On Their Shoulders

Seen at the Normandy Visitor Center, this tells the story of three men who were killed in action on D-Day or soon after.

Video Transcript

NARRATOR: It appears today as it always has: a landscape of tranquility. But in June 1944, on this narrow coastline the future of freedom and democracy was at stake. The outcome would depend on the competence, courage and sacrifice of thousands of embattled men struggling to seize it. Gene Sellers was a star on his high school football and basketball teams and received a scholarship from the University of Arkansas. Before the end of his first year, he left to enlist in Army. Gene was 21 years old in June 1944. By that spring the world had been at war for nearly 5 years. Millions had already died. But on that grey somber morning, along a narrow front line 120 kilometers long, hundreds of thousands of frightened men would face each other. Between two worlds, freedom and oppression, locked together in conflict. In the early hours of 6 June, as a pathfinder guiding the invasion forces, Gene Sellers leaped into brutal combat.

Norval Carter was 32 years of age. A captain in a profession that usually employed younger men. He had been a small-town family doctor from West Virginia. As a battalion surgeon, he did not have to be in direct fire but he chose to be there on the fron lines to help the wounded. 11 days after landing at Omaha Beach, Norval would find himself in the surrounding hedgerows near a small Norman town called Saint Lo.

2nd LT Walter Perra from Ceres, California, patrolled the skies over the Normandy battlefield, flying cover for the advancing Allied army, protecting the infantry and armored columns from Hitler’s panzers that threatened them. Walter loved to fly. He was the most comfortable in the cockpit of his aircraft. He was a born flyer. Walter’s P38, flying low over the small village of Les Corvees, on 15 June 1944 was hit by intense anti-aircraft fire. Walter was 24. Walter’s father wrote of his son, “Spiritually, we feel that he is as close to us buried in France as if he was buried here. We are consoled to some extent in knowing he is buried in soil he flew over and helped to win back.

Captain Carter also died doing what he cared about most: saving lives. By a small forest near Saint Lo, he ventured out from the safety of a foxhole to save a wounded GI. In doing so, he was shot and killed by a German sniper. But the soldier he saved lived and eventually returned home. Gene Sellers was one of the first Americans killed on D-Day. He died at a small crossroads near the village of St. Come du Mont, while trying to land and set up beacons for the 101st Airborne Paratroopers. He never managed to get out of his parachute.

Today it is hard to imagine what happened here. It’s hard to imagine that this is the final resting place of more than 9,000 young lives. Lives that ended in battles that raged on this beautiful countryside. They can’t imagine the horrors of a world war in Europe. But they can. They remember their days as young men in uniform, who in absolute excitement and fear prepared themselves for battle. And they most certainly remember those who stayed behind, after they passed by, to complete their lives. In the late summer afternoon, they now perhaps do not recollect so clearly or perhaps they never did realize, that for a minute in time the fate of the free world, the entire free world, once rested on their very young shoulders.