Bert Chandler

Bert Chandler and his wife Esther pause for a moment while reflecting on their 66 years of marriage, Monday, Nov. 10, 2008 at the couple's Nampa residence. Bert Chandler, who served three years in the U.S. Army including participation in the invasion of Omaha Beach, was a member of the "The Fighting First" and was awarded multiple United States military decorations including The Purple Heart.

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Originally published Nov. 11, 2008, in the Idaho Press-Tribune.

The June 6, 1944, D-Day landing at Omaha Beach, vividly memorialized in movies like “Saving Private Ryan,” is one of World War II’s most famous and notorious battles.

Thousands of troops poured onto the Normandy coast and into immediate confrontation with heavy Axis fortification in a crucial attempt by the Allies to establish a foothold in France. Many were killed, wounded or captured before the end of the day.

Bert Chandler, 86, of Nampa , served in the 16th Regiment of the Army’s 1st Infantry Division, also known as the “Big Red One.” He was one of the first to step onto the beach, and one of only three from his landing craft to reach the top of the hill.

He looks back on that day with both pride and sorrow for those lost. “I lost a lot of friends,” he said. “As a squad leader after D-Day, I just never got close to anybody in the squad because I knew what would happen. It was just too tough.”

He attributes his survival to “a lot of luck.”

“I guess I was in pretty good shape,” he added, chuckling. “I was moving pretty fast.”

Chandler served three months before a shot to the knee sent him home to his wife, Esther, and eventually a long career as an optician.

He was awarded a number of medals, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. One of them bears a small metal pin with three stars and an arrow, denoting participation in the initial D-Day push.

“I think I’d rather have that than that whole bunch of iron there,” he said.

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