Navy beach master on D-Day: "It stays with you" - DC News FOX 5 DC WTTG

Navy beach master on D-Day: "It stays with you"

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Mort Caplin Mort Caplin
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WASHINGTON - Of the roughly 73,000 American soldiers and sailors that took part in the D-Day invasion, some 2,500 were killed.  One who survived that day is still living in the D.C. area, and he says he remembers it like it was yesterday.  

FOX 5 met Mort Caplin at his law office in Washington.  At the age of 97, he's there almost everyday, and says he swims every morning. The longtime tax attorney remembers living through D-Day and the bloody weeks that followed as though it was not 70 years ago.

"It stays with you," Caplin said.  "I mean, you don't forget it, you know.  Coming on the beach with all those bodies there."

Caplin was a 27-year-old law school graduate when he landed at Omaha Beach along the Normandy coast. He says the beach was completely covered with dead bodies.  

"It was like a wax museum," he remembers.  

Caplin was a Navy beach master, working a stretch of about half a mile on Omaha Beach.  He commanded 40 men, helping to direct the subsequent waves of boats and soldiers onto the beach.  

"We've been called sort of the forgotten teams, but we stayed on the beach for 30 days," he explained.

They were there to clear the beach of the dead before fresh soldiers arrived.  In doing so, they worked closely with the Army.  

"And they had a group called the gravediggers corps.  And so the gravediggers came down and we assisted them," he explained, moving the bodies up the hill and creating a temporary cemetery.  

Caplin trained for more than a year to get ready for the invasion.

"One of my fraternity brothers from the University of Virginia was killed on that beach."

The memories were fresh as the days were long.

"Our biggest concern was that at night, for the first two weeks, the German planes would come in and straffe the beaches," he explained.  "And that was a little hairy."

After his time on the French Coast, Caplin went back to England to work as a lawyer for the Navy.  He says was still very green, but he learned how to prosecute and defend cases.  And, he was in london on VE Day.

"I went down the next day to the Buckingham Palace where the King spoke and Churchill spoke," he recalled.  "They were events I'll never forget."

After the war, Caplin became a law school professor.  In fact, he had both Teddy and Bob Kennedy at students at the University of Virginia. That's how he met John F. Kennedy, who made him head of the Internal Revenue Service.  Caplin says to this day, President Kennedy is the only president to ever visit the IRS.  He welcomed the president to IRS Headquarters on May 1, 1961.  

"President Kennedy was a very inspirational person and he was very supportive of the IRS.  It was a different scene than we have today," Caplin said.  

Forty years ago, Caplin went back to Omaha Beach with his wife and two of their five children.  Just five years ago, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor.  

Caplin will turn 98 next month, and he's lived a pretty remarkable life-- all possible because he made it through those dark and desperate days 70 years ago.


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