up until two years ago, when it was decided there just weren't enough of them to keep it going. Vince said nine are still alive.
The Kordacks are members of a dying generation that fortified the foundation of this country. They were men and women of a different era, dealing with the trauma and the sacrifice in a quiet way and moving on.
Verna remembers college campuses being swamped by veterans like her husband, returning home and taking advantage of the GI Bill to get their education. She said they changed the culture with their slang and their seriousness. They were respected.
Vince said the stories of the horror they saw and lived through during the war were usually saved for conversations between themselves.
There may not be many left to share those stories, but the reminders are still there.
A few miles from where Vince will receive his medal is the grave of Morris Rickenbach, a native of Camden.
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Jim Fennell may be reached at email@example.com.
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