Video and txt provided by the WWII Foundation

The last time Ernie Corvese set foot on Omaha Beach, he spent 12 hours pinned down by German artillery. Much of that time he spent face-down and motionless, hoping he wouldn’t attract a sniper.

“I never told anybody,” he says. For decades, his four children and extended family knew little, if anything, about his WWII service. His sole confidant has been his wife, Dolores, who has been by his side for 62 years.

Few know that his demolition team was among the first to arrive at Omaha, ahead of the infantry units depicted in many World War II films. They were sent to destroy hedgehogs — X-shaped obstacles made of steel beams — and other structures the Germans placed along the coast to try to thwart Allied attempts to land on the beach. “Everything got fouled up,” Corvese says, explaining that rough conditions and heavy fire from German defenses made completing that task impossible. As the landing craft carrying Corvese and the seven other men in his unit approached the coast from 14 miles out, it was bombarded by shells from the fearsome German guns known as 88s.

“Just as I jumped off, there was one hell of an explosion,” Corvese says. “I had tripped and went under and forgot to unbuckle the strap on my helmet. It filled up with water, and I went to the bottom. I don’t know who it was, but somebody pulled me up by my collar.”

Corvese would spend many more frantic hours navigating the 400-yard battlefield of Omaha Beach before he learned what happened to the other seven men on his team. “The next day, I found out the rest of the guys in the unit were all dead,” Corvese says.

After he left the Navy in 1946, he moved back home to Providence and took a job as a photo engraver for The Providence Journal, a position he held for 30 years until his retirement. He and wife Dolores have been married for 62 years and reside in Smithfield, R.I.