On D-Day, June 6, 1944, more than 150,000 Allied Soldiers took to the air and sea in the largest operation of its kind, to gain a foothold against the Nazis on the European Continent. Thousands of fathers and sons lost their lives that day, but the operation was a success and a small victory that eventually brought down Hitler and the Nazi Party’s domination.
This year is the 70th anniversary of D-Day and I had the opportunity to interview one of its brave survivors, Don Burgett of the 101st Airborne division.
Now a father and grandfather himself, I asked Burgett what his parents thought at the time about him volunteering.
“I did not wait for the draft,” he said. “Following my older brother, Elmer, I voluntarily signed up for the paratroopers. I entered the military shortly after my 18th birthday without my parent’s knowledge. Once I received formal notice from the military and my parents learned of what I had done, they did not want me to go. My parents felt that I was too young to realize what being a paratrooper would mean for me. The Airborne Paratroopers were described and known by the public as the ‘Military Suicide Squad.’ And now, they had two sons in the Airborne! I parachuted into Normandy June 6, 1944, six and one half hours before any seaborne troops hit the Normandy shores.”
Communication stateside was difficult, but Burgett does recall a very special package he received from his parents while in England training before the invasion of Normandy.
“It contained a homemade nut cake, made by my mother,” he recalls, “and concealed within, was a 1911 Colt 45 sent by my father. I carried the gun with me through every campaign I fought in and still own the gun today. I was elated to receive that particular package as it was literally, at times, a lifesaver!”
Burgett went on to fight in every major battle our 101st Airborne Division fought in, WWII. “I was in Holland for 72 continuous days, and I was in four of their heaviest battles [including], Battle of Bloody Gulch where approximately 50 of us killed over 300 Germans according to a body count by Major Winters and men of Easy Company who were on reserve call at that time. What was left of Able Company, 506, 101st Airborne ended in Hitler’s House in Austria along with Easy Co. and others.”
So what happened after the war?
“After WWII ended,” Burgett explained, “I was sent home with others of Able Company. I was discharged New Years Eve of 1944-45. I could not vote, or buy a beer, as I was not yet of legal age, [which at that time was] 21 in Michigan.”
As a parent, I asked Burgett if he took anything away from his experiences on the ground that he imparted on his children. “Once you experience war, you never want to see your own children go through anything like it. I have tried to impress on my children the cost of freedom and to respect all veterans.”
Burgett’s oldest son and several grandchildren also joined the military. “Once volunteered, I advised them to make the highest rank they could, as quickly as possible, during their career.” So many of our young people continue to sacrifice themselves for our freedom and liberties. “We have to be as supportive as possible at all times. We have to appreciate their willingness to volunteer for our country, to stand up for our freedoms. As our military is completely voluntary today, our soldiers deserve our utmost respect.”