BENWOOD, W.Va. (WTRF) – Of the thousands of soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago, one of the first is an Ohio Valley native.
Angelo Jafrate enlisted in the Army shortly after Pearl Harbor.
He’s now 96, but at just 21-years-old he remembers navigating the waters to Utah Beach in the middle of the night.
“It’s hard to imagine what they went through for us, and they did it for us,” said Angelo’s daughter Valerie Pickett.
While we may not be able to imagine it, we can hear about it from the brave men who were there.
“1:00 in the morning, walking in the water,” Jafrate remembers.
His unit navigated the cold sea to the westernmost of the beaches during the early hours before the Allied invasion.
“I had the tetryol, that was an explosive, we were gonna blow this wall,” Jafrate continued.
He carried one of the 40-pound bombs through the water that would attack German casement. He also said he carried his weapon, ammunition and food.
“We got to a certain point, I told Sam, he was a British guy, I said Sam you gotta lay down. You can’t stand-up. If you stand-up you’re gonna get killed,” Jafrate said.
So they waited for daybreak in three-foot trenches, and the command to detonate.
“It was tremendous,” Jafrate said of the moment when the bomb detonated. It made a hole, a tremendous hole. Then, the British, they had the dozers and they leveled it off.”
Jafrate survived the attack, but others he knew did sacrifice their lives.
“So when we hit the beach, these bombs are laying right in front of us,” he continued. “I mean we knew, we could hear them.”
While Jafrate tells his story now, his family says that wasn’t always the case.
“As a family we’re really proud of him,” Pickett said. “I have to say though growing up he didn’t really talk about the war very much.”
The family was able to celebrate their hero when he was awarded the Croix de Guerre in Washington D.C. in 2011. It’s one of many honors for Jafrate’s courage.
“He did a great thing. He was only 21. I can’t imagine being 21-years-old and doing something like that,” Pickett added.
160,000 men attacked the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
All were brave, including Jafrate.
“We was trained for that. We were the best,” he said. “We were the best in the world when it come to invasions. There was no questio about it. We were the best and we proved it.”
After the war Jafrate came home and married his wife Teresa and had three children; Valerie, Mark and Robert.
He had a career working as a foreman at Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel.
Jafrate also has three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, with more on the way, all of which will continue to make sure the memory of his heroic D-Day actions lives on.