Actor Sam Elliott honored World War II veteran Sgt. Ray Lambert during the 30th National Memorial Day Concert held on May 26, 2019.
In a diary-like delivery, Elliott told the incredible D-Day story through Lambert’s eyes. Watch the story in the video below:
He described the incoming German fire, the sound of overhead mortars, the hail of bullets, burning bodies and the overall scene of death.
“Dead and wounded were floating in the water. We had orders not to stop and pick anyone up,” he recalled as the boat approached the beach.
“I told my men, ‘when the ramp drops, hit the water hard and keep as low as you can to dodge the bullets.’ We sank up over our heads,” he said. “That was the last time I saw most of them.”
“Thirty-one men jumped off that boat. Just seven of them made it to the beach,” he noted.
The surviving men took cover behind the only thing they could – a large concrete block the Germans had forgotten to clear. There, the Americans began stacking the bodies of the dead and treating the wounded.
“It was total confusion. Shells exploding, boats blowing up, people yelling because they couldn’t hear anything, machine gun bullets hitting the water all around you, the roar of the boats coming in. It’s like you’re all alone in the world of a million people because you’re concentrating on what you have to do.”
Lambert was shot in the arm and never stopped trying to treat his brothers. “I just kept going. I was thinking of only one thing – getting to the men who needed me,” he said.
He recounted a soldier he couldn’t save, then on the way to treat another, he was hit again, taking a hand-sized piece of shrapnel to the left leg. “I put a tourniquet on it, gave myself a shot of morphine, and went back to work,” he said. “You did the job you were trained to do. If you didn’t, you died.”
Upon helping a soldier in the water, he was struck by the ramp of a Higgins boat. The ramp crushed two vertebrae in his back and forced him into the water.
“That’s when I started talking to the one guy I knew could help me. I said, ‘God I’ve asked you many times, but just give me another chance. Let me save one more person,’” he said. For unknown reasons, the boat backed away and he was able to drag himself and the soldier out of the water to safety.
Not long later, he went unconscious, and when he woke, he was on a boat bound for England. His stretcher was alongside his brother Bill’s – they had gone to the hospital in the same ambulance by chance.
“We both made it out okay,” he said. Bill went on to live to age 92.
“People who have never been in a war should understand what soldiers give up. The guys we left on Omaha Beach never had a chance to live the lives they’d dreamed of,” he said. “A day hasn’t gone by that I haven’t prayed for the men we lost and their families. I still wake up at night sometimes thinking about the guys.”
“Every man that walked into those machine guns and that artillery fire on Omaha Beach that day – every man – was a hero. What kind of person would I be if I didn’t tell their stories?”