In June 1944, Robert Haga was on board the USS Chickadee in the waters off of Normandy. Now, a Boise resident, Haga is one of the D-Day veterans featured in a new NOVA special on PBS, "D-Day’s Sunken Secrets."
In the program, a team of experts explores the sea beds along the coastline of Normandy from above and below the water, inviting veterans like Haga along for the journey.
During the World War II allied invasion, Haga’s ship was one of the first to approach the coast of France, clearing mines for the hundreds of vessels that would come later. Haga kept a diary of his time during the war, including this entry for June 5, 1944, the day before D-Day:
At 0530, we were underway for France. The invasion will be early in the morning, but we’re to go in first and sweep a channel clear for the amphibious craft, supply ships, troop ships, destroyers, cruisers, battle wagons and hundreds of ships of all descriptions. - Haga Diary
Haga, who was born in 1926, remembers everything about that day. He remembers the 11 mine sweeping ships, including his own, moving closer to the shore, clearing the underwater mines to make a safe path for the allied ships behind them. He put all the day’s details in his diary.
At 1800, the USS Osprey was hit by a mine and we went alongside and took on wounded, burned and otherwise. I happened to see it when it got hit. It went up in flames, skyhigh. Most of the them were burned badly. Something I’ll never forget. After we got survivors aboard, the Osprey sunk. - Haga diary
The Osprey was a sister mine-sweeping ship to the Chickadee. Haga says his ship always tied up beside the Osprey and he became very friendly with all the sailors aboard. “Our guys would go on liberty with them,” Haga says. “It was a very sad time. Especially with the Osprey, because we knew so many of them personally. That will always remain with me.”
When the Osprey got hit, Haga’s ship, the Chickadee, moved up in the line of minesweepers, closer to the shore. He says the weather was bad and the fog had rolled in. “Just as we got [to] Omaha [Beach], the fog lifted, and all hell broke loose,” Haga says. “The Germans were shooting over us into the big boys, the battle wagons, cruisers, destroyers and that type of thing, so we were lucky in that respect. No one [on the Chickadee] got hit.”
Haga had a front row seat for D-Day, watching as wave after wave of allied men landed on the beaches of Normandy. His ship spent several days in the area, sweeping for mines and rescuing men from the waters off France.
Haga kept his diary, right up until the day he was discharged from the Navy. He went home, had a successful career in business, and eventually retired with his wife to Boise.
That’s when NOVA called Haga to be part of their special, and offered to send him back to Normandy. “I of course, immediately, said yes,” Haga says.
NOVA interviewed him, Haga read from his diary, and even went underwater to look at some of the ships that sunk during D-Day.
“To see the memorials, and to look out at the ocean there, probably where we were anchored there, watching the invasion, it was the most memorable trip and wonderful time that I can recall ever going on.”
You can see the two-hour special starting at 8 p.m. Wednesday on Idaho Public Television.
Haga was also featured in our Idaho StoryCorps series in 2013.
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