Remembering D-Day, the Incredible Heroism of Soldiers & Sailors

TRUMBULL—As Catholics around the world celebrated Pentecost Sunday on June 9, parishioners at St. Theresa Church in Trumbull also gathered at the 12:00 noon Mass to honor the sacrifices of military veterans and to remember the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

“We recognize the incredible heroism and acts of human sacrifice,” Fr. Brian Gannon said in his homily. “We need to be ever grateful to our American soldiers and sailors. We must follow their example to obtain fortitude against evil.”

Connecting this day of remembrance to the holy day of Pentecost, Fr. Gannon commented that this is also the birthday of church and the First Confirmation. “I tell the kids when they are confirmed,” he said, “that they are now soldiers, the soldiers of Jesus Christ.”

Though all veterans were remembered during the Mass, it was specifically offered for those who fought and died during the Allied invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1941, a day that has become known to all as D-Day. Fr. Gannon recounted the story of Francis Sampson, a Catholic priest from Iowa who landed in Normandy as a paratrooper. While ministering to wounded soldiers, he was captured by the Germans. As they prepared to shoot him, a German non-commissioned officer recognized the chaplain’s insignia and said, “I’m Catholic too.” Miraculously, Fr. Sampson was sent back to the wounded and administered last rites to those killed in action during the D-Day invasion.

Recognizing this young chaplain’s strength, Fr. Gannon said, “He was saved. It was the grace of God operating in the midst of war. Jesus is with us no matter where we are.”

He reminded the congregation to keep the virtues, especially fortitude, in mind, saying, “We give thanks for the sacrifices of those who didn’t return. We can’t be thankful enough for those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.” Before the closing hymn, the naval anthem “Eternal Father, Strong to Save,” Fr. Gannon offered a special blessing to all veterans present for “their service to our nation, for we will win the war with God leading us.”

Following Mass, parishioners were invited to enjoy a full buffet lunch sponsored by the Ladies Confraternity of St. Theresa and to hear firsthand the comments of D-Day survivor Tony Salce, a longtime member of the parish. After this Coast Guard veteran led those gathered in the Pledge of Allegiance, he shared his vivid memories of that historic day in France 75 years ago.

“Our ship arrived with the first wave of soldiers. The fighting was very intense, but we kept going,” Salce remembered. “Everyone was praying. We held onto the hope and faith that God would take care of us.”

Remaining focused on his faith in the challenges of wartime, Salce added that he and his fellow sailors went to Mass every Sunday. “I ask everyone to thank God for our great country,” he said. “We won because of the sacrifice of our servicemen.”

The commemoration of these sacrifices was also foremost in the minds of others gathered this day at St. Theresa. Benjamin Bludnicki, a 101-year-old veteran who was stationed in the Coast Guard near the Great Lakes during World War II, understands the importance of keeping alive the memories of this greatest generation. “We must honor those who served and lost their lives and appreciate their service,” said his daughter Mary.

Anthony D’Ostilio, a World War II veteran from the 82nd Airborne Division, wants the younger generations to remember D-Day because “this is a part of history. We need to understand what we have. I fought for God and country,” he said, echoing the comments of many who remember, respect, and honor the heroism of all soldiers and sailors fighting for freedom.