BRADENTON — Walt Lausman celebrated his 21st birthday on June 5, 1944, and the next day was a crew member on board an A-20 fighter-bomber flying a support mission for the invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day.
Saturday, Lausman, a retired jeweler and watch repairman, was surprised with a birthday cake with camouflage frosting to celebrate his 87th birthday.
He talked about the missions he flew as a member of the 410th Bomb Group, including one when the A-20 bombed a train.
“There were these brown-orange rings from the explosions from the bombs,” he recalled, and the “plane was just jumping.”
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He also remembered looking down at the English Channel and seeing it “full of boats,” the massive invasion fleet.
“I thanked God many a time. I figured I had better chance in the air than down there,” he said.
Lausman’s birthday was part of an observance of the 66th anniversary of D-Day organized by community activist DeLouis Simmons. She reserved space at the Manatee County Central Library downtown and invited any veteran who wanted to attend.
Simmons, founder of The Lavern Wright AIDS Corp., also gives bicycles to children to encourage them to read. Lausman was her father’s friend for 20 years, Simmons said, and she wanted to do something special for him.
Among those attending the observance was Hurb Thompson, 84, who took part in the invasion of Iwo Jima as a U.S. Marine in February 1945.
Thompson was on Iwo Jima 17 days before being wounded in the chest, head and wrist by shrapnel.
A retired banker, he now lives in Bayshore Gardens with his wife of 63 years, Joy. The Thompsons met in 1946 and they were married in 1947.
“He was recovering from his wounds, but he still had nightmares,” Joy Thompson said of their first year of marriage.
Today, the nightmares have gone away, and Thompson shares his recollections with area school children to give them a perspective they might not get from a history book.