D-Day Veteran And Carlsbad Cadets Travel To Normandy For 70th Anniversary
Part two of a two-part series
Friday, June 6, 2014
"It feels to me like an honor to see where they once were, and to look at their point of view when you’re down there, and to be able to see what they were about to face," said Matthew Boyce, 15, a freshman at the sea-side boarding school.
Boyce said he's looking forward to walking in the footsteps of those who fought courageously to change the world.
"It’s an honor to go out there and see the beaches and see where our forefathers once stepped on and conquered," Boyce said.
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San Diego resident and Army Veteran Tom Rice was one of 160,000 troops who landed in Normandy, France on June 6, 1944.
"I’m going to get a whole new feeling," explained Mark Ruiz.
Ruiz, 17, is nearly the same age as many of the 160,000 troops were when they clambered ashore under heavy German firepower.
“Right now I can only imagine hundreds, or thousands of guys going out there risking their lives and willing to sacrifice them," he said. "I’m hoping to get a glimpse of that."
The Army and Navy Academy, home to 300 teenage boys from three dozen countries around the world, was the only school in California and surrounding states selected to attend the prestigious commemoration.
In preparation for their trip, the cadets did extensive research and got a first-hand account of the Battle of Normandy from D-Day veteran Jack Port.
“We had a job to do, we had a mad man," Port told the cadets. "I’m not a military man in any way what so ever. At that time, nobody questioned about going in to the service — everyone was in the service."
Port, 92, who lives in Oceanside, was 22 when he waded ashore with the 4th Infantry Division, 12th Infantry Regiment, Company E. He was part of the largest air, sea and land invasion in military history, involving 160,000 American and allied troops, 5,000 ships and more than 11,000 airplanes; All crossed the English Channel on June 6, 1944 and attacked a 50-mile stretch of German-occupied France.
Port told the boys he was scared from the time he landed on Utah Beach to the time the war was over.
“My buddy Jim and I dug a foxhole the first night,” Port recalled. We dug all night long — big hole. We were so deep in the morning we could barely get out of the hole.”
By nightfall on June 6, more than 9,000 American and allied troops, who fought alongside Port, were dead or wounded.
Port said he had some very close calls during the war.
“I had a piece of shrapnel that went through the butt of my rifle,” he said. “I had a piece of shrapnel go through my mess gear on my back, and my D-Day buddy said, ‘hey Port, you’re on fire.’”
Before being drafted into the Army, Port said he was just about the only boy in Escondido without a gun. His dad wouldn’t allow it.
“In 12 short weeks, I was converted from a punk high school kid to a combat ready soldier,” he said.
He served in the military for two years. After the war ended, Port, who spent his career as a banker and educator, never owned a gun again.
“I hate guns,” he said. “I hate war, I hate killings.”
Port said he lost many friends in Normandy.
“Oh yeah, I lost quite a few there,” he recalled. “And I just, I don’t know how to describe it, I really don’t.”
Port, like the cadets, is traveling to Normandy for the 70th D-Day Anniversary to pay tribute to the fallen and to meet up with fellow veterans. He’s been back many times before, but said this year will be special.
“I’m glad I’ll be able to go back again. It could be my last year,” Port said.
He’s one of a fading number of aging D-Day soldiers who are left to tell about the war.
He said he wishes the bloodshed would remain in the past.
“I thought it was the war to end all wars and here we are today: one conflict after another.”
Port hopes the boys, who represent the next generation of the military, will understand the scale of war when they see the 10,000 white crosses at the American cemetery in Normandy.
William Lua, 17, who plans to join the Navy after the Academy and become a mechanical engineer, said he already feels a debt of gratitude to Port and the other troops.
“Imagining how they had to put their lives on the line and go to the beach knowing that they had to go through all the hardships,” said Lua. “I’m just going to be overwhelmed.”
Marching in the footsteps of those who shaped history will likely also shape the lives of 31 teenage boys from the Army and Navy Academy, who are getting their most authentic history lesson ever.