If you go

The Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum is commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day by hosting a symposium that will feature two guest speakers, one who was aboard the destroyer Laffey the day of the attack and an Army Ranger who landed on Omaha Beach.

The admission-free symposium will start at 7 tonight, inside the aircraft carrier Yorktown's Smokey Stover Theater. Parking for the event will cost $5.

The Laffey, docked at Patriots Point, is one of only two D-Day warships still in existence. There were more than 5,000 floating off the shore of German-occupied France the day of the attack.

The symposium will feature entertainment and a living history production on the D-Day invasion and the breakout from Omaha Beach.

June 6, 1944, was Lee Hunt's birthday.

"I spent my 18th birthday shooting up the French coast," the James Island resident recalled, describing his time sealed in a gun turret aboard the destroyer Laffey.

Future Summerville Mayor Berlin G. Myers also was part of the Normandy invasion, coming ashore to help off-load supplies needed to get the GIs advancing.

"It was killed people, dead people, tanks tore up," he said of his experience. "Everything you could think about, destroyed."

Ridgeville native Reggie Salisbury was there as well, describing his job as an escort to an American Indian code talker who would relay messages in his native Comanche.

"I carried the radio," he said.

As the world turns its thoughts to today's 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion, local veterans joined others in recalling their experiences on the "Longest Day" and its aftermath. The invasion was but a few hours out of the United States' four-year involvement in World War II, but it was a day marked by courage, carnage and an unflinching will to defeat the Nazis.

While 150,000 Americans, British and Canadians landed during those first hours, their numbers have dwindled in the decades that followed, passing on at a rate of 600 each day.

In all, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates there are fewer than 28,000 World War II veterans from all theaters still living in South Carolina. The youngest of those are in their late 80s.

They remain unique heroes.

At 97, Myers' recollections of the exact time and place of his landing are a little foggy. As an "old man" of 27 in the spring of 1944, he was assigned to the 556th Railhead Company, making him part of the supply corps responsible for getting massive amounts of war supplies from ship to shore.

The 556th landed with other Americans on Utah Beach, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

As a supply soldier, Myers would have been among those who were moved into the battle zone quickly. The front-line U.S. soldier in Europe needed to be supplied early and often. On a daily basis, one trooper needed 96 bullets, six pounds of food and 20 pints of water in order to remain combat-effective, according to one Army calculation.

Myers' recollection is of being let go from a Canadian landing vessel that couldn't make it all the way into shore - an issue for many of the landing troops given Normandy's massive swing of tides. He remembers having to wade a distance of about 500 feet, all the while keeping his rifle perched above his head. The water temperature hung in the 50-degree range. On shore the wreckage and loss of life - 2,500 Americans would die in the initial hours of the invasion - was brutal but less than expected.

Myers doesn't remember everything he saw that day, but one detail has stuck with him for seven decades.

"Lots of people killed," he said, "from both sides."

Hunt, meanwhile, said his view of the beaches was from several thousand yards off shore. During breaks in the firing he could see waves of Higgins boat landing craft go in, packed with assault troops. The beach itself was covered in smoke and explosions as the Laffey (now an attraction at the Patriots Point Maritime Museum in Mount Pleasant) was ordered up and down the coast, firing on entrenched stubborn German positions.

"The biggest thing I remember seeing was that the (American battleship) Nevada was on the other side of us, shooting over our heads," he said. "It sounded like a freight train going past."

Salisbury made it through the invasion but eventually was captured, becoming a prisoner of war and facing months of captivity.

Myers survived the war unscathed, returning home to Summerville to run his successful lumber business, later becoming the town's mayor for more than four decades.

He said he once had the opportunity to return to Normandy, but something came up and he never made it.

Even so, he said he would not have chosen to walk along the waterline again. While many memories have faded, the sight of young soldiers who never made it off the beach remains vivid.

"Pretty sad," he said. "Makes you want to cry."

Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551.