“The only way they could capture the beach was to blast the Germans out of each pillbox… and that’s what they did,” wrote Jay Kay, a U.S. Navy ensign who piloted a landing craft filled with American troops during the D-Day invasions of June 6, 1944. Ensign Kay survived the war and would move to Florida to become a dentist in the postwar years, leading an ordinary life for a man who did an extraordinary thing.
Kay was just one of thousands of American, British, and Canadian troops who did their job assaulting Hitler’s vaunted Fortress Europe and then wrote home about it. Now, thanks to AARP and the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University, we have a chance to watch the memories of Kay and others come alive with the help of award-winning actor Bryan Cranston.
AARP has taken original 35mm film footage of D-Day, from preparation to landing and beyond, and digitized it to full-quality 4K footage. This captivating imagery was then skillfully edited and narrated by the Emmy-award winning actor, whose credits include the acclaimed shows Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad, as well as the Broadway hit Network and many, many film credits.
In three vignettes created by AARP, Cranston reads the words written by American troops, officer and enlisted alike, who supported the landings at Normandy that day. From the sea, he reads the words of Ens. Jay Kay, who piloted landing craft. From the air, the words come from Jim “Pee Wee” Martin, who was awarded the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Unit Citation after the war. On the ground, the words are from PFC. Dominick “Dom” Bart, part of the first wave of Operation Overlord.
The three videos recount the feelings shared by the men who jumped into occupied France, who drove other men onto the beaches through mine-filled waters, and the men who risked everything on those beaches to free the millions of Europeans who lived and died under the Nazi jackboot.
At times, they are equally hopeful and heartbreaking, a recollection of a rollercoaster of horrors and anticipation felt by those who fight wars. They are filled with the memories of young men who are encountering war and death, often for the first time, in a trial by fire that took them through one of history’s most extraordinary events, a battle that signaled the beginning of the end for one of the world’s most sinister monsters.