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Yogi Berra was at D-Day

Joining the Navy at the age of 18, Yogi Berra found himself thrust into the middle of World War II.  In an interview with Keith Olbermann, Yogi Berra reflects about his contribution to the Invasion at Normandy, sixty years ago. 

Yogi Berra has done everything: He's been in movies and commercials. He's had an equally famous cartoon character named after him. He's in "Bartlett's Familiar Quotations," as well as baseball's Hall of Fame.

But a little-known fact is that on June 6, 1944, he was just Seaman 1st class Berra.

The famed Yankee catcher sat down with Keith Olbermann in his baseball museum at Montclair State University in New Jersey to speak about his experiences in Normandy Invasion. 

Trained at Little Creek Base in Norfolk, Virginia, Berra proudly served the U.S. Navy from 1944-1945 when he was just 18.  Berra helped soften up German defenses and ran messages from Omaha Beach to Utah Beach. He also participated in a second attack on France, receiving a medal from the French government for his efforts.

Oh, and he also coined the phrase, “It ain’t over till its over!”

KEITH OLBERMANN, HOST: Tell us a little about your experience on D-Day.

YOGI BERRA, WORLD WAR II VETERAN: Well, being a young guy, I thought it was like the Fourth of July, to tell you the truth. I said, "Boy, it looks pretty, all the planes coming over." And I was looking out and my officer said, "you better get your head down in here, if you want it on.:

Being a young guy, you didn‘t think nothing of it until you got in it. And so we went off 300 yards off beach. We protect the troops. If they ran into any trouble, we would fire the rockets over.  We had a lead boat that would fire one rocket. If it hits the beach, then everybody opens up. We could fire one rocket if we wanted to, or we could fire off 24 or them, 12 on each side. We stretched out 50 yards apart. And that was the invasion.

Nothing happened to us. That's one good thing. Our boat could go anywhere, though. We were pretty good, flat bottom, 36-footer.

OLBERMANN: What was that boat called?

BERRA: Landing craft support small (LCSS), but we used say landing craft suicide squad. We had the nicknames for all.  We called a LSD, a large stationary target.

A lot of our guys wanted to get off to go on the beach. I said, "No, I‘m staying on the boat." And so I didn‘t go on the beach. We lost one guy.   He went on the beach and lost his life.

OLBERMANN:  What happened during the next 12 days you were stationed on the LCSS, continuing to run interference for Army personnel?

BERRA: We had orders to shoot anything that came below the clouds. One of our own planes came down over the clouds and we shot it down. W were the closest to him to pick up the pilot. And you should have heard the words he was saying.

OLBERMANN:  What kind of reception did you receive upon returning to Little Creek?

BERRA: We came back on an LSD, same way we went over. It took us 19 or 20 days both ways. When we got there, they took us in to see the doctors. Doctors asked us if it was scary going overseas and all and I said, "Well, it was, a little bit."  But later on when it sinks in, you get scared. I‘ve seen guys drown. We would pick them up and everything.

OLBERMANN: How did you know that we had won at D-Day? Did you sense that from being there, that it had been a success?

BERRA: I thought we were going to win because I'd never seen so many planes in my life that came over for the invasion of Normandy.

I sit and I thank the good lord I was in the Navy. We ate good, clean clothes, clean bed. You see some of these Army men, what they went through, that's the one I felt for.

OLBERMANN: What would happen to all of us if D-Day had failed, if it hadn‘t worked, if the Germans had held the invasion off? Have you ever thought about what our lives would have been like?

BERRA: No, I never did think about it. I thought we had good generals there. Eisenhower was great. Everyone said, go ahead on the invasion.