Remember fallen soldiers on D-Day
By Peter Riesz
This day should not pass without us remembering the largest amphibious invasion of all time. Of course, this was the D-Day invasion of our allied forces on the coast of France, called Normandy, on June 6, 1944. The German Gen. Rommel had been placed in charge of the defenses of this area after we had evicted him from North Africa. He had prepared well with the defenses, which made it rough for our boys.
The most logical place to invade may have been at Calais, where the English Channel is only 22 miles wide. But Normandy was picked because of its generally better invasion beaches. The battle plans have been gone over many times so they won't be repeated here.
I have had the good fortune to visit this area many times and the views one gets are always awesome. My first visit was with wife, Jean, and little baby Nancy, during June of 1961. We traveled there in our little Peugot 404 from my assignment in Orleans, France. We stayed in a hotel right on the British Gold Beach. This hotel is one often shown when British landing craft are pictured coming up to that beach. Even though it was June, the warm down comforters were a blessing, as the nights were cold. Little Nancy was kept comfortable with milk in bottles warmed on a little black, collapsible Sterno stove.
This was only 17 years after the invasion. There were still ships off the coast gathering metal things deposited on the bottom during the fighting. The hills on Omaha Beach were still bare, such as it was during the invasion. Thus, we had a good perspective of what our men saw upon being deposited on the beach. The hill rises maybe 70 to 100 feet above the beach level in this area. From below, it seemed to us to go straight up. Of course, the hill was covered with all types of defensive gun emplacements ably manned by the German defenders. It is always a mystery to me why our men would continue on in the invasion that day in the face of intensive enemy fire right into their faces. But continue on they did until they reached the top that night. They may have only been hanging on by their fingernails, but hang on they did.
The days ahead would see them consolidate the invasion areas from Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Ste. Mere Eglise, and the British and Canadian Beaches of Gold, Juno and Sword. Once this occurred, there was no stopping us until the war was won.
Of course, the price was severe. Casualties on our side were probably in the 25,000 range, killed and wounded. But these were much lower than had been predicted. After a temporary grave site was established on the beach, a permanent cemetery - the Normandy American Cemetery - was established at the top of the hill at Omaha Beach. This still contains the remains of about 9,000 of our fallen heroes. It is an awesome sight to see them, row after curving row, with their simple inscription, which tells so much.
Some Victorians remain there in silence forever. I have had the honor to do oral interviews on some of the survivors who were involved in D-Day and in D+1. They include Alfredo Buentello, John DeLane, Karl Everitt, Manuel Garcia, James Grumman, Sr., Laddie Janda, Joe Matlock. Earl Parker, Milton Seale, Oscar Vogt, Ed Warren, Leo Westerholm and Robert Woolson. In my mind, they are all heroes and I love every one of them. I still like to re-read their experiences. I salute every one of them, especially on this day of remembrance of that tremendous invasion now so long ago. The memories may be dimming, but the deeds should not be forgotten.
This column is a research project of Dr. Peter B. Riesz. Contact Riesz at email@example.com or 361-575-4600.