LAGUNA HILLS, Calif. (KABC) --There are not a lot of D-Day veterans still alive, and with each passing year their numbers grow fewer. One of those still with us is Albert Leapley.
Albert Leapley's last visit to France was 20 years ago. He can't believe it's been 70 years since D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was just 18 then.
"We were ready to go June 4th and the weather was so bad, the water was so rough, they decided to postpone it a day, then another day, then finally we took off," said Leapley. "We got close enough and the guns began to fire. They bombed and bombed and bombed."
The largest beach invasion ever began at dawn. Machinist Mate 2nd Class Leapley rode in on a 140-foot landing craft with 17 other men. On board were more than a thousand rockets.
"We got close to the shore and began to fire rockets," said Leapley. "Terrible. Metal breaking apart, crushing."
They reached shore, but he remembers seeing so many others not make it.
"We could help no one. We had to get in and out of there to make a continuous flow on and off the beaches," said Leapley.
Seventy-thousand American troops came ashore on D-Day. More than 5,000 died.
"Turning point of World War II, absolutely," said Leapley. Less than a year later, Germany surrendered.
Leapley says over the decades he's only talked with one of the 17 men he shared that boat with on D-Day.
"Life went on. We wanted to forget war. We had enough sleepless nights after the war, nervously," said Leapley.
The 89-year-old retired mechanical engineer moved to Orange County last year to be close to family.
"I'm proud that he was at D-Day and it's exciting, 70 years from that point in time," said Leapley's daughter, Diana DeWees.
DeWees wants his story told, what with so few D-Day veterans still around. Leapley, a modest man, prefers to keep his medals in a box. But he does smile when he recalls being recognized by the mayor of Caen during his last visit to Normandy.
"The people loved us, we Americans, for what we did for them," said Leapley.