‘Thank You American Soldier': A D-Day Story
Here in the Treasure Valley, we have the privilege of having some of the great men and women putting their lives on the line to serve in the United States military as neighbors, co-workers and friends. But as a child, whenever someone mentioned veterans around me, this was the man I thought of.
On the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, I want to take some time to honor my grandfather, John Bistrica. Grandpa was part of the first assault wave on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France on D-Day. The night of the assault, my grandpa and his fellow soldiers dug in hoping not to be attacked by German tanks. The next morning they were shocked to know that a German unit had spent the night on the other end side of the shrubbery they were near. They ended up capturing 14 German troops.
He fought for four months before suffering a concussion when a shell exploded near him. The explosion also damaged his hearing and they ended up honorably discharging him. He made it home just in time to enjoy Christmas with his family (who had initially been told that he was missing in action) in 1945.
Grandpa doesn't talk about the war often except for when he's attending an annual reenactment or talking to a group of students. One of my favorite stories he does share is about the little red, white and blue patch that he still wears on his uniform today. (BTW, at 95 he still fits in his uniform and will wear it when he speaks which is pretty damn cool if you ask me!) It was given to him a few days after D-Day while American soldiers were riding on tanks through Paris. When they stopped, a little girl's mom held her up to Grandpa to hand him the patch. He was shocked that the toddler said in perfect English "Thank you American soldier" when she handed it to him.
Another super cool thing about my Grandpa? He's in this iconic photo from Omaha Beach! Based on where the gun covers were laying on the carrier, he realized it was his ship. It hangs in his living room with a big yellow highlighter mark where he is in the photo.
My dad sent me this video that the Society of the First Infantry Division put together after chatting with Grandpa on the phone. If you'd like to hear more about his D-Day experience in his own words, give it a listen below!