D-Day special airs tonight on WBFO

Jun 6, 2014

In a massive technical undertaking, a Buffalo radio production captured the recollections of five Western New York natives who took part in the D-Day invasion. The production, "D-Day: A Look Back," was heard for the first time on then-Buffalo radio station WEBR in 1964 on the 20th anniversary of the invasion. The piece airs again Friday at 9 p.m. on WBFO.

"D-Day: A Look Back" was produced by Ron Arnold, a now-retired veteran of four decades of broadcast news in Buffalo. Though he was only 11 years old on D-Day, he recalls the day with the specific memory that must have served him well as a journalist.

"I begged my mother to let me skip school," Arnold recalled. "I was glued to the radio all day."

With tens of thousands of troops, thousands of sea vessels and aircraft combining their efforts, the Allied forces conducted the largest amphibious assault in military history as they landed on a series of beaches in northern France.

The show includes an introduction by former President Dwight Eisenhower that was recorded specifically for the Buffalo production.

As UB Associate Professor of History Sasha Pack points out, the dangers of the complex mission were enormous, especially considering the Germans knew it was coming.

"There were a lot of examples of failed amphibious landings, even in the Second World War," Pack said. "There certainly was no inevitability about its success. That's one of the most important aspects to keep in mind."

But D-Day was a success, allowing Allied forces to land in Europe and drive toward Berlin and a defeat of the German Army that would happen nearly a year later. But on the early morning of June 6, 1944, that thought was likely far from the minds of thousands of American soldiers.

"The average age of the American solder landing at Omaha Beach was 20-and-a-half. They would leap out of their landing craft and be greeted by machine gun fire," Pack said.

"A lot of people have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan. A brilliant depiction of the chaos, but getting mentally prepared for that, I can't even begin to imagine."

Today, much of the world is taking time to honor those who took part in the D-Day invasion. While many will commemorate the effort throughout the United States, Pack says the passions may be higher in parts of Europe.

"It's very strong in French memory. In fact, a personal story. My wife is French. When we got married, her father thanked me. Though I'm not of the generation, (he) made a point of thanking me for the role America played in liberating his country."

For Ron Arnold, a former Marine who was wounded in the Korean War, his thoughts will likely focus on thousands of casualties suffered on D-Day.

"In my mind, the enormous sacrifice (stands out). You can go over to the VA Hospital on Bailey Avenue and the who are still living, most of them are in wheelchairs, probably have been since D-Day," Arnold said.

"It's (visits by the public) sort of morale booster. Here's somebody that knows what happened to me, and what I gave."