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Surviving veterans of D-Day invasion return to Normandy for 80th anniversary

U. S. Army troops crouch behind the bulwarks of a landing craft as it nears Omaha Beach on D-Day. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Photographers Mate Robert F. Sargent.)

Jun. 6—Warren Goss watched as soldiers in front of him dropped — struck down by enemy fire — after the ramp of his Higgins boat lowered near Utah Beach in Normandy, France.

Goss, then 19, climbed over the side of the boat and fought the surf to get to land.

“I had to keep jumping so I didn’t go under,” said Ohio Township’s Goss, now 99. “I don’t remember being scared. You just went and did it.”

Goss was among the first Americans to arrive on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Today, Goss is one of an estimated 100 to 150 World War II veterans returning there for commemorations of the 80th anniversary of the largest amphibious invasion in military history.

Some 4,000 Allied troops were killed in the invasion.

Goss knows he was one of the lucky ones to make it back home.

He traveled to Normandy with his daughter and nephew. Separately, many other veterans made their way to Normandy on an American Airlines charter, including Western Pennsylvanians Joachim “Joe” Kallist and William “Bill” Kelly, according to a list provided by the airline.

Goss was born Feb. 9, 1925, in Glenshaw. He served in the 4th Infantry Division and volunteered for the 531st Special Brigade. He was part of Operation Tiger, where 800 American soldiers lost their lives at Slapton Sands.

Goss said the vivid images of what he saw on D-Day are branded in his memory.

“The Army can train you for a lot of things, but they can never train you what it feels like to see a boat blown up with soldiers on it or witness soldiers being shot,” said Goss, who got teary-eyed at Pittsburgh International Airport on May 30 before boarding his flight to Europe.

Goss, wearing a World War II baseball cap and a red, white and blue ribbon on his lapel, said he doesn’t consider himself a hero. He said that distinction belongs to fellow soldiers who died in the war, parents and families who prayed for their safe return and all of the soldiers who looked out for him.

After Normandy, Goss transferred to the 70th Infantry Division and fought across central France to the Saar River. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge during the winter of 1944-45 and then in central Germany, ending the war in Frankfurt.

Goss went home on leave before his planned deployment to the Pacific. The Japanese surrendered on Aug. 14, 1945, and his deployment was canceled.

“He had many, many close calls,” said daughter Rhonda Goss, who accompanied Goss to France.

Warren Goss received a Bronze Star for carrying a soldier who had lost his leg to safety, and earned the French Legion of Honor, the highest honor bestowed on both civilian and military personnel for service.

Ask Goss about his biggest honor and he’ll tell you it’s being married to his wife Mary, 97, for 74 years.

“I say that God gave me a second birthday and the opportunity to meet my wife Mary, who is my greatest present in life, as are our two wonderful daughters,” Goss said as he walked with a cane toward a security checkpoint at the airport.

Like many organizations across the world, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation is hosting events this week to commemorate the invasion’s 80th anniversary.

The official international ceremony will take place June 6 on Omaha Beach.

According to statistics from the National World War II Museum and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 119,550 of the 16.4 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive last year. Just more than 7,000 of those veterans lived in Pennsylvania.

“(Goss) is the reason we have freedom today,” said U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, D-Aspinwall, a former Navy officer. “Warren is part of our country’s Greatest Generation. He and so many Americans who landed in France on D-Day were part of turning the tide in the Second World War.”

Todd DePastino, executive director of the Veterans Breakfast Club, which hosts events where veterans share their stories, said Goss is one of the club’s most treasured members.

“He is also one of our nation’s greatest witnesses to war and to history, and he is the nation’s leading living ambassador for those who served in Army infantry in World War II,” DePastino said. “He feels an obligation to speak on behalf of those who aren’t here today. He is a role model for our nation’s veterans.”

Prior to Goss’ departure from the airport on May 30, people who saw him being recognized gave him a standing ovation.

While in Normandy, Goss, his daughter Rhonda Goss and his nephew Glenn Goss have attended ceremonies at Arc de Triomphe and Carentan and gone on a Seine River cruise. They saw a parachute drop at Batterie d’Azeville and visited two schools and a retirement home.

They planned to go to Utah Beach on Thursday, Cherbourg on Friday and a parade in Carentan on Saturday.

“I am honored and proud to be standing on the beach with him 80 years later,” Glenn Goss of West Deer said via message. “He is like many veterans who don’t take credit for their incredible service and give that credit to those who paid the ultimate price.”

Glenn Goss said his uncle and all of the veterans are enjoying the celebrations.

“People are so grateful and loving here,” Glenn Goss said. “They know what was done for them and do not forget.”

Warren Goss also went to France for the 75th D-Day anniversary in 2019.

WAC returned to Normandy

Connie Jamison, 82, of Lincoln Place, recently returned from Normandy. A member of the Brentwood VFW Post 1810 Military Funeral Honor Guard, she served in the Women’s Army Corps, based at Fort McClellan, Ala., from 1960-63 and has an interest in World War II history.

She recalled standing among rows of graves lined in formation in April. She said she stopped in front of one marked with the name Joseph and read a poem to all the veterans laid to rest nearby.

Jamison wanted to travel to France with her daughter and son-in-law because of the 80th anniversary.

“I will never forget that moment,” Jamison said of her experience at the Normandy cemetery. “It was emotional. I thought about how it feels when I read this poem standing before a family at a funeral. It is hard to describe, hard to put into words.”

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is a TribLive reporter covering the region’s diverse culinary scene and unique homes. She writes features about interesting people. The Edward R. Murrow award-winning journalist began her career as a sports reporter. She has been with the Trib for 26 years and is the author of “A Daughter’s Promise.” She can be reached at [email protected].


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