Ray Lambert can tell you exactly where he was 75 years ago.
On June 6, 1944, he was a 23-year-old Army medic sitting near the front of a Higgins boat with 26 other men as it approached the shores of Normandy on D-Day.
“I knew we were going to face machine gun fire,” Lambert, who is now 98 and lives in North Carolina, said.
Lambert has co-written a book, “Every Man a Hero” about his D-Day experiences and is in Normandy this week to mark the 75th anniversary of the battle, a turning point in World War II that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Lambert told the soldiers who were with him in the boat, who he called “the guys,” to stay underwater as long as they could as they made their way to shore. Underwater, the machine gun bullets look like hail and could be more easily avoided, he explained.
What they didn’t realize was that the Germans had placed mines and barbered wire under the water, which literally tangled up the Allied forces who were trying to reach shore. Soon after entering the water, Lambert was hit in the right elbow, but that didn’t stop him from making his first rescue of the day: He untangled a soldier who had gotten caught in the wire and was in danger of drowning.
“My arm was bleeding,” he said. “It didn’t bother me much.”
Lambert said the biggest concern was getting the infantry soldiers who had rifles safely to the beach so they could advance inland.
“There were machine guns right in sight of us, two different ones,” he recalled. “They were firing right at us and killing guys.”
That didn’t prevent Lambert, who was awarded a Silver Star for his efforts, from saving as many of “the guys” as he could.
“It was difficult to treat the guys,” he said. “Waves were coming in. Wet sand.”
There was also no place that provided any protection from the almost continuous machine gun fire. Some American soldiers took cover behind the bodies of their dead comrades, Lambert said. He spotted a rock – actually a pile of concrete the Germans had poured near the water’s edge -- and gave his fellow medics some instructions as the battle raged around them.
“I instructed some of my guys to get the wounded behind the rock,” he said. “There was no way to construct an aid station.”
More than 4,000 service members lost their lives that day, and thousands more were injured.
“You don’t know how bad it is, other than where you are,” he said. “You don’t think of giving up. You think of moving forward.”