Sam Sachs

Sam Sachs, was in the Normandy invasion on D-Day 75 years ago, in full uniform at his residence in Lakewood on Wednesday.

Sam Sachs, a 29-year-old United States Army officer, soared through the air — in a glider grimly nicknamed the “Flying Coffin.”

He asked God to give him at least 24 hours. He faced a likely lethal landing, and he knew it.

It was June 6, 1944, and the glider’s eventual descent would set him in Normandy, during the D-Day invasion.

“I figured if I got 24 hours,” Sachs said Wednesday, June 5, “my chances would be better to make it out alive for a little while longer.”

Sachs got more than a day. He got 75 years, and counting.

“My prayers were answered for 24 hours,” he said, “but who could imagine I would still be around 75 years later? It’s a miracle.”

Two months ago, on April 26, Sachs turned 104. But as if that wasn’t reason enough to celebrate, the World War II veteran will receive a major honor Thursday, June 6: 75 years after D-Day — which launched the invasion of Normandy, with 132,000 Allied troops landing on the beaches, more than 4,400 of them ultimately dying — Sachs will receive the French Legion of Honor, that country’s highest medal, during a ceremony at the Bob Hope Patriotic Hall in Los Angeles.

Christophe Lemoine, consul general of France, in Los Angeles, told Sachs in a letter that he was being appointed a chevalier — or knight — by decree of French President Emmanuel Macron.

“This award testifies to President Macron’s high esteem for your merits and accomplishments,” Lemoine wrote. “In particular, it is a sign of France’s infinite gratitude and appreciation for your personal and precious contribution to the Allies’ decisive role in the liberation of our country during World War II.”

The Legion of Honor was created by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802 to acknowledge services rendered to France by people of exceptional merit.

“The French people will never forget your courage and devotion to the great cause of freedom,” Lemoine said.

Sachs called the Legion of Honor Medal “a huge honor that’s beyond belief.” He thanked Macron and the French people for recognizing him.

Sachs has an amazing memory and he talks about that historic day 75 years ago like it happened yesterday.

“We were towed from England to Normandy along with so many other gliders that it looked like snow coming down from the sky,” Sachs said from his home in Lakewood.

Sachs, a company commander with the 325th Glider Infantry, 82nd Airborne Division, said his glider was filled with machine guns, ammunition and eight soldiers whose job it was to land behind enemy lines and destroy German defenses.

As they approached the French coastline, Sachs said, the enemy anti-aircraft barrage began.

“In those gliders, you were just like pigeons up there,” he said.

The plan, Sachs said, came under heavy fire. But later, when he had a chance to assess the damage, Sachs discovered something near miraculous: he could find only one bullet in the plane’s fuselage.

“We were beyond lucky,” Sachs said. “I think I had a guardian angel on my shoulder.”

Sachs’ life spans two world wars.

He was born April 26, 1915, in Grand Forks, North Dakota, not long after the outbreak of World War I. When World War II got underway, he was called into service as a first lieutenant. He was assigned to various posts in the United States and then overseas, serving as a company commander in Africa and Italy in 1943.

His job was to oversee logistics for men, ammunition, food and transportation. He was transferred to Ireland and later England, where he was involved in the planning of the D-Day invasion with gliders.

Sachs, who is Jewish, said he was determined never to be taken prisoner by the Germans.

He helped liberate a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. He called it “an extermination camp.”

The horror of what had happened to the people in that camp, he said, was beyond belief unless you actually saw it.

His last military assignment during the war was in Marseille, in southern France, getting ready to board ships to attack Japan. But the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war in the Pacific Theater and Sachs returned to the United States.

He then got a teaching credential from USC. His first teaching job was at Wilmington Junior High, followed by teaching positions at Compton Junior High, Roosevelt Adult School in East LA and, finally, Huntington Park High School, where he taught from 1955-1982.

Does he have any secrets to his longevity?

“I don’t know if you’d call them secrets,” he said, “but I do follow three rules.”

First, he said, practice moderation in everything you do.

Second, exercise, exercise, exercise.

“I figure I’ve walked 1 1⁄2 times around the world,” Sachs said. “It revitalizes you.”

Third, manage stress by being positive.

“There’s always a silver lining in every cloud,” Sachs said. “I’m always optimistic.”

It also helps, he said, if you have a sense of humor.

“When I’m alive, that’s one day less than when I’m dead,” he said with a grin.

Asked if he was looking forward to his 105th birthday, he said, “Of course, but with the mystery of life, who knows?

“I know I’m getting into rarefied atmosphere,” Sachs added, “but I just manage my life one day at a time.”

He said his favorite song, appropriately, is Frank Sinatra’s “Young at Heart.” with the lyrics,

“If you should survive to 105,” ol’ blue eyes sings at the end of the song, “look at all you’ll derive out of being alive and here is the best part, you have a head start if you are among the very young at heart.”

Sam Sachs, despite everything he’s seen, is among the very young at heart.

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