Clifford Alvira, front row, fourth from left, pictured with fellow sailors on the LCT(6)-542 before D-Day. Alvira arrived at Omaha Beach at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944.

Clifford Alvira, front row, fourth from left, pictured with fellow sailors on the LCT(6)-542 before D-Day. Alvira arrived at Omaha Beach at 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944.

Photo provided by Don Hammond


D-Day 75 years later

Local veterans recall Normandy invasion

By: Alex Szwarc | C&G Newspapers | Published June 5, 2019

 The oldest of 10 children to Mexican immigrants, 94-year-old Clifford Alvira of Royal Oak said as D-Day progressed, he was in an LCT, docked off the coast of Omaha Beach, giving him a horrific first-hand view of continuous Allied assault waves.

The oldest of 10 children to Mexican immigrants, 94-year-old Clifford Alvira of Royal Oak said as D-Day progressed, he was in an LCT, docked off the coast of Omaha Beach, giving him a horrific first-hand view of continuous Allied assault waves.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

 Novi resident Ben Korn was part of the 303rd Port Co., 519th Port Battalion and arrived at Utah Beach on D-Day, but didn’t get off the ship for a couple days until German forces were pushed back.

Novi resident Ben Korn was part of the 303rd Port Co., 519th Port Battalion and arrived at Utah Beach on D-Day, but didn’t get off the ship for a couple days until German forces were pushed back.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

METRO DETROIT — Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force Dwight Eisenhower famously said the task of D-Day would not be an easy one, given the enemy was “well-trained, well-equipped and battle-hardened.”

He was correct on all accounts, and by the end of June 6, 1944, forever known as D-Day, Allied forces gained a foothold in Europe, but not without high casualties.

For the 75th anniversary of D-Day, C&G Newspapers sat down with two D-Day veterans who looked back on that historic day that was the beginning of the end of war in Europe.

Clifford Alvira still remembers the bombs, the bodies and all the men who didn’t make it.

Operation Overlord was the code name given to the landing of 160,000 Allied troops in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, which launched the Battle of Normandy. It’s estimated that more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded on D-Day.

D-Day, the largest seaborne invasion in history, involved 5,000 ships carrying men and vehicles across the English Channel, as well as 800 planes dropping over 13,000 men in parachutes.

The 94-year-old Alvira, from Royal Oak, was in the U.S. Navy and arrived at Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended beach by German forces, at 6:30 a.m. on D-Day.

“We were told there’s nothing you can do for the bodies, just go on with your own business,” he said. “It’s not a nice scene. You see an arm here, a leg here.”

Drafted in 1943, Alvira, the oldest of 10 children to Mexican immigrants, served as a seaman 2nd class in the Navy. He made the trip across the English Channel in early June aboard landing craft tank 542, or LCT, part of Flotilla 19, with 30 other men.

His job on D-Day was to take over for the operator of another landing craft in the event he was killed.

“Our job was to land the guys on the beach,” Alvira said. “We didn’t go on ourselves. I went in an LCT which had one LCVP (landing craft vehicle personnel) which was the landing craft that takes the men up to shore.”

When he arrived at the beach, the scene wasn’t littered with bodies of fallen American soldiers yet. At Omaha Beach, casualties were around 2,000.

“Once we hit the beach, then we heard all the fireworks,” Alvira said. “Everything was timed. The planes came over first and bombed the beaches, then we arrived.”

As he approached the beach, Alvira remembers it being foggy and seeing bullet tracers, bombings and plenty of planes.

“It was all at the same time, they must’ve had everything timed,” he said. “The Germans paid more attention to us at Omaha Beach then guys at Utah and Sword. We lost 2,000 men on that beach.”

What made Omaha Beach so dangerous, and why Alvira said it’s known as “Bloody Omaha,” was that once his unit arrived, the plan was for reimbursements of more supplies to arrive, something that never happened.

“So 2,400 tons of supplies were supposed to come in after we landed on Omaha Beach,” he said. “The English Channel wouldn’t let us. Landing crafts were cracking. We ended up with 100 tons, which is why Omaha was the bloodiest.”

Early in his naval training, Alvira knew something was up in regard to a large invasion, but nothing more. As D-Day drew closer, he recalls men trembling in fear. Wanting to get their minds off the invasion, Alvira would often tell jokes.

As D-Day unfolded, and for the next couple days, Alvira’s LCT was docked off the coast of Omaha Beach, giving him a horrific first-hand view of continuous assault waves.

“You’d see bodies floating. It’s not a nice sight,” he said. “It’s beautiful if you make it a movie.”

With 75 years of perspective, Alvira says the significance of D-Day was that Allied forces were the keys that opened up the passage for everybody to get to Germany.

“If we would’ve lost at Normandy, we’d all be speaking German,” he said.

Altogether, Alvira was in Europe from January to June 1944.

West of Alvira’s position at Omaha Beach was fellow 94-year-old Ben Korn, of Novi, at Utah Beach.

Part of the U.S. Army 303rd Port Co., 519th Port Battalion, Pfc. Korn got to Utah Beach on D-Day, but didn’t get off the ship for a couple days until the Germans were pushed back.

A former resident of West Bloomfield, Korn and the rest of his company were responsible for ensuring that thousands of tons of military supplies were packed, unloaded and delivered to the front lines once the invasion began.

Korn said he did plenty of loading and unloading of supply ships during the Normandy invasion.

When he arrived in England in 1944, Korn said the mission was to prepare for D-Day.

“We met every morning and one time, they said, ‘We’re shipping you south,’ and they prepared us for the invasion,” he said. “I was there on D-Day, but didn’t get off the ship for two days until they pushed the Germans back.”

On D-Day, he remembers seeing a lot of American planes overhead, bombing the Germans who were set up along the Normandy coast. By the time he stepped ashore after D-Day, Korn said most of the dead bodies had been removed.

At Utah Beach, there were less than 200 infantry casualties.

“Our job was to unload materials as soon as we could,” he said. “Once we set up camp, we went inland and started to live off apple orchards.”

During the interview, Korn flipped through an album he saved with pictures from the war.

One picture shows men from his company loading food and ammunition onto duck boats. The description on the back of the photo says, “A duck alongside a liberty ship taking loads from ship to shore.”

The photo was taken shortly after D-Day, a day which Korn said is significant because the Allies were going to end the war and win it.

“We had positive attitudes about it,” he said.

After Korn’s battalion left Normandy, which he guesses was around September, they were placed on a train headed northeast for Antwerp, Belgium, where they remained through the early part of 1945.    

“Everybody was patriotic and they all wanted to go,” his wife, Janet Korn, said. “So many people volunteered.”

The couple married in 1954 and have four children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

It’s unclear how many D-Day veterans are alive, with all of them in their 90s or 100s. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs estimates less than 300,000 of the 16 million Americans to serve in World War II will be alive in 2020.