On June 6, 1944, General Eisenhower gave the order and the brave men of the Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. One of those young men was a short Seaman 2nd class from St. Louis.
An 18-year-old Yogi Berra had put his baseball career on hold a year earlier to join the Navy. He trained as a gunner’s mate and, at age 19, worked on a rocket launching boat firing at German defenses on Omaha beach during the Normandy Invasion.
“Being a young guy, you didn’t think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went off 300 yards off beach. We protect the troops. If they ran into any trouble, we would fire the rockets over. We had a lead boat that would fire one rocket. If it hits the beach, then everybody opens up. We could fire one rocket if we wanted to, or we could fire off 24 or them, 12 on each side. We stretched out 50 yards apart. And that was the invasion. Nothing happened to us. That’s one good thing. Our boat could go anywhere, though. We were pretty good, flat bottom, 36-footer.”
For the next twelve days his boat was ordered to shoot down any plane that came below the clouds. They accidentally shot down an American plane, but saved the pilot. Yogi also ran messages from Omaha Beach to Utah Beach, and went on to serve in a second assault on France for which he received a medal from the French government. Three of his comrades died in the invasion, which included 150,000 Allied personnel. It is widely considered the turning of the war in the Allies’ favor.
“We had orders not to go on the beach. They went on their own, and they got it. We had to stay back and protect them.”
Sixty years later, he received the Lone Sailor award from the U.S. Navy Memorial, an honor given to sailors who use skills learned in the service to advance their careers. The president and Navy Memorial CEO said, “Our honorees are living examples of how service to country changes lives and helps develop leaders.” President Obama posthumously awarded Yogi with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2015.
Yogi’s heroism isn’t defined by his World Series rings or MVP awards, it goes beyond the Bronx. His bravery and service to his country during D-Day is what makes him a true hero.