Normandy veteran recalls a ‘bloody’ day

Normandy veteran recalls a ‘bloody’ day

Rolf Valtin is quick to point out hes not a hero, but on June 6, 1944 he waded to shore on Omaha Beach, dodging machine gun fire and struggling to survive.
If youre going to tell the truth about that day you have to say how bloody it was, but you dont want to make a hero of yourself. I didnt do any fighting, but I was there, Valtin said, sitting at conference table at the Goodwin House a retirement community in the West End 67 years to the day after he landed in Normandy. 
As soon as you start bragging about yourself, you start to think about the guys who didnt make it. Why do I deserve the laurels, he said. 
Valtin was born in Germany, though his family fled the country and Adolph Hitlers regime in 1938. He was 13 years old. A few short years after arriving in America his new country drafted him into the U.S. Army where his command of the German language destined him for military intelligence. 
Not long after returning to Europe as part of the growing invasion force stationed in Britain, Valtin was attached to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division. Assigned to the 16th Infantry Regiment, he could only wait and wonder when the fighting would begin.

He didnt have to wait long. 
On the morning of June 6, he climbed down a rope ladder into a Higgins boat bound for France despite choppy seas. They were to arrive 90 minutes after the landings began, but the soldiers already ashore were bogged down. 
The expected push inland hadnt happened, Valtin said. The fear sank in the second they realized the invasions first wave hadnt broken through enemy lines, he said. 
Then the boat ramp went down and Valtin was wading through chest deep water.
What carries you is that everybody else is doing it, Valtin said. I cant remember any particular thoughts except wishing and hoping that we were going to get off this beach. I was with a crack unit and we were going to do it Ill gladly admit I was, on that day, seeking cover and wanting to live.
In the midst of describing the utter chaos of the fight, bodies floating in a crimson stained tide, soldiers rushing to find cover from withering machine gun fire, he paused. Valtin put his glasses down and leaned back in his chair. 
To an extent there are some things Im not going to talk about, he said. Theyre just too personal.
Its not an experience he brings up in casual company, said his wife Nancy. The two met in college several years later. She knew hed been a soldier, but many men had served during the war. Their children only learned of his role in the invasion long after World War II entered the history books, she said. 
Hes not angry, Nancy said. Its hard to get him started [talking about it], but hes very factual. I think hes realized what he went through. I dont think he broods about it. I think he just accepts it.
The memories of that day remain among the most vivid Valtin has of the entire war. He witnessed another year of fighting, interrogating prisoners, translating maps and captured documents as he rose from the rank of private to lieutenant, but nothing stands out nearly as sharply as his first day in Normandy. 
It was too much death and too much firing its so intense theres no way to forget it, he said. 
Valtin may not speak of D-Day often, but he keeps a letter clipped from a Time Magazine edition of that year in his wallet. Its a description of the fight written and submitted by a friend and comrade, Samuel Fuller. The two men stood on their Higgins boat together, passing the time talking as they waited for their turn on the beach. 
He doesnt pull it out often, but its always there with him.