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