Chicago area World War II veteran remembers day he was supposed to be part of D-Day invasion

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CHICAGO — Hundreds of people marked the solemn 75th anniversary of D-Day at Cantigny Park in Wheaton on Thursday. There was a special salute to the D-Day survivors and World War II veterans who attended Thursday’s ceremony.

Some of the survivors shared their stories and recalled the unforgettable memories of the invasion, as they paid tribute to their friends who lost their lives during the historic attack on the beaches of Normandy.

Seventy-five years ago, allied forces stormed Normandy’s beaches with courage and determination that would ultimately liberate a German occupied France despite an unimaginable loss of life.

One Chicago area businessman and philanthropist remembers the day he was supposed to be a part of the D-Day invasion.

Dick Duchossois was 22 at the time. Now, at age 97, the horse-racing legend at Arlington International Racecourse reflected on what D-Day means to him.

Duchossois was a young lieutenant in June 1944. He thought he was off to storm the beaches of Normandy, but plans changed.

“We were traveling over on the ocean. Being special troops, we got shoved aside a lot. We were supposed to be on D-Day but there wasn’t room for us on the boat,” he said.

He eventually landed on Utah Beach days after the battle that turned the tide of the war and liberated a German occupied France.

“Our guys were disturbed. Our guys wanted to be there,” he said. “We wanted to be there at first crack and we weren’t.”

Duchossois said he does think about how different things could have been if he had landed on Utah Beach that fateful day.

“I’m thankful I’m here,” he said.

His horse racing empire could have been but a dream, but he admits the lessons from those character defining days made him the man he is now.

“You learn the discipline. You learn you don’t always win, but second place isn’t good enough,” he said. “Then you go back and try again.”

The lessons he learned during wartime he carries with him decades later with a Purple Heart, a mass fortune and a loving family to prove it. He also has a Jeep with his serial number on the hood, which was a gift from his children and part of his veteran pride that he gained from his years of service.

While the French government honored him with a pin on the 70th anniversary in Normandy five years ago, Duchossois doesn’t like being called a war hero.

“I had a job to do. I did the best I could. My men were well trained. I brought most of them home. We were trained, had discipline, had pride. With all of that, it saved a lot of people,” he said.

Back then, the decorated World War II veteran said he was just a number. These days, he’s among a dwindling number of the greatest generation who knows first-hand freedom is not free. Duchossois remembering on these notable anniversaries just how lucky he is to have survived. His heart, he says, will always be with those who did not.

“I tell the guys, I never want to hear the word ‘morale.’ I don't believe in it. It’s pride in your outfit. Morale you can lose right away, but pride in your outfit you never lose,” Duchossois said.

This weekend, there are events at Arlington International Racecourse honoring medal of honor recipients for Military Appreciation Day.

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