A few blocks from his Margate, N.J., home, the beach is busy with vacationers baking in the sun, playing in the waves. But when Bernard Friedenberg closes his eyes at night, he sees another sandy shore - a nightmarish place 3,000 miles away that won't let him go, not even after 72 years.
Friedenberg tosses and turns in his sleep, he repeats military jargon, and tries to jump from his bed, as if again exiting the landing craft that brought him to Omaha Beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
The Army medic's lifesaving "work began" the moment he crawled out of the surf - and onto the killing ground that was Normandy, France.
"Everywhere I looked I saw dead and wounded," said Friedenberg, who was a staff sergeant. "I could hear men hollering 'Medic' from every direction."
Amid exploding shells, machine-gun fire and unimaginable carnage, he "moved on to the next casualty and then the next and the next and the next," he said. "There was no end to them."
Friedenberg, 94, a South Philadelphia native, is one of the ever-shrinking number of World War II veterans who witnessed the tragic losses and heroic self-sacrifice of D-Day - the beginning of the end for Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.
About 16 million Americans served in World War II and most are now in their 90s, dying at a rate of nearly 500 a day, according to U.S. Veterans Administration calculations. Only about 855,000 are left. They often forget recent events in their lives but not the frightening days of combat in their youth.
Friedenberg remembers dragging a comrade, who had been shot in the belly, to a boat, and watching a courageous Catholic priest, on his knees, tending to the spiritual needs of a wounded soldier amid "the most devastating enemy fire imaginable."
He also recalls carrying five wounded men from a minefield and returning to rescue a sixth who repeatedly called out, "Medic!" The man rolled onto a mine and was "actually torn apart," said Friedenberg who earned the first of two Silver Stars there for his heroism during the war.
"When I close my eyes, I live it all over again," said Friedenberg, who was wounded by shrapnel on the beach and treated this spring for hearing problems related to the concussive blasts more than seven decades ago. "I had an overdose" of combat.
"But even knowing I'd end up on Omaha Beach, I would do it all again," he said. "I know I saved a lot of lives," including the life of an Atlantic City man he would meet again after the war.
Friedenberg boarded a transport ship - the Samuel Chase - and looked out from the deck on June 3, 1944, at a mighty armada. More than 4,000 vessels of every kind stretched out "as far as the horizon. . . . It was mind-boggling," he said.
After a delay on June 5 because of foul weather, the "great crusade," as it was described by the supreme Allied commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, got underway on June 6.
Just off the Normandy coast of France, Friedenberg climbed down a rope cargo net and threw himself into a boat as it bobbed and crashed into the side of the ship. "Then an hour of hell!" he said. "The craft was pitching and tossing in the rough seas and we all started to get sick. . . ."
Friedenberg worked his way to the front of the landing craft. "Frequently enemy machine-gun fire would catch the last bunch of men disembarking," he said. "If that happened, I wanted to be long gone, so I made it a point to get off the craft quickly."
But when he stepped off, Friedenberg immediately sank into water over his head, pulled down by the heavy load of medical supplies he was carrying. He struggled to the beach out of breath and immediately got to work.
He helped a soldier who lost part of a leg, then went on to other wounded soldiers. "Enemy shells were exploding all around me; the bullets kept whizzing around my head, but I didn't feel scared," he said. "I was too busy to even think about being scared."
Friedenberg helped a GI - wounded in the stomach - to a landing craft that had just unloaded soldiers. The boat's coxswain told him that he wasn't supposed to take casualties. "I remember yelling back to him, 'OK, Mac. You throw him overboard.' I kept going."
Over the next few hours, he would see sights that haunt him to this day. "Omaha Beach was probably the deadliest place anyone could have been on that day," Friedenberg said. "Our enemies had zeroed in on that beach and could place an artillery shell wherever they chose."
Eisenhower later pinned medals on Friedenberg and others in the Army's First Infantry Division who had distinguished themselves in combat. He said he considered them to be the praetorian guard, the best of the Roman Legion, and that he expected the landing on Omaha Beach to be made over the bodies of the division.
The Allies moved inland and the fighting continued into Germany, where Friedenberg received a second Silver Star for rendering first aid and evacuating the wounded while under heavy mortar and machine-gun fire in Munsterbusch on Sept. 19, 1944. He also received two Bronze Stars for valor and two Purple Hearts - one for the D-Day wound in his back and the other for a shrapnel head wound during the Battle of the Bulge.
At home after the war, Friedenberg married Phyllis Rogers, who lost a brother, Lt. David Rogers, after he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day.
"We had our honeymoon in Florida and were stopped at a red light when a plane flew overhead," said Phyllis Friedenberg, 89. Her new husband automatically reacted as if the plane were making a strafing run, jumped out of the car and laid flat in the gutter.
"I said, 'Where did he go?' " recalled Phyllis, who has been married to Bernard for 68 years.
"It was instinct," Bernard Friedenberg said. "She was more upset than I was."
The couple had two sons and a daughter, and owned a tavern and hotel, a motel, and Boardwalk video game businesses at the Jersey Shore. He also has spoken to high school classes about the war, and written a book about his experiences: Of Being Numerous: World War II As I Saw It.
His daughter, Susan Friedenberg, has seen the war's impact on her father and the nonphysical wounds that still haven't healed. "He's had horrible nightmares," said Susan Friedenberg, who lives in Philadelphia's Washington Square section.
June 6, 1944, changed the course of thousands of lives forever.
"I have thought back to D-Day innumerable times and I can only marvel at the fact that I survived," said Friedenberg, who is scheduled to be honored June 6 for his military service during a ceremony at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. "I saw a movie some years ago called Somebody Up There Likes Me. I think perhaps somebody up there loves me.
"Only someone who was actually on Omaha Beach can tell you how close we came to being pushed off that beach," he said. "I firmly believe that it was on that day the enemy knew we had beaten them."
Edward Colimore is a former Inquirer reporter whose father, Flight Officer James Colimore, piloted a combat glider loaded with troops into Ste. Mere Eglise on D-Day. email@example.com.