When Robert Link stepped into the lobby of the Berman Museum of World History on Tuesday, he realized he might see familiar images from D-Day on display as part of the museum’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the event.
What he didn’t expect was to see himself in one of them.
“I walked up here and thought that’s the kind of landing craft that I was on. It looked familiar and then that looked even more familiar,” he said as he pointed to a profile of a soldier standing in the landing boat in the black-and-white photo. “I looked at it and I almost fainted.”
David Ford, the museum’s director, said a staff member found the photo in the public domain. The museum didn’t have any information Tuesday about who shot the photo, or precisely when or where it was taken.
“When we had the D-Day ceremony, the World War II guys were very attentive to the items and the pictures,” Ford said. “You could tell that they were taking it in, but no reaction like this. This guy about came out of his skin.”
Link said after enlisting in the Army at age 16 he was sent to Fort Sill in Oklahoma and later to Boston, where he trained to be a military policeman. He later was sent to England, where he became part of the invasion force.
On June 6, 1944, Link landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, with the 29th Infantry Division. He was 18 years old.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘What a dummy. If you would have just stayed home and let them draft you, you wouldn’t be here now,’ and I wouldn’t have,” Link said, describing that day.
He said he wasn’t on the beach for more than 10 minutes before he was wounded, and at the time, he didn’t know that he had been.
“I didn’t realize I was wounded until somebody told me I had a hole in my helmet,” Link said. “It wasn’t that bad, though. The cure was worse than the wound because they didn’t get it all out and it just got worse. That was the bad part.”
After being wounded by shrapnel, Link was sent to join the 692nd Tank Destroyer Battalion — ultimately the reason he was at the museum Tuesday. Veterans of his unit have been in the Anniston area since Sunday for their 43rd annual reunion. Now an 88-year-old resident of Lady Lake, Fla., Link visited the museum with two other members of the battalion and their families.
Susan Guzzetta’s uncle served in the 692nd Tank Division. She said seeing Link’s reaction to the photo was special.
“He’s not an emotional guy. It’s hard to get a smile out of him or anything sometimes, but today, he was teary-eyed because he was just so shocked,” said Guzzetta.
That shock is something Link said he might not ever forget.
“I still can’t believe it. I had to look at it again and again and again, but I know it was me because the guy next to me,” he said. “It’s going to take some time for it to settle in. It’s a surprise and a half.”
Admittance to the Berman Museum will be free until July 4 for all World War II veterans and their families as part of the museum’s D-Day commemoration.