HOMOSASSA, Fl. — Beyond the front door of Patrick Ryan’s Homosassa home is a proud display of hats, pictures, medals, and a small model of a landing craft similar to those on which this now 94 year old Navy veteran, carried American troops in 6 different invasions.
Among them, Sicily, Okinawa, and one 75 years ago, Normandy.
“We set sail June 5th around midnight,” Patrick recalled.
Half way across the English Channel aboard the U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson, Patrick remembers hearing the thunder of the Allied bombardment.
“Well you see the flashes, as the shells would hit they would explode and you’d see the sky would light up,” he explained.
As the ship crept closer to destiny that morning, no one slept.
“Everybody’s shaking, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you know,” he said.
The ship laid anchor off Omaha Beach.
“They said you’re going to see thousands of ships,” Patrick stated. “And we did.”
In the pre-dawn dark, it was time.
“There was so much time lost trying to load because the damned boats were going like this (hands bouncing) and these poor guys trying to climb into them,” Patrick said.
Patrick, from Brooklyn, says he rarely met the soldiers he carried to shore. His eyes welled a bit at the thought of one in particular.
“He was about my age (18),” Patrick recalled. “He said, well I live in Jersey, he said I was wondering if you could do me a favor, I said sure, he said would you give my mother my watch? So I said sure. I never heard if the guy made it.”
His landing craft loaded with roughly 30 soldiers, Patrick says the first wave headed to the beach.
He struggled with heavy seas, and unrelenting enemy fire.
“In the water, the bullets hitting, popping up and some of them hitting the front. You could hear them bang, bang,” he remembered. “They (enemy) had everything and they used everything.”
In the dark, he guided 30 soldiers on to Omaha Beach and in to history.
“You drop it, (the ramp), these poor guys run like hell and you hear all the firing,” Patrick said. “You could see, a couple of them maybe get hit, fall down, some just lay on the beach.”
More than 4,400 Allied soldiers died on D-Day, most of them under the age of 20.
His landing craft empty, it was back to the Thomas Jefferson for more.
“Guys I knew that were aboard ship with me, you know, some of them got hit and never came back, so that’s hard,” Patrick stated.
His daughter Maureen Foy listened to her father’s story. She was in awe as well as in tears.
“These stories are so amazing and very frightening,” Maureen explained. “He’s our hero.
For younger generations, the movie Saving Private Ryan depicts the horror of D-Day.
Patrick Ryan thought the moview was pretty accurate. But he paid particular notice to the numbers on the landing craft.
“If you look at that boat the numbers PA 30 and that’s the number of the ship I was on PA 30,” Patrick recalled. “I looked at that and I said oh my God, it’s one of my boats.”
D-Day’s toll was high, the sacrifice great. Fortunately for Patrick and the 6 children he would father, he made it home.
“As I say I was very lucky, I thank God for that,” Patrick added.