How Many D-Day Veterans Are Still With Us?

How Many D-Day Veterans Are Still With Us?

At the National D-Day Memorial, saying goodbye is a sad reality.

Our day happens to coincide with the gradual passing of the Greatest Generation. The WWII heroes who once were daily visitors to our site are only occasionally able to visit these days, especially after a year of Covid-19. While we still maintain close friendships with many veterans in their mid- to late-90s, so many others have passed into history. We consider the opportunity to know, learn from, and honor these eyewitnesses to history to be among the greatest of privileges.

Norwood Thomas, at far left, with other Normandy Veterans, June 5, 2018.

Most recently we have mourned the passing of Norwood Thomas, a D-Day paratrooper whose visits to the National D-Day Memorial created many happy memories for our staff and volunteers. Norwood seldom missed a June 6th commemoration through the years, and he served as our keynote speaker on June 6, 2016. He jumped on D-Day with the 101st Airborne, landed in a glider for Operation Market-Garden in Sept. 1944, and was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge that December. He later served in Korea as well. He answered the final roll call on January 24 this year at age 98. As George Patton said, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather, we should thank God that such men lived.”

The passing of Norwood and so many others in recent years raises a challenging question: How many D-Day Veterans are still alive? It’s a question we are asked often, especially by the media in days leading up to June 6 each year.

Unfortunately, it’s a question for which there is no clear answer.

Primarily, it is crucial to understand that there is not, nor has there ever been, anything like a comprehensive roster of D-Day veterans. Individual units involved in the invasion, of course, had rosters at the time, but no one ever compiled them into an overall listing of D-Day participants. Therefore, there is no checklist from which to remove veterans as they pass away.

For that matter, there is no clear consensus on what qualifies a person as a “D-Day Veteran.” An infantryman who charged across Omaha Beach or a paratrooper who jumped into Ste. Mere Eglise is obviously in that category. But recall that there were also sailors and coastguardsmen serving in the Channel, there were pilots and crewmen flying overhead, and many men in reserve who may not have landed until the 7th or 8th. Then there are support troops—loading LSTs, treating wounded who return to England, fueling airplanes, etc.

So there is no way to answer the question “How many D-Day veterans are alive today?” since we don’t know how many there ever were. The best we can do is make a series of estimates. DISCLAIMER: the following numbers were compiled by a history major for whom math is a foreign language!

Let’s begin with the big number. The generally accepted estimate of Americans who served in uniform during World War II is 16 million. According to the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, there were 325,574 still living last September (this number is based, of course, on an estimate, not an actual census). By September 2021, the estimate is that 240,329 will still be with us. That number, however, may not take into account the pandemic and the inevitable fact that WWII vets are among the most vulnerable. For the sake of argument today (March 5, 2021) let us round off and say that 300,000 WWII vets are still living. That is approximately 1.8% of the 16 million.

WWII veterans honored by the Vice President at the National D-Day Memorial, June 6, 2019.

Now, let’s assume a number of 150,000 men were involved with the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944. (For our purposes today, we’ll draw a distinction between “D-Day Veterans” and the larger population of “Normandy Veterans,” most of whom crossed the channel after June 6.) The usual number for US men landing in France on D-Day is 73,000. At least 2,502 did not survive the day, so let us assume that there were about 70,000 men in France on June 7th who were now “D-Day veterans.” For the sake of argument, let’s double that to account for the back-stage service personnel in the Navy, Coastguard, Army Air Force and service units. Assume a rounded-off number of 140,000 Americans were D-Day participants.

Now, assuming that D-Day veterans have died at the same rate as other WWII veterans, we can estimate that 1.8% of the 140,000 are still living. That gives us an estimate of 2,520 D-Day veterans still living in 2021.

There’s another way we can back into an estimate. If we assume the number of 140,000 American D-Day participants on June 6, 1944, that would represent about .875% of all 16 million WWII veterans. Then further assuming that 300,000 WWII vets are still with us (possibly an optimistic number, as noted above), we can extrapolate a very similar number of D-Day veterans survive: 2,625 (.875% of 300,000).

All of this is, of course, guesswork. But in the absence of a real count, it might be the best we can do to answer the question above. A range of 2,520 to 2,625 D-Day veterans is enough, however, to move us to a moment of reflection. We have been most fortunate to have lived during the same years as these American heroes, and most regretful to have said farewell to so many. But we may also reflect that even now, more than three-quarters of a century after the “Great Crusade” commenced, there are still men among us to honor.

8 Comments
  • Robert Dakin
    Posted at 02:05h, 28 May Reply

    Great men, nuff said.

    • Rick Spry
      Posted at 19:20h, 03 June Reply

      Fully agree sir.

  • AJ Morales
    Posted at 03:10h, 30 May Reply

    Thanks for this information.

  • Bruce Ford
    Posted at 23:48h, 30 May Reply

    Excellent work. I appreciate the effort. Your excellence in math certainly exceeds my weak attempt in calling my prowess at math reserved strictly to my incredibly fast work on my abacus. After all that may not be bad for someone who graduated #762 in a high school class of 670.

    I have not read other pieces that you have written but will do so because I like your style. I’m curious as to whether you have written on anything having to do with the Civil War and if so from what perspective. My wife and I are researching an ancestor of mine. This fellow carried a huge burden into war and was Wounded in a small skirmish (fire fight) in SC on April 9 1865 and passed a few days later.

    In any case love to check out your thoughts regarding that war.

    Best regards,

    Bruce Ford
    201-218-2233

  • Rexanne Seidler
    Posted at 04:32h, 04 June Reply

    Although I wasn’t born until 1958, I have been an avid, although amateur, student of WWII history for 40 years. Every year on June 6th and the days immediately prior, I reflect on the great sacrifice these men made to their country. And every year, I’ve asked myself, how many still survive. Thank you for your excellent estimate. I believe it’s a real loss that the DOD did not keep, what I believe, would have been very valuable records.

  • Bill King
    Posted at 22:08h, 06 June Reply

    Need help to find WW2, Korean vets to attend & speak at our 55th reunion for the Battle of Suoi Tre 3/21/1967 Viet nam.
    Will be held march 2022 at Colorado Springs / Ft Carson. Would like to bond their WW2, Korea generation, our Viet nam & current soldiers fighting the war on global terrorism.
    Our 50th reunion we were blessed by Jim Downing pearl harbor, USS west Virginia & Ed Beck Battle of the Buldge speak to us. Heart warming for all! Life changing for many!!!

  • Anthony A. Corriero
    Posted at 12:08h, 08 June Reply

    Thank you to the 3 Summers brothers (Harold, Jack and Leo) of Roanoke VA.
    RIP brave ones xoxo

  • Bryan N.
    Posted at 17:58h, 19 June Reply

    I am only 37 years old, I had the pleasure of bumping into a WW2 Veteran today. He was a member of the Seventh Naval Beach Battalion. I wish I had gotten his name. It was brief because he was dining with his family. He was a true gentleman. Thank you to all who serve and have served.

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