I have touched base with Joe Balkoski, another D-Day expert and the official historian for the 29th Division, recommended by Simon. What is exciting about Joe is the work he has done on casualty figures for Omaha. The received history is that 2,000 Americans became casualties (killed, wounded and missing) at Omaha on D-Day. But Joe has for the first time come up with a more exact count – and astonishingly it is more than double the accepted figure, nearly 5,000.
This makes Omaha even more bloody than people have thought. What I find astonishing – coming from a generation where information is so readily available – is that such a fundamental and important figure could have taken more than 60 years to arrive at – and even then only after such painstaking work in the archives as Joe sifted through thousands of documents counting names. Joe agrees to be interviewed for the film in his archive rooms at the Fifth Armory in Baltimore.
Today I ring one of the Ranger veterans on my list called Ray Tollefson. I know almost immediately that he is just the person we are after for eyewitness testimony. As one of the Rangers who trained for the assault on the cliff top position Pointe du Hoc but who was diverted to come in on Omaha beach itself, he is at the very heart of our story. As part of 2nd Rangers ‘A’ company, he also ended up coming in at the very worst sector of Omaha beach – Dog Green, near the Vierville draw – where casualties were particularly high.
Ray tells me he lost many of his close friends in the assault and he himself was badly wounded, hit twice through the arm by machine gun fire. But what really gets me about Ray on the phone is his candour and genuineness. He tells me about cliff training in England and how much he hated it because he was scared of heights. He is the very opposite of gung ho – he is frank and very human, which makes me really emphathise with him and thus feel his story that much more powerfully – an important factor for a TV contributor.
Ray says he has never really talked about what happened to him on D-Day not even to his wife – but when I ask whether he would be willing to be interviewed on camera, to my delight, he accepts.