Remembering D-Day, And Tracy Sugarman

As the world honors the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Westport should not forget Tracy Sugarman, and his role in that historic event.

Tracy Sugarman

We often think of the artist, writer and longtime Westporter — who died in 2013, age 91 — for his civil rights activism. He published 3 non-fiction books and 1 of fiction about his experiences as a Freedom Rider during the 1960s.

But he also served as an officer with the Navy’s Amphibious Corps during World War II. On D-Day, he stormed the French beach.

In 2011 — a few days before he spoke as Memorial Day grand marshal — I wrote about Tracy’s experiences. 

As a junior at Syracuse University’s College of Fine Arts, Tracy Sugarman had a great time.  He was on the lacrosse team, was dating a wonderful woman named June — “it was all Joe College,” he says.

Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.

The next day, Tracy and a fraternity brother took a bus to Buffalo.  When they returned to campus, they were in the Navy Reserve.

Tracy Sugarman and June, during World War II.

He was allowed to finish school.  But 2 days after graduation — May 13, 1943 — Tracy headed to midshipman’s training at Notre Dame.

“We kept ‘invading’ England,’” Tracy recalls.  “Then one day, it was time to invade France.”

June 6, 1944 was “extraordinary,” says Tracy.  “There were 3,000 planes, and 3,000 ships — as far as the eye could see.”

The day was sunny, but the seas rough.  They circled until 3 p.m.  Everyone was seasick.  As an officer, Tracy had to pretend he was fine.

“Finally we hit the beach,” he says.  “It was just awful.

“It was noisy.  It was smoky.  Ships were blowing up.  There were bodies in the water.”

Tracy made his way through the maze of iron.  He kissed the ground, then returned to the assembly area.

World War II watercolor, by Tracy Sugarman.

He spent the next 6 months unloading ships, working with troops, ammunition and hospitals.

Finally — with the ports secured — he helped 2 other officers close up Utah Beach.  He went back to England.

On April 12, 1945 he had to announce to his ship that Franklin Roosevelt had died.  Most of the sailors had never known another president.

“I was 23,” Tracy says.  “I took 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds to the D-Day beach.  They looked at me — the ‘old man’ — to take care of them.”

Among Tracy’s many works is “My War.” In 2000 he published a collection of over 400 letters, drawings and watercolors he sent to his young wife, during the harrowing days of World War II.

“06880” reader Douglas Davidoff reminds us that the Library of Congress has an online portfolio of Tracy Sugarman’s drawings of D-Day. They’re available here.

There’s much more on Tracy Sugarman and World War II too, Doug notes. For a treasure trove of material via the Veterans History Project, click here.

Tracy Sugarman was grand marshal at Westport’s 2011 Memorial Day ceremony.

19 responses to “Remembering D-Day, And Tracy Sugarman

  1. Arline Gertzoff

    Thank you for remembering one of Westport’s finest

  2. Arline Gertzoff

    Thanks for remembering one of Westport’s finest.

  3. J.W. Kaempfer, Jr

    Great story, thank you.

    Joey Kaempfer

  4. If any reader wants to hear an hour of Tracy talking about his life, and his adventures, and his ART, THEY SHOULD GET THE DOCUMENTARY BY MARTIN WEST AT THE LIBRARY : “YEARS IN THE MAKING” . There are 2 parts to this -the first has 50 artists speaking for about 10 minutes each. BUT, , but there is also an hour separate archive film for each artist, one is Tracy’s archive, which is quite personal and wonderful.

  5. Lawrence Zlatkin

    Another wonderful example of the Great Generation and its service to our country and the world and institutions that followed.

  6. When ever Tracy and I ran into each other in Westport or on the train to NYC he always greeted me as if we had been life long friends. He was a very warm hearted guy, talented and gracious. I’m glad you remembered him on 06880 on this 75th anniversary of D-Day.

  7. Charles Taylor

    Extraordinary

  8. Thank you so much for remembering Tracy. Bill Buckley and I loved him. We met at his house and he was the best man at our wedding. I miss them both.

  9. Mary-Lou Weisman

    Tracy was our good friend. He was a talented, humane, and compassionate person with a lifelong commitment to civil rights. In his later years he found happiness with journalist Gloria Cole Sugarman.

  10. Laurie Sugarman-Whittier

    Thank you so much, Dan, for running this story. I have been thinking so much of him, and of my mom, June Sugarman, who, as a newlywed, had to survive at home worrying about him over there in harm’s way for so long. I wish he was still here for this 75th anniversary!

