By Michael Janusonis
Journal Arts Writer
Documentary filmmaker Tim Gray’s “Navy Heroes of Normandy” will make its television debut as a Veterans Day special at 10 p.m. Wednesday on Channel 36.
The hour-long film is as much a monument to the brave sailors who ferried American troops onto French beaches on D-Day, June 6, 1944, as is the actual monument honoring the sailors which was erected at Normandy in 2008 as profiled in the film.
Gray, based in Kingston, traveled to Loveland, Colo., to capture footage of sculptor Stephen Spears’ statue being cast in bronze. It was a long-delayed monument to the 1,068 American sailors who were killed during the initial assault on Nazi-occupied Europe and it was dedicated in September 2008 at the highest point on Utah Beach.
But more than a bronze statue, Gray has also put a personal face on the D-Day invasion and the sacrifices made by the sailors who ferried in the troops and landed on places like Omaha and Utah beaches, in filmed interviews with many of the former Navy men. They are now old men, but they vividly recount the terrors and heartaches and bloodshed of that day more than six decades ago as though it were yesterday, some in very emotional moments.
Richard Fazzio of Woonsocket tearfully recalls the terror of watching soldiers being shot in front of him as the sea turned red. Frank Amalfetano of Warwick remembers wading through a sea of body parts which had to be reported back to headquarters so they could be picked up. Ernie Corvese of Smithfield emotionally remembers how the rest of his boat crew was killed during the assault.
Gray also interviews Manfred Rommel, son of the late Gen. Erwin Rommel, who was in charge of defending Adolf Hitler’s Atlantic coastal defenses. The younger Rommel tells how his father was back in Germany when the Allied invasion began, celebrating his wife’s 50th birthday. He felt he could leave Normandy because the German high command did not believe there would be an invasion during the bad weather of June in the English Channel. (The D-Day invasion was actually planned for June 5, but was delayed a day because of rough seas.)
Gray has pulled together color footage of the D-Day preparations and the landings that were part of the largest air, sea and land assault in history. It has been expertly edited by Jim Karpeichik into a seamless presentation that goes back and forth between June 6, 1944, and the reminiscences of the surviving sailors.
Already shown on June 4, 5 and 6 in Normandy (with French subtitles), “Navy Heroes of Normandy” is a tribute to bravery and courage under extremely difficult conditions.