Story of A... Veteran

Retired Maj. Gen. John C. Raaen Jr., 91, lived through the hell of D-Day—and penned a soldier’s story about it.

Roberto Gonzalez

Raaen was part of the U.S. forces that went up against the entrenched German army at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. An Army Rangers captain, he was 22 years old. Decades later he wrote: “The scene was one from hell: smoke from the fires on the face of the bluff, fires from burning vessels and equipment, black ugly puffs from artillery bursting, dust and flying debris everywhere.’’

The estimated number of American casualties at Omaha numbered 3,000 killed, wounded and missing.

Raaen is the author of Intact: A First-Hand Account of the D-Day Invasion From a 5th Rangers Company Commander. “Most of Intact is my memories, corrected where necessary by other people’s stories,” he says. “I communicate with historians and historical authors who want to write about D-Day.’’

Raaen’s primary personal sources were from letters he wrote in 1944-45. The first draft of his book was written in 1984. But at the urging of two of his daughters, Raaen revised it in 2011, and it was published last year.

The stuff of courage: “There’s no fear for properly trained troops,’’ Raaen says. “You’re not afraid while it’s happening. You’re afraid after it happens, when you think of what might have happened.”

Raaen believes that veterans of World War II are called The Greatest Generation because they endured the Great Depression and knew what deprivation was. “Most of us lived in small towns or on farms, so when you put a man through basic training, he already knew how to shoot a rifle, how to maintain his equipment. He knew if that rifle rusted, the bullet was going to get stuck and the gun was going to blow up. Most of us came back and didn’t want our children to be deprived. So we spoiled them.”

A West Point graduate, Raaen was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge and returned to the United States in late 1944, but his military career was hardly over. He went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam wars before retiring in 1979.

“The way troops were treated after the Vietnam War was an abomination. After the Gulf War, people encouraged others to thank all veterans for their service. We didn’t expect it, but we appreciated it.”

On November 11, Veterans Day, Raaen plans to take part in a remembrance ceremony at Winter Park’s Mayflower Retirement Community, where he lives.

“The soldier is the one who hates war more than anyone else because he is the one who suffers,’’ Raaen says. “We are willing to fight if called upon, but we don’t want war.”

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