HAMMOND | Joseph Kish didn't always like to talk about his wartime exploits, but his grandson Mike remembers how proud the longtime Hammond resident was when he was recognized for his role in helping liberate France.
Command Sgt. Maj. Mike Kish, whose grandfather's World War II service inspired his 22-year career in the Army National Guard, said his grandfather felt the world had become complacent about his actions during one of history's most pivotal moments.
That changed in 2009 when the then-89-year-old Kish and 11 other veterans from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky and Wisconsin were awarded the Legion of Honor, France's highest distinction.
"He was extremely appreciative," Mike Kish said of his grandfather, who received the award during a ceremony in Chicago.
Joseph Kish has since died, but the Bronze Star winner's service and that of others like him are once again in the forefront with today's 70th anniversary of D-Day, the allied invasion of Western Europe.
Mike Kish, of Idaho, said his grandfather had joined the military in 1939 right out of high school. Even though he was a master sergeant who was soon to become a lieutenant, he was just a young man when he arrived on Normandy's Utah Beach a few days after D-Day. He said the feeling he got from his grandfather was there was some trepidation and "a fear of the unknown" among the men coming ashore.
When he arrived, Joseph Kish saw what he described as "a city of disorganization" as the military went about setting up supplies and equipment in a purposeful fashion, Mike Kish said.
In a 2009 Times story, Joseph Kish remembered riding along a road near Normandy, looking down and seeing what he thought were men asleep.
"They were dead," Kish recalled. "It scared the hell out of me. We had hundreds."
In a story published in "Times Capsule: The Times History of the Calumet Region during the 20th Century," Frederick Cegur, of Hammond, recalled being part of the 29th Division, 175th Infantry Regiment, during the invasion at Omaha Beach.
The 115th and 116th Infantry stormed the beach at Normandy on D-Day, while the 175th served as the V corps floating reserve.
Coming ashore the next day, Cegur recalled one landing craft being hit and losing all of its men. He said their lieutenant told the sailor manning his landing craft to take them close to shore because he didn't want his men to drown, as happened in some other cases.
"As we hit the beach, you couldn't help stepping on a leg, an arm or some other part of a body. The shoreline and and the beach were covered with bodies. The water and sand on the beach was red with blood," Cegur wrote. "I told the sergeant next to me that I thought our training was tough but this was going to be tougher than hell."
As German guns and shells were going off all around him, Cegur was hit in the left leg by a bullet and knocked off his feet. He wrapped a handkerchief around his wound and carried on despite losing a piece of his shin bone.
"I went in with 900 men, and 194 of us made it home," Cegur wrote. "To this day, I can't believe I made it home."