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D-Day Army paratrooper Henry Ochsner dies at 96

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Sept. 9 (UPI) -- World War II veteran Henry Ochsner, a paratrooper who jumped into Normandy before the legendary D-Day invasion in June 1944, died at his California home over the weekend. He was 96.

His family said he died from cancer and old age.

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Ochsner was a member of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division, known as the "Screaming Eagles." The unit has been depicted in a number of films, like Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far. Ochsner was one of 13,000 paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines before the dawn beach raid on June 6, 1944.

"I didn't think we were going to get out of there alive," Ochsner said many years later. "It was terrifying."

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Ochsner was also dropped into Holland during the failed Operation Market Garden mission, also in 1944, and endured freezing temperatures during the Battle of the Bulge. He received a piece of shrapnel in his boot in Bastogne, France, from a German shell that destroyed the Jeep he was trying to start.

"That's as close as I came to a Purple Heart," Ochsner said.

Ochsner was part of a group that liberated a Nazi concentration camp, and remained in a fight all the way to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's mountaintop hideout in the Bavarian Alps.

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Ochsner and nine other veterans were awarded the "National Order of the Legion" by France two years ago, the nation's highest honor.

The decorated veteran was married for 72 years and is survived by his wife, four daughters and two granddaughters.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates about 320 World War II veterans die each day. Fewer than 500,000 remain.

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