NORMANDY, France — June 6, 1944 has been called "the longest day." The largest amphibious invasion in history, code named Operation Overlord, consisted of approximately 154,000 British, Canadian, and American troops. That number includes 23,000 paratroopers who came in via glider or parachute, 5,000 ships, and 11,000 aircraft.
One of those Soldiers was Master Sgt. Joseph Simpson. Simpson, who grew up in a small town in Tennessee joined the Army in 1936 during the Great Depression. In order to enlist he had to go back to high school to get his degree.
Simpson ended up in the 4th Infantry Division and was part of the third wave to land on Utah Beach. It was not Simpson's first combat engagement -- he had been involved in the air war over Germany -- and it wouldn't be his last. Right after the landings he went on to the Battle of Sainte Lo.
"He said that one of the major things that he noticed was that there was not one brick that was left on top of the other because the bombing and artillery had just devastated the town and that was when they got into intense fighting with the Germans," said his grandson, Pfc. Scott Simpson, a medic with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team.
Pfc. Simpson is in Normandy providing medical support to Task Force Normandy 65, the joint service task force of several hundred U.S. servicemembers supporting ceremonies to commemorate the 65th anniversary of D-Day.
Although Simpson did not talk very much about his war experience, he did tell his grandson about his run-in with one of history's most infamous generals 3rd Army's Gen. George Patton.
"He told us a story about Patton," said Simpson, laughing. "He was in charge of the motor pool and the fuel supplies and Patton came racing up in his jeep and gave my granddad (a hard time) because he wasnnt getting the fuel out to the tanks fast enough during the breakout."
Simpson was also taken prisoner by the Germans.
"He was captured and liberated again in the span of three weekss. He said that when he was held by the Germans they treated him with respect and that they knew a lot about the States and that really impressed him," said Simpson.
His grandfather later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and it was there that he was taken off of the line due to frostbite in his feet, a common ailment during the Bulge.
When the war was over Simpson stayed in the Army until 1947 and then went into the Air Force when the air service split off from the Army to become its own separate branch. He retired from the military in 1958 and died in 1999 at the age of 84.
His grandson says serving in the Army is a family legacy.
"It is kind of like carrying on the family tradition. My great grandfather was with Gen. Pershing in Mexico, my grandfather of course fought in World War II, and my father was in Vietnam, so it's kind of like a continuation of everything," he said.
That tradition has become more apparent with his arrival in Normandy.
On June 3 he was one of more than 350 servicemembers who were invited into the homes of local families from throughout the Normandy region.
The family with whom the private shared dinner lives in the town of Picauville. One member of the family is a dealer who specializes in World War II memorabilia, and the father and a friend of the family who attended the dinner are avid collectors. After the dinner, they showed their guests their collection of original World War II helmets, uniforms, books, and medical supplies.
The father told Simpson that many French citizens are interested in collecting World War II artifacts because they will never forget what happened on D-Day and that they want to always remember what the United States did for France.
"That makes me really proud of my grandfather. I'm really happy that the French people will never forget," said Simpson. "I found it also interesting that a lot of the people here know a lot more about the history than most Americans do."
Simpson has also had the chance to walk in his grandfatherrs footsteps at Utah Beach since he has been in Normandy.
"It gave me goose bumps. It sent chills down my back because here is where he came across to Europe," he said, reflecting on the experience.
Simpson took some sand from the beach as a special token.
"I'm going to keep it with me when I go Afghanistan and keep it as a good luck charm," he said.
Pfc. Scott Simpson will leave for Afghanistan by the end of the year and a part of Master Sgt. Joseph Simpson's D-Day legacy will travel with him.