The trouble was, Mr. Vaghi had a tendency to get seasick. So he trained to be one of the first men off the landing craft — the “beachmaster” who heads ashore to direct the arrival of new troops and the evacuation of the wounded and the dead. During the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, beachmasters became known as “traffic cops in hell.”
At 7:35 a.m. that day, Mr. Vaghi’s craft landed at Omaha Beach. A Coast Guardsman jumped into the water and began laying rope for the men to grip as they forged toward land. German artillery fire killed him on the spot, according to a National Geographic article about the invasion.
Mr. Vaghi, the commander of his platoon, followed the Guardsman off the ramp, heading into the water, a second Coast Guardsman told Liebling, “as if he was running out on a field with a football under his arm.”
He was the first and, at 23, the youngest beachmaster to reach the sands of Omaha, said Ken Davey, the historian of Mr. Vaghi’s 6th Naval Beach Battalion. Mr. Vaghi turned 24 the day before he left Normandy. He later served in the Pacific in battles including the one for Okinawa.
Mr. Vaghi died Aug. 25 of end-stage renal disease at Maplewood Park Place, an assisted living facility in Bethesda. His death, at 92, was confirmed by his son Joseph P. Vaghi III. Mr. Vaghi became an architect after the war and had lived for more than five decades in a house he designed in Kensington.
He did not speak in detail about his wartime experience until 1994, when national commemorations marked the 50th anniversary of D-Day. The next year, the White House invited Mr. Vaghi to accompany Vice President Al Gore on a trip to Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of the war’s end.
Only then, and after filmmaker Ken Burns featured Mr. Vaghi in the documentary “The War” (2007), did his family begin to learn the full extent of his service.
Because of advance work by an underwater Navy demolition team, Mr. Vaghi wrote in a personal account of the invasion, most men and equipment headed for Omaha Beach arrived through “Easy Red,” the sector under his command. At one point, an Army officer asked him to announce the order to “move forward.”
Mr. Vaghi gave the order and watched men charge 50 yards across the heavily mined sands to a steep bluff beyond the beach. The members of his battalion called themselves, National Geographic noted, the “fighting sons of beaches.”
“A most horrendous sight was that of bulldozers moving bodies to make roads off the beach,” said Army D-Day veteran Stuart Hill, according to a Web site documenting the history of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion. “A most heroic sight was that of the Beachmaster calmly walking along the beach issuing orders through a bullhorn.”