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Coplay man killed in D-Day invasion remembered in Stories Behind the Stars

Thomas Padilla/AP and Distributed
AP / Stories Behind the Stars
The American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, Monday June 5, 2023. Dozens of World War II veterans have traveled to Normandy this week to mark the 79th anniversary of D-Day, the decisive but deadly assault that led to the liberation of France and Western Europe from Nazi control. Andrew Joseph Tokach (inset) of Coplay is buried there.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars continues to honor the memory of America’s World War II fallen, including a Coplay man lost on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.

Andrew Joseph Tokach was part of Company D, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division when it led the assault on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944 — 79 years ago today.

  • Andrew Joseph Tokach of Coplay was killed on D-Day, June 6, 1944
  • Tokach's story is being told by the nonprofit Stories Behind the Stars
  • The nonprofit is working on honoring all 421,000 fallen Americans from the war, including 31,000 from Pennsylvania

Tockach was among more than 156,000 Allied troops who took part in the landing, and one of 56 members of the 116th Regiment from Pennsylvania who lost their lives that day.

Tockach’s story is being told as the number of World War II veterans, especially those who participated in D-Day, continues to dwindle.

Stories Behind the Stars is honoring their legacy and working to preserve history with memorials accessible for free on the internet or via smart phone app at gravesites and cenotaphs. The national nonprofit is working to honor all 421,000 fallen Americans from the war, including 31,000 from Pennsylvania.

Path to D-Day

Forever remembered as the largest amphibious invasion in history, D-Day occurred as the Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from Nazi Germany.

But Tokach, who hailed from Coplay, was employed by Piper Aircraft Corp. before he enlisted in the Army on Feb. 21, 1942 in New Cumberland, Pa. He was part of the 116th when it began training for amphibious landing assaults at the U.S. Army Assault Training Center on Woolacombe Beach, and in Exercise Fabius I at Slapton Sands, a final rehearsal before D-Day.

Tokach and the rest of his company did not fare well when they dropped anchor about 12 miles from the Normandy coast. They missed their designated target by 1,500 yards and one vessel was swamped and sank, while others were hit by artillery shells.

By the end of the day, less than 100 men out of the 229 in the company were still alive. Tokach was one of the 55% of enlisted men killed or wounded.

American forces would ultimately suffer more than 4,000 casualties on Omaha Beach.

Laid to rest 3,600 miles from home

Corporal Tokach was buried at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

The cemetery site covers 172.5 acres and contains the graves of 9,386 of military dead, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and subsequent operations.

"We need to educate [people] on the stories we do know and pass them on. They devoted their lives to that," military historian, author and professor John C. McManus recently told ABC News, echoing something he said during a D-Day commemoration in 2022: "The reality is, once that generation is gone, which it almost entirely is, it's incumbent on historians to carry on that legacy."

According to The National WWII Museum, there are a little more than 1000,000 World War II veterans still living, including less than 10,000 in Pennsylvania.