MARGATE - Bernie Friedenberg lived through the D-Day invasion, but he has difficulty talking about it to those who weren't there.
"It's hard to describe. It's actually indescribable," the 91-year-old said from his Margate home Tuesday. "We came in on Omaha Beach. The Coast Guard was supposed to drop us off in waist-high water, but when I went in it was over my head. There was a lot of fire. They (Coast Guardsmen) wanted to get the hell out of there. I don't blame them."
Today is the 69th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, when Allied troops landed in Normandy in northern France and started an invasion that helped lead to the end of World War II.
Friedenberg, a 1940 graduate of Atlantic City High School, had his mission; the medic was given 50 pounds of medical supplies to bring ashore.
"It had been stressed that the supplies had to get to the beach," he said. "They didn't know how long it would be until they got more in. It was important to get on that beach. I made up my mind I would do it, and I did."
The Army staff sergeant served in the 1st Battalion of the 16th Infantry Regiment. His unit was in the fourth wave of landing craft to hit the beach. When Friedenberg arrived on shore, he said, he saw numerous wounded soldiers.
"We had found a massacre. There was no other way to explain it. How I made it through, only God knows," he said. "Everywhere I looked, someone was screaming, 'Medic.' People asked me if I was scared. Everyone was scared. Once I got in and started (working on the wounded soldiers), I was too busy. I couldn't think of being scared."
The situation quickly turned into chaos, Friedenberg said.
"Every man was for himself," he said. "No one knew where they were or where to go."
The Germans had placed barbed wire and minefields along the shore. Proper procedure was to wait for engineers to come in and determine a safe path, but many soldiers had gone ahead and stepped on the mines - causing them to lose parts of their legs and place their lives in jeopardy.
Friedenberg said he ran to the area and carried five men back to safety. He was later awarded a silver star. He said he received two silver stars, two bronze stars and two purple hearts during his 3½ years in the Army.
He continued through Europe and was in Czechoslovakia when the war ended 10 months after D-Day. He also was in Germany during the occupation after the war ended.
'I'm a Jew'
Friedenberg was a student at Temple University when he tried to enlist Dec. 7, 1941, the day of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was denied because of bad eyesight. But he kept going back to the enlistment station until he was finally admitted.
"The lieutenant asked me why I was so anxious to fight. I said, 'Look, I'm a Jew. They want to kill Jews. They want to kill my father, my mother, my sister. They want to take away everyone I love.' He said, 'I don't know what to do with you.' I said, 'Give me a weapon. I want to go where the Germans are,'" Friedenberg said. "I guess I was kind of goofy, but that's how I felt."
Becoming a medic was not Friedenberg's idea. He initially asked to be a rifleman, but he was assigned to be a medic because of his poor eyesight.
"I always had three or four eyeglasses with me," he said. "If I didn't have my glasses, I was a dead man."
And after his many experiences in combat, he said he is happy with his assignment.
"In retrospect, I'm glad I served as a medic," he said. "My father and I mailed each other letters, and in one of them he reminded me of the Jewish expression 'whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.'"
Trouble returning home
Friedenberg suffered several injuries, including concussions and shrapnel to his forehead. He also suffered substantial hearing loss after being near so many explosions.
When he returned home, he had a difficult time adjusting. Friedenberg said he had "an overdose of combat," and at first he drank frequently and couldn't work. After about six months, his father took him on a vacation to Florida for 10 days, after which he said he was able to begin healing.
Still, there were struggles.
Phyllis Rogers, his wife of 65 years, said on their honeymoon a plane flew low overhead. Her husband jumped out of the car and ducked on the street.
"I thought I just got divorced," she said.
During the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994, Friedenberg said, some of his issues came back up and he went to the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in Wilmington, Del. On the advice of an Army friend, he saw a psychiatrist, who suggested he write a book as a cathartic way to deal with his emotions.
"Of Being Numerous: World War II as I Saw It" was published in 2008 by the Holocaust Resource Center at The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. It has sold hundreds of copies to people interested in his story.
Now, Friedenberg said he is proud of having been part of the historic battle.
"We knew it was the beginning of the end," he said. "We knew the invasion was the most important thing of the war."
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