ALBANY, New York - Kenneth Davey said the grim reason his father and other medical personnel from his Navy unit never received the Bronze Star for their actions at Normandy on D-Day was because many of the officers who would have made the required recommendations were killed before they even landed on the beach.
The oversight is being rectified for the dozens of corpsmen and doctors in the 6th Naval Beach Battalion who hit Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, an hour after the first wave landed.
On Wednesday, the 68th anniversary of the Allied invasion of France, former corpsman Frank Walden of California, received the Bronze Star and a Combat Medical Badge during a ceremony at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, outside San Diego.
The medals also will be presented at later dates to the unit's nine other surviving medical personnel, as well as the families of some 70 deceased battalion veterans.
The upper echelon of the battalion, a forerunner of the Navy Seals, was "basically wiped out" by German machine gun and artillery fire, said Davey, the unit's history consultant for its website.
Davey's father, J. Russell Davey Jr., was a 26-year-old doctor from Philadelphia when he landed at Normandy. Davey was only a year old when his father died suddenly in 1948.
David Catallo of Waterford, near Albany, made it to the beach but was hit by an exploding shell.
"I remember going up in the air, and that's all," said the 87-year-old retired postmaster in a phone interview.
He woke up in a hospital bed in England, suffering from a concussion, Catallo said.
The corpsmen, as the Navy and Marines call their medics, weren't faring much better. Five were killed instantly; many were wounded as they struggled ashore and tried to treat wounded soldiers and sailors.
Andrew Chimiel, an 18-year-old from Pennsylvania, was wounded and temporarily paralyzed soon after he landed.
"They were just hitting us all over the place," Chimiel, an 87-year-old retired Xerox engineer, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from his upstate New York home. "A lot of us were casualties. You do what you can. That's it."
Attached to an engineer brigade with the Army's 1st Infantry Division, the battalion's ranks included demolition experts, radio operators and beachmasters, sailors who served as shoreline "traffic cops" during amphibious landings. The unit's medical detachment included about 10 doctors and more than 70 corpsmen.
Kenneth Davey, a 65-year-old retired high school teacher from Hopewell Junction in Dutchess County, began researching his father's military career as the 50th anniversary of D-Day approached in 1994. After the death of his mother in 1993, the younger Davey inherited his father's sea chest. Inside, he found letters his father wrote home, along with the elder Davey's combat helmet and military records. The find led Davey to other battalion veterans over the years.
Kenneth Davey will eventually be able to add the Combat Medical Badge and the Bronze Star to that sea chest.
In January, Davey sent a letter to the Army asking whether the battalion's medical personnel were eligible for the Combat Medical Badge. The Department of the Army approved the request in March, along with the Bronze Star, the military's fourth highest medal for combat bravery. Military officials said the sailors were due the higher award, too, because in 1947 the Army retroactively authorized awarding the Bronze Star to soldiers who had received the Combat Medical Badge.
Walden was the only member of the unit to receive the medal on Wednesday. Davey said five of the surviving battalion members live in the Northeast, and he is hoping to hold a presentation ceremony this summer at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for as many of the survivors who can attend.