  11. Is someone writing his Biography? What an amazing person. What a gift we have had in Westport.

  12. I adored Tracy and miss him – his voice, his warmth, his stories. A treasure.

  13. Barbara Sherburne, '67

    A wonderful tribute, Dan, and I love the photos also. I did not know Tracy Sugarman, but he sounds like he was an amazing person. Thanks for posting this.

  14. Linda Sugarman

    Thank you for this posting.
    Tracy and June were strong citizens of the true America- the one with the dream of a united Nation believing in equality, respect, and responsibility for all and to each other.
    I miss them EVERY DAY!!
    We must fight as Tracy and his brothers did and as their wives did in support of them at home for the true and lasting values of this Democracy!! When they saw something, THEY DID SOMETHING!! Come on folks, we can heal this country. We can heal ourselves. We can regain our self respect by returning to our lawful society that fought against Hitler, against Naziism, against bigotry and The Klan at home, and against the apathy that allows the purely greedy, whatever their description or identity, to prevail!!

  15. Linda Sugarman

    I just noticed the comment posted by Judith Hamer, Bill Buckleys loving and beloved wife who saved him from despair after his first love and mother of their children, Ellie, died of brain cancer.

    The rest of the story is that June and Tracy Sugarman were strong and loving partners while Tracy and his brothers went off to war and their wives were the anchor for them at home, keeping them sane through constant communicationon with love from home. After returning from war, Tracy and June continued on as loving partners on every leve for 56 years until June’s death in Tracy’s arms in their Westport home. They were Partners Equally in the rearing and educating of their children Laurie and Richard AND in the educating of everyone about how to be a full citizen of the planet.
    IF THEY SAW SOMETHING, THEY SAID SOMETHING- LOUD AND CLEAR!!
    Early on they were active in welcoming members of the UN delegation from Africa to their Westport home to discuss the stresses of poverty and powerlessness on people in struggling countries.
    They also welcomed Martin Luther King to their backyard for fundraising in a wealthy, progressive, creative town in the North. They were interested in promoting the Equality for All inherent in the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in its fullest interpretation.
    Later this activity prompted a partnership with Bill Buckley, a gifted Westport Filmmaker, and his wife Ellie, who administrated his filmmaking business. The group established Rediscovery Films for the purpose of making educational films about the most pressing topics of the day- Civil Rights, Voting Rights, Established Social Safety Nets for healthcare and survival instituted by Franklin AND Eleanor Roosevelt, and later Agism, Sexism/massageny, and continuing bigotry and Racism against ALL non-whites including the indigenous peoples of the countries occupied by whites during the conquering of the earth that started with Alexander and later continued with Rome!!
    One of their films is the biography of Fanny Lou Hamer, a share-croppers daughter in Mississippi who became the first Black Woman ever elected to public office in the Deep South. (Maybe anywhere in the US for that matter. I don’t know. Maybe someone can research that!!)
    The Westport Public Library has a complete set of all of the films made by Rediscovery Films Productons. The Library has always been very supportive of all of the creative talent of Westport as individuals and as a progressive municipality.
    So come on people!!
    Let us heal the Union!!
    Let us declare that we will not succumbe to the greed of any individual or institution by allowing its continued influence. We have seen something. Let us say something. Loud and clear!! In the great style of the Westport Legacy and the creative individuals who fostered it.
    Thank you again, Dan, for reminding Westport of its legacy!!
    Keep on>>>>>

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker

      Thank you for this additional information and post about the Sugarman’s legacy. You are so right. We need to follow the example of Tracy and June. We have seen and heard lots of “somethings” and our country needs to be healed. In the early 60’s I was part of a group that did a few small things to try and support Civil Rights. Baby steps for sure. Baby steps are better than no steps. Each step forward can promote larger measures. Perhaps Dan can provide some sort of a forum for us to brain storm ideas. There will be negative voices. We read them here from time to time. The Sugarman’s are part of a long legacy of Westporters who have worked toward the lasting values that you list in your post. Yes, let’s “Keep on >>>>>>>>moving forward.

  16. Gloria Cole Sugarman

    Thank you for the thoughtful, sensitive and compassionate piece about Tracy. It is a fitting tribute to a superb human being who is much missed and greatly treasured. He is an example for all of us. Gloria Cole Sugarman

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