LITTLE FALLS, N.J. - Seventy years ago, a 19-year-old from St. Louis was on a small attack boat launching rockets at the Germans during the Allied invasion of Normandy.
Lawrence Peter Berra, a minor league baseball player who would later become known worldwide as Yogi, emerged unscathed from that bloody day. Now 89 years old, Berra was honoured Friday by the New Jersey museum that bears his name, as well as by the Navy and several veterans groups.
His age prevented him from participating in ceremonies in France. He sat in a wheelchair, a wearing a Navy blue Yankees windbreaker in the air conditioned room, along with a Yankees cap.
Berra did not speak during the ceremony. But he told The Associated Press afterward that D-Day was "amazing" and "awful," as he fired at the Nazis from 300 yards offshore.
"You saw a lot of horrors," he said in a voice now grown soft with age. "I was fortunate. It was amazing going in, all the guys over there."
Berra, who went on to win 10 World Series titles with the New York Yankees, was part of a 6-man crew operating a 36-foot LCSS boat, the letters standing for landing craft support, small. Berra previously joked that the letters stood for "landing craft suicide squad." Their mission was to fire rockets at German gun targets to protect Allied troops struggling to storm the beach.
Three of his comrades died in the invasion, which included 150,000 Allied personnel. It is widely considered the beginning of the turning of the war in the Allies' favour.
"We had orders not to go on the beach," Berra said. "They went on their own, and they got it. We had to stay back and protect them."
During the ceremony, Berra was lauded by the Bob Feller Act of Valor Award Foundation, by the military support group Quilts of Honor, which presented him with a quilt bearing his likeness and several of his remembrances of the day, as well as by several dozen sailors from New Jersey's Earle Naval Weapons Station. Former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda also attended but did not speak.
"It is fitting that we gather here to honour an American treasure," said Peter Fertig, president of the Bob Feller award group. "Lawrence Peter Berra, better known as Yogi, served on a rocket boat and was at the tip of the spear at Normandy 70 years ago this morning. Imagine how you would have felt sitting in a boat and seeing so many missiles and rockets soaring over your head, and yet you and your comrades still have a job to do. What a debt of gratitude we owe to those who gave up their American dream so that we could live ours."
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC