ILION, N.Y. (WKTV) - Saturday was the 65th anniversary of D-Day. It was June 6th, 1944 when allied forces invaded Normandy, France. That invasion ultimately turned the tide of World War II in the allies favor. But did you know there was a practice run for D-Day, that the government kept quiet for years afterward.
On April 28th, 1944, eight U.S. landing ships sailed into Slapton Beach in the United Kingdom, to simulate what would happen when the same eight ships would sail into Normandy on D-Day.
30,000 U.S. troops were involved in the practice mission, but at least 749 of them were killed when Nazi German Torpedo Boats intercepted U.S. radio transmissions, and made their way to the practice target site of Slapton Beach. The German E-Boats torpedoed three of the eight U.S. ships.
Petty Officer Steve Sadlon of Ilion was on-board the last of the eight ships to pull in to Slapton Beach. Sadlon's ship was on fire and starting to sink, so he went up to the stern end up the ship and ran into the signalman, "and he told me Steve, I'm not going in that water, it's too cold. and I said ok, take your choice. I pointed to the water, and I told him ok, you'll freeze to death, I pointed to the fire and I said you'll burn to death, he burned to death, he took his choice." Sadlon jumped into the frigid water of the English Channel where he somehow survived for four hours, "and the next thing you know I thought of my mother holding me in my arms, in that green where I lived in Little Falls, and I said if i can only get there, I'll kiss that green grass." The next thing he remembers is waking up on a mess table on one of the ships that didn't get hit, awakened by a fellow sailor, "and he shook me and he says you're a lucky guy, he says we piled you with the dead and he says you frost at the mouth and we picked you out the pile."
For the past 65 years, Sadlon has blamed General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who later became president for keeping the mission a secret for so long.
Sadlon says he can understand keeping it quiet for the time leading up to the actual mission on D-Day, but to keep it quiet all those years after, he says was wrong. And he says he believes he knows why it was kept quiet. He says there were many mistakes made. He says Eisenhower only had one small boat protecting eight landing ships. He says the radio frequency was obviously a huge mistake, and also officers gave out the orders, to pick up no survivors. Sadlon says that was ordered so that there weren't many survivors to tell their story, who would possibly leak the details of the practice mission before the military's real mission, D-Day. "When I was in the hospital, they said if you say anything about what happened, you will be court marshalled." And servicemen like Steve Sadlon kept it to all to themselves for decades.