The Invasion of Normandy by Allied forces on June 6, 1944 might seem like something tucked away in the pages of a history book. However, for 89-year-old Texas resident, Purple Heart recipient Joseph Weber, it remains a vivid memory of his time in the U.S. Army. He is one of a declining number of veterans who witnessed first hand the events of those harrowing days.
Weber grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., in a family that placed high value on military service. His brother sneaked into the Marines when he was 17; Weber headed off with neighborhood friends to enlist in the 4th Cavalry of the U.S. Army.
On June 7 Private First Class Weber was scheduled to land on Utah beach to reinforce the first waves of paratroopers in Normandy. When he was told about the plan no more than two days before D-Day, Weber told Human Events that the news did not elicit any particular thoughts or emotions. “As a soldier, when they tell you to go, you do it!” He stated frankly.
Weber’s mission did not go as planned. His transport ship, the USS Susan B. Anthony, struck a mine the morning after D-Day as it neared Omaha Beach. Weber was picked up by a Canadian destroyer and was later temporarily reassigned to the U.S. infantry. Seven days later Weber found his regiment on Omaha Beach and rejoined the cavalry for good.
On June 20, 1944, Weber was making his way to the French port town of Cherbourg when he was shot in the neck by a Nazi soldier.
Despite this devastating injury, bullet wounds could not prevent Weber from going back to his regiment.
“Getting shot isn’t that bad,” Weber explained. “It just hurts a little.”
After spending several weeks in an Alabama hospital, the Army was preparing to send the wounded veteran back home. As the staff packed up his things and prepared to release him from the hospital, Weber boldly decided to take matters into his own hands and head off to the near-by beach in hopes that he could find a way to board a transport ship for Europe.
Luckily, he was just in time to catch the next deployment, so he approached a lieutenant to report for duty. When the officer asked Weber where his papers were, he just casually answered “Oh, I must have misplaced them.”
The rest of Weber’s time in the Army brought him all over Europe and through a series of historic battles such as the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Aachen.
While these feats were important to Weber, no event was more life changing than when he was assigned a new gunner who would eventually become his brother in law. “He introduced me to his sister one day,” Weber said. “And from the first time I saw her, I knew I was going to marry her.”
On the 68th anniversary of D-Day Weber gives the younger generations some insightful advice. First, he advises the men and women returning from Afghanistan “Go back to your old job, if you have one, meet up with your old friends, and have a beer together.”
Most importantly, however, Weber asks that Americans take time on June 6, 2012 to “Remember the boys who didn’t make it back.”