TILTON — The D-Day landing in Normandy, France was solemnly remembered at the New Hampshire Veterans Home on Thursday by residents including Bob Giguere, who, 75 years ago, was a 17-year old sailor from Laconia who suddenly found himself in the infantry.
On June 6, 1944, some 150,000 Allied troops, supported by more than 5,000 ships and 11,000 aircraft, landed along on the beaches of Normandy in what was the beginning of the end of the Nazi control of Europe.
According to the U.S government, some 16 million American men and women served in World War II, 2,776 of whom live in New Hampshire and 45 of whom call the Veterans Home their current billet, said Alfred Montoya, the director of the Manchester VA Medical Center, an Air Force veteran, and the keynote speaker for the D-Day event.
Of that number, Giguere, Joseph Bennett of Manchester, and Don Williams of Deerfield were part of D-Day, according to Veterans Home officials, though none more immediately than Giguere.
While Williams, a combat engineer arrived on the Normandy beaches on June 10, Bennett, who at 101 is also the Veterans Home’s oldest resident, got there a day later, in much the same way as Giguere in that the landing ship on which Bennett was on struck a mine with much loss of life and equipment, including his tank.
Giguere, who on D-Day was a member of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Beach Battalion, which was charged with providing close-in support for the landings on Omaha Beach, was aboard a landing craft when it hit a mine. The explosion killed about half the troops on board, but somehow Giguere made it to shore.
Unable to find anyone from his unit, Giguere picked up a rifle and began fighting his way forward from the seawall. He used grenades to incapacitate a Nazi pill box, and later that day, took part in the storming of a house.
The raiders found five Frenchmen in the basement, said a Veterans Home official, but no Nazis, and when Giguere was ordered to take them back to the beach for interrogation, a stray shell from the Allied naval bombardment exploded nearby, rendering Giguere unconscious and injured.
When Giguere woke up four days later, on his 18th birthday, he was recovering in a hospital in England.
Montoya praised Giguere, Bennett and Williams, all who then received a standing ovation from their comrades, Veterans Home staff and dozens of family members, friends and well-wishers who gathered in the “Town Hall” auditorium.
When he was 17, Montoya confessed he didn’t know what to do with his life, whereas Giguere was storming the beaches of Normandy
Much time has passed, said Montoya, who in his closing paraphrased the pre-D-Day letter by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander.
That letter began: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
“Seventy-five years later,” said Montoya, “the eyes of the world are still upon the greatest generation.”