INDIANAPOLIS – The sky was blanketed with planes. The English Channel resembled a boardwalk of ships as the Allied armada streamed toward Normandy.
Those vivid images were remembered by Bob Pedigo, who served in the Army Air Corps, and, Frank McCalment, an ex-Navy gunner.
On June 6, 1944, McCalment was a first class seaman sleeping topside on the USS Augusta when he awoke to see an American B-17 directly overhead. The bomber was on fire.
“When my buddy and I woke up, that’s the first thing we saw,” said McCalment, 97, of South Bend.
Two days earlier, McCalment’s crew sensed that Operation Overlord would soon begin. While docked at Southampton, their cruiser was visited by King George VI.
“We figured that was a morale booster for something. We figured it would be Normandy and, two days later, it was Normandy.”
McCalment was assigned to one of the ship’s 5-inch guns.
Upon his discharge from the Navy in 1946, he married and worked at an office furniture manufacturer in Muskegon, Mich. He and Marilyn, his wife of 65 years, moved to South Bend in 2010 to be near their two daughters.
He hasn’t forgotten the importance of D-Day.
“If it wasn’t for D-Day, we wouldn’t have the liberties we’ve got today,” he said.
“I just wish we had a stronger army and navy than what we’ve got right now,” McCalment said. “You never know when another man like Hitler is going to rise up and get after us.”
'BOATS AS STEPPING STONES'
On the afternoon of June 5, Army Air Corps briefing officer Lt. Col. Jimmy Stewart – who had won a Best Actor Oscar in 1941 – took squadrons into a wheat field near the 2nd Air Division’s headquarters outside Norwich, England, Bob Pedigo recalled.
"He said, 'Fellas, we’ve got a big mission in the morning.' He didn’t say D-Day, he didn’t say what it was. Of course, we surmised what it was," said the 95-year-old Pedigo, who was a member of the 453rd Bombardment Group.
Pedigo, who grew up on Indianapolis' south side, was on a B-24 Liberator that crossed the English Channel to bomb a German encampment behind Omaha Beach.
"The channel was so full of shipping that you thought you could walk across and use the boats as stepping stones," he said.
As they flew toward the beach, one crew member was assigned to drop aluminum strips, like Christmas tree tinsel, into the air to disrupt the Germans' radar.
"It would scatter like snow," Pedigo said. "It would turn their radar screens to snow."
Confounded, the German troops offered little anti-aircraft fire against the Allies.
"We fooled them. But we had 12,000 casualties, and I was thinking if we hadn’t fooled them how much worse it would have been,” said Pedigo, a former advertising salesman who lives in Indianapolis.
He describes D-Day as "the beginning of the turning point of taking back the continent from Hitler."
Asked how he feels when recalling the invasion, Pedigo responded, "I get a lump in the throat. I still have strong emotions when I think back on the day."
MARINE IN THE PACIFIC
When D-Day operations began that fateful Tuesday morning, Roy Nicoloff was a 19-year-old Indianapolis youth serving in the Pacific on the other side of the world.
“All we heard was that there was like an invasion. The Army had landed, and they were fighting the Germans," recalled Nicoloff, 93.
"To us, it was nothing more than another invasion. It was just like hitting Bougainville or Midway or Guadalcanal. To us, great, they hit Normandy, so what?
"What do you think you're going to think when you're 18, 19, 20 years old, and you're on board a ship to go hit someplace and you hear about an invasion someplace else?"
By mid-1944, he was in the 2nd Marine Division being transported from Hawaii to Saipan. Sketchy news of D-Day came while he was on board.
Nicoloff remembers being relative unaffected by immediate word of the invasion in France. But D-Day soon had ramifications for the war in the Pacific.
The battle lessons of D-Day, Nicoloff said, were applied to future operations against the Japanese. For example, Piper Cub light aircraft became more widely used for observation to call in enemy locations during U.S. landings.
Nicoloff, a former advertising salesman who lives near Greenwood, is among about 120 veterans who gather monthly for the Indianapolis WWII Roundtable at the Knights of Columbus on Indianapolis’ north side.
'NO CONCEPT OF THE IMPACT'
On D-Day, Hershel Lewis was a senior at Sheridan High School in northern Hamilton County.
“That day? I was aware of it," he said. "I think most of us were aware of it. I had no concept of the impact at the time."
As a high school senior, Lewis and his friends talked with youthful bravado -- and naivete -- about the war.
“I remember them talking that we were afraid the war was going to be over before we could get in, and that’s how dumb we were. At least we talked like that,” he said.
Lewis joined the Army in the summer of 1944, in the immediate aftermath of the invasion in France.