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WWMT Newschannel 3 - D-Day Remembered: 68 years later

D-Day Remembered: 68 years later MUSKEGON, Mich. (NEWSCHANNEL 3)

On this date, 68 years ago, Operation Overlord began--now known as D-Day. On June 6th, 1944, a massive amphibious force of American, Canadian and British soldiers moved through the darkness across the English Channel to attack the fortified beaches of Nazi-occupied France. The battle was bloody, but in the end, successful, leading to the fall of Hitler's European fortress. Many of those brave soldiers came from West Michigan, but only a precious few are still with us. We brought three of them together--for the first time since that day on the beaches of Normandy.

Less than a year after Naval Seaman First Class Gordon Russell was drafted out of Muskegon, he found himself on the front lines in Nazi-occupied France. He would not escape unscathed. "Our boat got hit by shrapnel--and when it exploded, I got shrapnel in my left side," he said.

Army Medic Arnold Hoffmeyer was a teenager when he left his family's Montague farm to join the military. On D-Day, he narrowly escaped death many times, and even saved lives on the battlefield--including an American soldier who had taken machine gun fire. "I don't know how the guy ever lived," Hoffmeyer said. "But we didn't dare to lay him down. If we did, he'd drown in his own blood."

Naval Boatswain Bud Hansen of Muskegon was on board a landing ship on D-Day, in choppy waters under enemy fire, and in constant chaos, he remembers nothing on Omaha Beach went as planned. "The plans they had laid out about who was first and who was second? Didn't work," he recalls. "Didn't work."

Unlike many others, these three men lived to tell the stories of Omaha Beach, including some images they wish they didn't remember--including their comrades who never made it out of the water. The three veterans were reunited aboard another veteran of Omaha Beach--the landing ship tank LST 939, which delivered Sherman tanks, ammunition and soliders to Omaha Beach. The boat is one of only two remaining in the world, of the more than 1,000 made for the Allied invasion. After the ship was decommissioned, she spent several decades hauling cars across Lake Michigan. Now, permanently docked in Muskegon, the soldiers quarters, the engine room and the bridge, where the Captain maneuvered the ship through dangerous waters, are open for tours. "We preserve the ship because of the sacrifices that were made so we could all be free," said John Stephenson, President of the LST 393 Veterans Museum. While the freedom fought for on D-Day endures, most of the people who fought for it are gone. These three veterans and the veteran ship are now part of an ever dwindling pool of survivors.