According to the Veterans Affairs Department, nearly 400 WWII soldiers are dying each day, and the number of those left behind to tell their stories is dwindling quickly.
One of Chicago's most decorated WWII soldiers kept most of his memories hidden for nearly seven decades. Dominic Errichiello is a father to five kids, 18 grandkids and 10 great grandchildren. He says it always bothered him that he couldn't remember all their birthdays, but he could remember every date of the war.
"I was only 18 when I enlisted and my first assignment was D-Day," Errichiello said.
Not only was it D-Day, but his 1st Infantry Division was assigned to Omaha Beach on the Normandy coastline.
"The water was up to my chest. There were shells flying all over the place. Shells and tanks running around. It was brutal. Just brutal. There were 18-20 bodies floating in the water around me," he said.
Errichiello survived one of the worst battles in U.S. history by hiding under the bodies of his fallen comrades.
"We lost about 2,300 G.I'.s right there and the only reason I'm here today was because we hid underneath the dead," he remembers.
It was the weight of their bodies and the families they left behind that gave Errichiello the the will to fight on. He scaled the ridge by nightfall and dropped grenades into the pill boxes where the snipers were firing down on their men. In one day, the 18 year old from Halsted and Taylor went from a kid who barely knew how to shoot a rifle to seeing some of war's worst horrors.
That was the beginning of the end of the war, but it was far from over for Dominic, who pressed on with others to the smaller villages still occupied by the Germans. It was there that he was taken prisoner by a group of German soldiers and held for days with nine others in a manmade hole. On the fifth night, the G.I.s planned their escape.
"He said when I holler, go...we're gonna run out of this hole in different directions. There's nine of us and only seven of them, so somebody's got to get away," Errichiello remembers.
Only two survived that night: Errichiello and another Lieutenant.
"I don't know why I survived. I gotta believe someone upstairs was watching out for me, but I'm not sure why," he says.
By the time Dominic Errichiello reached U.S. soil, he had survived the beaches of Normandy, the Battle of the Bulge and being held captive by the Germans. He was awarded the Silver Star and Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for the injuries and scars he still carries on his legs today.
As far as that heavily decorated jacket— it went in a closet, the medals and memories shelved until Dominic read about the 400 plus WWII Vets dying every day. It helped him realize that his memories are some of the few remaining. So for the first time, Dominic realized maybe he was still here for a reason. Not just as a father, grandpa and great grandfather, but as a voice for the thousands who never had the chance to tell their story.
If you would like to see even more of Dominic's story, Operation Fishing Freedom will be airing a special segment on him on March 11 on the Discovery Channel at 7 a.m. CST.