Before the first American troops stormed Omaha beach on D-Day, June 6, 1944, 19-year-old Naval electrician Gerald McDonnell felt his heart speed up as his metal-clad barge scraped against the sand. At the signal from his commanding officer, McDonnell released more than a thousand tiny rockets with the push of a button. The rockets' 35 tons of explosives marked the start of the Allied offensive that would turn the tide of World War II. Spared a second invasion experience (of Japan) by the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, McDonnell returned home to Buffalo, New York in 1945. He was discharged honorably from the Navy in 1946.
The United States Congress passed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, or G.I. Bill, in 1944. It provided benefits to many veterans including disability pensions and financial grants for attending college. Gerald McDonnell began studying at Canisius College, a private Jesuit school in Buffalo, New York, in 1947. After graduating in 1950, he launched a successful business career. He became vice president of Fisher Scientific in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, before moving to Florida where he founded Tru-Par Co, a forklift company, with his brother-in-law. He and his wife, Lorraine, had four children and eight grandchildren. In the last few years of his working life, he ran Discount Travel in Marietta, Georgia, with his wife. Gerald McDonnell died in 2000.