Wednesday, June 10, 2009

SHAEF - embarking on the great crusade

(Note: this one looks long, but that's only because it includes a bunch of pictures. I promise I was brief in my words. Feel free to skip mine, but please don't skip theirs down at the bottom.)
I was going to post some pics of them back on 6/6/44. DDay. But I've decided you've seen those. So I'll show some of them as they are now. Some of these are better than others, but I'm posting them all so you can get a feel for the event @ the World War II Museum in New Orleans, last Saturday, June 6. The 65th anniversary of DDay. I went with my friend, Lance, who is a modern-day Army veteran himself.

This one--and the one below are part of the "Roll Call of the Greatest Generation" Saturday afternoon. The guys stood when their branch of the service was called out.
Marines. (I know this because we spoke w/ several of the guys in the red VFW caps standing. Plus, the lady w/ the white jacket w/ the Marine Corps emblem on it.)

Was trying to capture the guy on the second row from the back. Showed up in his full uniform. (see the beret; he's looking toward his right as he's sitting)

Note the salutes during the national anthem. Including the guy @ the bottom; he's not in uniform, but is wearing his hat with his unit & branch of service. I say, salute away, sir. You definitely earned the right to do so.

Lance planned better than I. He brought along his copy of Citizen Soldier by Stephen Ambrose, and had a number of the guys sign it. This guy is from Bay St. Louis, MS, and was quite a character. Very entertaining. Showed us pictures of their "shower" back then--2 guys naked pouring buckets of water over each other. Also showed pictures of the "latrine"...but I'll not describe that one. *smile*

As I say, a character and a talker.

In contrast, this guy was shy...seemed surprised that Lance wanted his autograph. The bottom bar across his bolo tie rt next to the book cover says "Anzio." Anzio was the DDay invasion of southern Europe.

The guy in the blue hat leaning over the chat is a veteran of Iwo Jima. Still a very solid guy in great shape. Seemed to know everybody in the building. Another guy saw him & asked "How the [heck] do you still fit into your uniform top?" Response: "I work out every day...don't you?" I love it. BTW, the red thing around his neck is their veteran ID tag. The guy in the wheelchair w/ his back to us is wearing his too. You can see it if you look closely.

This is the guy in the wheelchair w/ his back to us in the previous picture. A Marine veteran. He is no longer able to speak. But was most appreciative of being asked to sign Lance's book. He (the Marine) asked his buddy next to him to sign.

Another shot of the same guy, with what I took to be his daughter.

This is an "almost" picture. Look straight over the Nat'l Guardsman talking on his phone. There's a guy there who was wearing his complete WW2 U.S. Navy uniform. Very proudly, I might add. Again, I loved it.

This is Moira Ambrose. Recognize that name? She is the widow of writer/professor the late Stephen Ambrose who has done as much as anyone to capture the stories of these guys. He wrote Citizen Soldier, DDay, Band of Brothers (yeah...that one), Wild Blue, and others. She and Stephen were instrumental in creating the museum in New Orleans. It opened 9 years ago to great--and greatly deserved--fanfare. I highly recommend it next time you're near NOLA. Leave plenty of time...there's quite a lot to see.

I'm digging this guy's white shoes, his service hat, and--of course--his sweetie beside him.

Another recognition by service unit.

And again.

Mrs. Ambrose again (center of picture). Note the Higgins boat in the background. Eisenhower called these "the boats that won the war." Mr. Higgins' company built over 20,000 of them in just a couple of years. They were used in both the Alantic and Pacific theaters.

There was this guy in the Coast Guard who brought his young son. The son had a Coast Guard hat with the Coast Guard motto on the back: "Semper Paratus"...always ready. Both of them knew the vital role the Coast Guard played on 6/6/44.

There were these two guys in wheelchairs. Veterans of DDay. And the Battle of the Bulge. I wonder if such men have spent much of the last 65 years bored. My guess is that, instead, they've spent every day of the last 65 years grateful for little things. I'm quite certain that their manhood & toughness & "do I have what it takes" questions were answered decisively between 6 June 1944 and early February 1945 never to need to be questioned again.

One guy there jumped near St. Mere Eglise as a pathfinder, which means his were literally among the 1st boots to land in occupied Normandy in the wee hours of 6/6/44. Later, he jumped into Holland as part of Operation Market-Garden. I wonder which jump was more difficult psychologically. On the one hand, he knew (sort of) what to expect for the Market Garden jump. However, it is unclear to me whether that would make that 2nd jump easier or more difficult...

There were reenactors dressed in all the parts. Including one that I wish I had photographed: Rosie the Riveter. My imagination says that she was honoring a grandmother who was one of the many ladies who took up the manufacturing jobs vacated when so many guys enlisted.

