Lawrence Peter Berra was honored today at the Yogi Berra Museum in Montclair, New Jersey. Yes, he was in attendance. No, he didn’t want to be.
He would have preferred to be in Normandy, France with the other survivors of the Omaha Beach invasion. That’s right, Yogi Berra was part of D-Day on June 6, 1944. The 89 year old Berra is just too frail now to make the trip over there.
In 1943 Yogi was playing in the Yankees farm system for a team in Norfolk, Virginia when his draft number came up. He immediately went over to the Norfolk Naval Base and enlisted.
In February of 1944 he was assigned to the USS Bayfield as a gunner’s mate and that ship was sent to serve in the European Union, more specifically, the British Isles.
Then later in that year the U.S. Navy began asking for volunteers for a top secret mission. Berra did not hesitate to sign up. At the time he didn’t know what the mission would entail. He just knew he had to be a part of it.
And so he was honored here, at the museum named for him, on the 70th anniversary of that fateful day. Over 2500 soldiers died during the first several hours of combat on the beaches of Normandy. Yogi was spared having to set foot on the beach because of direct orders to him and his shipmates.
“We had orders not to go on the beach,” Yogi remembered. “It reminded me of the fourth of July.” He said the scene was both “amazing”, and “awful”. “There were a lot of horrors.”
He and six other Seamen were on a LCSS (landing craft support, small) boat that stayed about 300 yards offshore. Their mission was to draw fire from the enemy stationed in the bluffs of the coastline. And to shoot down anything that came below the clouds.
Berra and his ship mates took to calling the boats they were assigned to, landing craft suicide squads. They stayed just off the coast for twelve days, eventually running messages between the Omaha and Utah beaches.
He was discharged from the Navy in 1946. A recipient of the Medal of Honor. The Yankees called him up in September of 1947 where he proceeded to win no less than 10 World Championship rings, and became the Yogi Berra everyone now loves.
The men who fought and lived through that horrific time have always been hesitant to talk too much about it. So it falls on us to keep and share their stories of valor and bravery. They must never be forgotten.
And now we all have another reason to love Yogi Berra. He is a real life war hero. And part of our country’s greatest generation.
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