CHICAGO - Seventy-five years ago Thursday, 160,000 Allied troops invaded the shores of France to fight Nazi Germany. Midwestern native John Ullinskey was there. He was also at the last major battle of World War II, off the island of Okinawa.
"You would think you were watching a 4th of July activity the way you saw all these blasts and explosions. But it was no 4th of July, it was the real McCoy," said Ullinskey.
The 95-year-old volunteered to enlist in the Navy when he was 19. He served as a motor machinist mate 2nd class on the USS Arikara ATF 98. Ullinskey recalls the 23-day journey from the East Coast of the United States to England.
"We couldn't turn the lights on at night because with all the German U-boats that were there, the entire fleet would have been annihilated," said Ullinskey.
While off the shores of Normandy, he and a group of men secured a barge, loaded with ammunition, that had drifted ashore. It took 7 hours to do the job. Ullinskey recalls, "If the Germans knew that barge was loaded with ammunition and it hit that barge, that would have been like an atomic explosion... so that was our biggest feat that we did over there in Normandy."
While stationed at Navy Pier, Ullinskey met his wife Loretta of 59 and a half years.
"And the first place we went was the Aragon Ballroom to dance and I bought her a gardenia. Cost me a buck, but I says I got to buy her a flower," he recalls.
Loretta now rests near Ullinskey's home in a mausoleum, and there are still flowers.
"I talk to her every day there. And I put, during the summer, I put fresh flowers there all the time," Ullinskey said. "I never regret the fact that I was in the military, because the military taught me two things, respect and responsibility. And that is something our world needs to assume today.”