Mortimer Caplin, On The Brink Of 100, Looks Back On D-Day Service
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Seventy-two years ago this week, the beaches of Normandy teemed with fire, blood, bravery and sacrifice as Allied forces invaded France to liberate Europe from the iron grip of Nazi Germany. There was a U.S. Navy beachmaster who helped steer U.S. forces on Omaha Beach - Mortimer Caplin. He was 27 years old and a lawyer in civilian life.
Mortimer Caplin will turn 100 next month. He would go on to become the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service and found a noted Washington, D.C., law firm and to teach law. And we've joined Mortimer Caplin in his beautiful apartment. Thanks very much for the invitation.
MORTIMER CAPLIN: Well, thank you for coming here to chat a bit (laughter).
SIMON: So what was it like on that beach June 6, 1944?
CAPLIN: Well, it was fairly difficult. We came over in LSTs and then had to climb down cargo nets to go onto much smaller boats and then landed on the beach sort of chest high in the water. Meanwhile, some shells were coming to the beach and some machine gun fire, too. And lo, and behold, we lived there for about a month (laughter) - yeah.
SIMON: Now, you were a beachmaster.
SIMON: Kind of a combination - traffic cop, air-traffic controller.
SIMON: You had a lot of responsibility.
CAPLIN: Well, we also had all the ship-to-shore communication, and we had motor machinist mates who repaired boats that came in. And we had men who stood in the water, waved boats in. They cleared some of the obstacles the other boats in. Then we had the doctors to help on the beach with those who were wounded and those who were killed and move them away from the beach, took them out to some of the ships at sea.
SIMON: Yeah, but that was a tough month.
CAPLIN: It really was. We lived in foxholes. The beaches were not fine sand. They were sort of a sort of we had pebbly. We had to dig these foxholes. Some of the water was coming down from the hillside, and I felt myself getting wet for a while. So I had to leave that foxhole, dig another one (laughter).
SIMON: You were very brave. Were you also scared?
CAPLIN: Oh, we were pretty worried (laughter). We had been training for about a year, did a lot of hiking and physical work. Gas masks - we didn't know if there would be gas attacks. Then you know, the learning how to use a small boat, bringing them in - we had a lot of good motor machinist mates to work on these boats, yes.
SIMON: How much has that experience stayed with you over the years?
CAPLIN: Well, you don't forget that (laughter). I had a few real good friends, and we saw each other from time to time at first. And the years went by, and we lost touch with them, yeah, but haven't forgotten (laughter).
SIMON: So you're about to turn 100.
CAPLIN: That's right, yes.
SIMON: What's it like to be 100? I don't get to ask that question (inaudible).
CAPLIN: That's all right. Well, (laughter) I'm still working on it.
SIMON: What have you learned about life that we can learn from you?
CAPLIN: Well, one is clean living and to maintain some friendships, to have a lovely wife and a good family (laughter) - yeah, yeah.
SIMON: That's the key.
CAPLIN: That's right, yes.
SIMON: Mort Caplin, who's about to turn 100 - joining him at his apartment - former commissioner of Internal Revenue, big-name Washington, D.C., lawyer and 72 years ago this week...
SIMON: A beachmaster...
SIMON: At Normandy with the U.S. Navy...
SIMON: ...Served with a lot of others. Thanks so much for being with us.
CAPLIN: Well, thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.