Remember D-Day, June 6, 1944

June 6, 2013

When hearing about D-Day, the eyes of many Americans glaze over. Whether it is because history takes a backseat in American education or the event took place long before most Americans were even born, June 6th commemorates a significant event which took place in 1944. It was during World War II sixty-nine years ago, when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Utah and Omaha in Normandy, France. The D-Day invasion atNormandy began to turn the tide against the Nazis.

General Dwight Eisenhower had selected June 5, 1944, for the invasion, but bad weather led to a 24-hour delay. In what was called “Operation Overlord” more than 5,000 ships and landing craft carrying troops and supplies and more than 11,000 aircraft were mobilized to provide air cover and support for the invasion. During the invasion American casualties were estimated to be more than 4,000, with thousands more either wounded or missing. One week later, on June 11, the beaches were fully secured. In the wake the Germans suffered confusion in their ranks, enabling the Allies to fight their way across the Normandy countryside even in the face of determined German resistance.

With this background, the Barrington History Museum, located about 32 miles northwest of Chicago, rose to the occasion with its presentation at The Garlands of Barrington on June 4 of a program devoted to D-Day, WWII in France, and the Naval Air War in the Pacific.

 

D-Day -  Barrington History Museum 005

Vets wait their turn to tell their memorable World II tales

Professor Michael Harkins, who teaches History at William RaineyHarper College in Palatine Illinois, and who also serves as president of the Barrington History Museum, set the stage for four veteran, three of whom were WW II pilots who flew B-24’s and other aircraft, to summarily express their one-of-a-kind, captivating capsule presentation of their WW II flying experiences, etc., during 15 minute segments. mharkins@harpercollege.edu

In his remarks Professor Harkins spoke of D-Day as the largest invasion ever taking place in American history where the courage of those involved was unparalleled, knowing as they did that there could be no defeat, only victory.

 

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Ed Roney, vet and organizer of the program at Barrington History Museum

Two other important battles were discussed by Harkins:

Operation Market Garden was presented as an example of a daring plan that failed under the command of General Montgomery.  Montgomery’s plan was to cross the eight bridges that spanned the network of canals and rivers on the Dutch/German border to remove one of the great natural barriers between the Allies and the German Fatherland.  With failure, Montgomery’s hopes were dashed that the war could be brought to an end by Christmas of 1944.

In reference to The Battle of the Bulge launched by Germany in December of 1944, it was depicted by Professor Harkins as HItler’s “last stand” to break apart and defeat Allied forces.  Instead it became a huge disaster and not the turning point hoped for by Hitler.

Recognizing that the show was not his, but how those present came to hear what the four veterans had experienced during the war, Professor Harkins invited each veteran to share his story.

Indicative to all four veterans, all felt lucky to be alive.   Being very young at the time, they faced situations and were asked to do missions knowing that death could be just around the corner.  One of the veterans spoke of playing cards in the evening after completing a mission, only to observe on his next mission that many he knew were now missing, having either crashed or been captured during the interim.

Although each of the four veterans had simple first names — Jack, Bill, Robert, and Ed — their WW II missions were far from simple.  Each had much to tell, but in keeping with expediency and brevity, only first names will be used followed by selected memorable events shared by each out of so many shared.

Veteran #1:  Jack, as an 18-year old served at a field hospital in France as a surgical technician.  Ten German prisoners were assigned him to assist in cleaning instruments, etc.  Jack called them “a good bunch of prisoners.” They were happy not to be on the front lines.  Jack learned very quickly that bullets had no respect for boys!  He watched as the wounded came in by truck.  There were no helicopters back in those days!

Veteran #2:  Bill, although trained to fly a Piper Cub in the Civil Pilot Training Program (CPTP), when he applied for Officer Naval Flight Training he failed, not being able to read the eye chart without squinting.  Despite the initial setback, Jack did go on to fly.  He once experienced a P47 and P38 flying on a path for a direct hit only to clear by inches.  When asked how this could happen?  His response:  “Many of the pilots flying didn’t even have 100 hours of flight time.”

Veteran #3:  Bob, initially wanted to join the U.S. Army Infantry, but was admonished:  “Why join the army when you can be in the Air Force?”  The next day when asked how long he had been interested in joining the Air Force, Bob answered candidly:  “Since yesterday.” Bob had never before flown in an airplane.  A Bob Hope performance was given high ratings.  Hope recorded a special program for Bob’s squadron when there wasn’t time in his Hope’s schedule for a live show.  Bob told of pilots dying at a 50% rate during training and another 50% during war missions.  The war ended with only 1/2 of Bob’s missions having been completed.  Bob’s odds of having survived the war were not good had providence not interfered with the completion of his missions.

Veteran #4:  Ed (Roney), organizer of the Barrington History Museum programs, spoke about the Battle of Midway, during which all four Japanese carriers were sunk.  It was known as Japan’s “Waterloo”, from which Japan never recovered.  Recounted is that on June 4, 1942, the Axis powers were winning and the Allies were losing.  Within the span of one hour the tide turned for the Allies.  As such the Battle of Midway is considered as one of the most decisive battles of World War II.

Insight shared by Ed as to why the Allies won World War II:

1.  Credits Roosevelt for getting rid of admirals and generals who were politicians; as a president Roosevelt was grounded in military matters.

2.   It was not luck but good leadership that won the war.

3.   Admiral Chester Nimitz was able to get a damaged Midway carrier back into operation in a no nonsense way.  When told it would take three months, Nimitz barked back!, “You have three days.”

4.  Admiral Nimitz believed in code breaking, while most of the admirals were interested in procuring more tanks, etc.

5.  The Japanese knew that the only way they could win would be to kill enough Americans, at which point the American people, so angered, would demand an exit from the war.  Sound familiar?  The same has been tried and

6.  American technology was superior because it included radar.  We could dive bomb Japanese ships; the Japanese couldn’t spot our airplanes.

After WW II there were 16 million veterans.  Today the number stands at just over a million.  Vets are dying at a rate of 600 a day.  It was good to observe that two of the four veterans at the Barrington History Museum event had written about their war experiences to pass along to future generations.

Both written and oral histories are so important lest World War II sights and sounds and its terrors and triumphs disappear and are lost to the dustbin of history.  By 2036 it is predicted that there will be no living veterans left to recount their experiences.  http://www.nationalww2museum.org/honor/wwii-veterans-statistics.html

It is with thanksgiving that at long last there is a magnificent World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. that is being visited daily by WW II vets, many in wheelchairs and with canes, who were proud to have served their nation.  These vets, and the vets who are no longer with us, are now referred to as the “the greatest generation.”

 

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Professor Michael Harkins of Harper College and president of the Barrington History Museum

In the mind of Professor Harper, June 6, D-Day, is worthy of a national holiday.

Although war is hell, sometimes it is necessary, right and just to keep our nation free and our democracy in tact from those who wish to change our way of life and render our Constitution impotent.

That age old adage of  “history repeats itself” makes its doubly important that we not forget those who fought courageously and bled and died on D-Day on the beaches at Normandy,  for it was at this point that the tide began to turn against the Nazis.

Nor to be forgotten: Victory meant that German did not become the official language of this nation.

Thursday, June 06, 2013 at 12:15 PM | Permalink

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