There was another guy wearing a hat with the number of the landing craft he piloted on to the beach.

This telegram that was sent the night before was read. It was from a French guy, thanking the DDay veterans for having the guts to invade his homeland in June 6, 1944...and thanking them for--some weeks later--liberating the German prison camp where he'd been held for 44 months. He still remembered the specific platoon & battalion that liberated the camp where he was held. Said something to the effect that not a day goes by that he doesn't remember the Americans and thank God for them. (Aside: and thus my composure ended rather early in the day as this was read...)
And then there's my new WW2-vintage Army Air Corps recruiting poster. Bought it @ the museum in memory of this one particular AAC veteran. Dashingly handsome fellow who made ladies' hearts quiver all over Lowndes County, AL, including those in Braggs HS, class of 1945. Whereas I graduated HS & went to the beach, he graduated HS & went to basic training at some place in MS of Camp Shelby... Then to his first duty post: a place called Nagasaki where a terrible bomb had been dropped, leading to the surrender of the Japanese. After his hitch was up, he came home. Then when the Korean conflict broke out, he went again. After that, he came home to stay, married & fulfilled his dream of having kids. I'm son #2 of 2. He will always be my favorite WW2-era veteran. The poster will be displayed somewhere soon.

But I digress...he was not a DDay veteran.

This was the order of the day, 6/6/44:

6 June 1944
"Soldiers, Sailors, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force! You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hope and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world. Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is will trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely. But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together to Victory! I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory! Good luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking."
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Commanding.

Here's Sgt. Bob Slaughter's copy. Sgt. Slaughter went ashore on Omaha Beach as part of the 116th Infantry. While on their landing craft, he passed his copy around for the guys to sign. By nightfall, half of these guys were no longer available for service...

There was another message composed that morning by Gen. Eisenhower. One that--thankfully--was never used.

"Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troop, the air [force] and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone."

Consider: "all that bravery and devotion to duty could do..." To me, there's an excellent summary of the guys I met Saturday, even though that particular notice was never used. I'll add these words from the end of the book Band of Brothers: "Grandpa, were you a hero in the war?" "No, son, I wasn't...but I served in a company of heroes..."

And these from Stephen Ambrose's DDay:
"It's a wonderful thing to remember what those fellows years ago were fighting for and sacrificing for, what they did to preserve our way of life. Not to conquer any territory, not for any ambitions of our own. But to make sure that Hitler could not destroy freedom in the world. I think it's just over whelming. To think of the lives that were given for that principle, paying a terrible price on this beach alone, on that day, 2,000 casualties. But they did it so that the world could be free. It just shows what free men will do rather than be slaves."
Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at Omaha Beach 20 years after the invasion.

And these from the previous century:
When can their glory fade?
O the wild charge they made!
All the world wonder'd.
Honour the charge they made!
Alfred Tennyson

"I have gone through lots of tragedies since D-Day, but to me, D-Day will live with me till the day I die, and I'll take it to heaven with me. It was the longest, most miserable, horrible day that I or anyone else ever went through. I would not take a million dollars for my experiences, but I surely wouldn't want to go through that again for a million dollars."
Felix Branham, Private, K Company, 116th Infantry, Omaha Beach
(the regiment that took the heaviest casualties of all the Allied regiments on D-Day)

"The first night in France I spent in a ditch beside a hedgerow wrapped in a damp shelter-half and thoroughly exhausted. But I felt elated. It had been the greatest experience of my life. I was ten feet tall. No matter what happened, I had made it off the beach and reached the high ground. I was king of the hill at least in my mind, for a moment. My contribution to the heroic tradition of the United States Army might have been the smallest achievement in the history of courate, but at least for a time, I had walked in the company of very brave men."
John Ellery, 16th Regiment, 1st Division, Easy Red sector, Omaha Beach.

If you're wondering, I pretty much stood silent Saturday. I am not worthy to even speak in the presence of so many heroes and "very brave men." If I live a long time, I doubt I will ever again walk among so many selfless heroes who are "ten feet tall" still today. I'll echo Mr. Ellery's words: at least for a time last Saturday, I walked in the company of very brave men...

And they are leaving us way too fast. Soon, they will all be but a memory. And we as a nation will be all the poorer.



Anonymous said...

I'm watching a show from the History Channel tonight about D-Day and it means so much to me because I have a great-uncle who parachuted into Normandy that day. Thanks for reminding all of us about these heroes.

Judi McQueen said...

Thanks for reminding us that others have made sacrifices for our freedoms. All too often those freedoms are taken for granted. I, for one, am a proud American for all who have served in our armed forces and continue to pray for those still serving.