HOMOSASSA COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) — More than 4,400 Allied soldiers died on D-Day. Most of them were under the age of 20.
Patrick Ryan was one of the thousands of young men who braved the Battle of Normandy. An 18-year-old U.S. Navy Helmsman, Ryan was luckier than many. He survived D-Day and returned to the United States to carry on the legacy of some of America’s bravest war heroes.
Ryan was filled with a mix of terror and excitement on June 5, 1944 as his ship, the USS Thomas Jefferson, made its way toward Omaha Beach.
“Everybody’s shaking,” Ryan said. “You don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Although 75 years have passed since D-Day, the sounds of exploding shells and the sight of thousands of ships approaching the French coast have stayed fresh in the memories of the 94-year-old World War II veteran.
“You see the flashes as the shells would hit,” he said. “They would explode.”
USS Thomas Jefferson laid anchor off Omaha Beach before dawn. Ryan’s job was to load smaller landing craft with allied troops and carry them to the French Coast for the Invasion of Normandy.
His landing craft was loaded with about 30 soldiers – the first wave headed to the beach. He struggled against heavy seas and unrelenting enemy fire
“You drop it, these poor guys run like hell and you hear all the firing,” he said.
When his landing craft emptied, he went back to the USS Thomas Jefferson for more soldiers.
“Guys I knew that were aboard the ship with me. Some of them got hit and never came back,” Ryan said. “That’s hard.”
Unlike many on D-Day, Ryan made it home.
He has never returned to Omaha Beach where thousands of young American, Canadian, French, and British lives were lost.
“I was very lucky. I thank God for that,” Ryan said.