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104-year-old WWII veteran who stormed Omaha Beach returns on D-Day's 80th anniversary

World War II veteran Steven Melnikoff, who bravely stormed Omaha Beach, made a triumphant return to honor his brothers in arms on the 80th anniversary of D-Day. 

The 104-year-old veteran sat down with Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum in Normandy, France on Tuesday to reflect on his service during a period of immense uncertainty that shaped the course of history.

At age 24, Melnikoff served in the 175th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division in Operation Overlord in Normandy, France, and the weeks that followed. The decorated veteran earned two Purple Hearts and three Bronze Stars for his bravery. 

“The infantry only got 12 weeks training, but because they knew we were gonna go into this battle, we got 17 weeks training. But then, after 17 weeks, we came over to England, and I trained five additional months… before we went in,” Melnikoff said. 

American troops heroically stormed ashore on Omaha Beach under fire, an event remembered throughout history as “The Longest Day.”

Melnikoff told MacCallum that the 29th Division and the 1st Division suffered 5,720 casualties on the first day of the invasion. 

Melnikoff reflected on his own injury sustained during the second attempt to take Saint-Lô on June 17.

“That was a target,” said Melnikoff. “I was a Browning automatic rifleman. The automatic rifle, I was the assistant. The automatic was my buddy. We were together… we were two together. That was a team… Well, as we were getting ready to dig in foxholes at the end of that first day, a small German squad came over, and with automatic fire, put the gun over the hedgerow, and he [my buddy] was shot and killed. 

AMERICAN WWII VETERANS TRAVEL TO FRANCE TO BE HONORED FOR 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF D-DAY

“We were together, we were pretty much drafted about the same time, from Fort Devens. That’s where we started. And we shipped to Texas where we would get our training,” Melnikoff said. “And that’s what told you about the Camp Fanning training. That was a training that was more advanced so that we could fire every single gun that was available to the combat infantryman. And, so we were together all that time and the time in England. We danced together, we drank beer together in England, and we did the whole thing. But he was my buddy, and we lost him.” 

US Army troops crowd into a navy landing craft infantry ship during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy

“The life of a machine gunner or Browning automatic rifleman is not very long in combat, because what you do, you fire the biggest thing that’s against you. And that’s the machine gun,” Melnikoff said. “That day I was hit, I was shot right in the neck here by a machine gun. And, I don’t know how it’s possible for machine gun to be once, but as he went along with his machine gun like this, he hit me and he moved a gun over, and he fired and alongside of me was my first lieutenant, and he was there, and he got the bulk of that.”

“I don’t know if it was my instincts or the shot knocked me down. But I went to the ground, and he didn’t, he just stood there. After they moved off, I walked my way back to a medical station. And, when I got there, they redressed it. They put me on a plane with a bunch of other wounded veterans…,” Melnikoff added.

The Allied Naval forces engages in the Overlord operation of landing while Allied forces storm the Normandy beaches

The Rhode Island native offered his perspective on what he thinks of America today, signaling a ‘resemblance’ to 1938.

“I see some things that I really don’t like,” said Melnikoff. “I see a resemblance to what happened in 1939, 1938. I was there. I’m not reading a book or something like that. I was there, and this feeling that we have – the people are so absorbed with themselves – they’re not the way we were. We volunteered, we were drafted – but we knew we had a mission we did.”

D-DAY VETERAN, 101, HEADS TO FRANCE FOR 80TH ANNIVERSARY OF NORMANDY LANDINGS

While numerous significant events unfolded in 1938 Germany, as Hitler and the Nazis initiated their conquest of Europe, one such event was Kristallnacht, during which Nazi activists and sympathizers plundered and set fire to Jewish businesses, leading to the deaths and arrests of numerous European Jews.

 “I always tell people we were a hell of a lot tougher than you guys,” Melnikoff added. “Yeah, because we didn’t have the conveniences. I can remember my mother lighting the gas lamp in the house. I can remember all the things that we went through.”

Melnikoff contrasted his childhood with that of modern America, underscoring the greater independence that characterized his generational gap. 

“We had a depression, but don’t be sorry for us. But I guarantee you, when I was a kid, I had a lot more fun than your kids have. Because you know what it was, we were independent, and they let us plan our games, play our games, get messed up – it didn’t matter… you know, we played football. We didn’t have padding all, so we had a generation that because you had to walk to school, they put all the shoes on ya they say go to school, that’s it, and back. And so we were independent. And I think that that was a generation that we were able to do things because they were mostly factory workers.” 

D-DAY AT 80: ONE MORE MISSION TO NORMANDY FOR THE GREATEST GENERATION

This year’s 80th anniversary of the D-Day landings takes on special importance, potentially marking the final opportunity for many World War II veterans to be part of the commemoration.

Last year at the commemoration ceremony, only a small number of the Greatest Generation were able to attend. However, this year, the 80th anniversary is anticipated to be different, with an expected turnout of 150.

“I’m 104. I’m in pretty good health, I say I’m okay,” Melnikoff reflected. “But you know something, because we were poor, we ate basic foods, we had rye bread, we had very little meat because it’s too expensive, a lot of vegetables. Now the dietists tell you hey you’re supposed to do that. We didn’t have white bread because it’s more expensive than black bread. Now it’s going for far less. So when I say were tougher, it was just we were forced to be tougher..”

Melnikoff expressed his hope for the present generation, reflecting on how they might respond if confronted with a situation similar to his own experiences from years past.

“I hope that they’ll be able to do something like our generation if it becomes necessary. And I see things on the edges that’s sort of a reminder to me of that period.” 

Fox News’ Martha MacCallum and Kerry J. Byrne contributed to this report.

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