KAYLEEN REUSSER – D-Day Invasion 74 Years Anniversary
Today, 74 years ago, Army Pvt. Stanley Kozar stood in a landing craft with fellow soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division, the “Big Red One,” as they neared Omaha Beach in the D-Day invasion of Normandy in World War II.
But standing at the water’s edge on Omaha Beach on June 6, 2017, where troops would have first had boots on the ground 73 years earlier at approximately 6:30 a.m, I realized a little more the fortitude it took to run off those boats.
First, a little background about D-Day.
The Cleveland veteran of combat in North Africa and Sicily braced himself as the boat surged through waters whipped to a froth by machine guns, mortars and artillery shells. Soldiers around him threw up into their helmets.
As the boat ramp dropped, Kozar said to a buddy behind him, “Let’s go!” But he suddenly slipped and fell, then glanced back. His buddy had taken a bullet that should have hit Kozar.
A diary compiled by a member of his platoon later noted, “the men went into an inferno of machine gun fire from the heights above the beach, cross-fired so that it seemed to cover every square foot, into mortar fire and artillery fire. Through the waist-deep water, men by the hundreds waded beachward as the murderous fire cut them down.”
You May Like to Read : World Leaders Remembering 75th D-Day Anniversary
Kozar survived D-Day, and nearly a year of combat across France and into Germany that followed.
Operation Overlord had originally been scheduled for June 5, but due to adverse weather conditions, General Dwight D. Eisenhower delayed it by one day. Veterans told me they passed that extra 24 hours on ships writing letters, playing cards, praying, smoking, talking and listening to chaplains.
Second, we mostly hear about Omaha beach, but that day the Allies invaded five beaches at Normandy. Army soldier Gene Dettmer, of Fort Wayne, landed and fought at Utah Beach which adjoined Omaha.
Americans were not the only ones to invade on June 6. British troops landed on Gold and Sword beaches while Canadians landed at Juno Beach. Other nationalities helped us take the 60-mile strip.
Stories of D-Day told to me include those of Leo Scheer of Huntington. Leo was a medic in the Navy. When Leo’s ship was shelled, he was ordered to jump in the water and swim to shore. The weight of his pack, 40-60 pounds, threatened to drag him under. Many soldiers drowned because of high waves – or simply not knowing how to swim.
Those troops who made it to shore had to cross approximately one-quarter of a mile of beach to reach the bluffs where German troops fired on them. That quarter-mile was filled with mines, barbed wire, blood, sounds of chaos and destruction and dead and wounded bodies.
Leo crawled around the beach looking for supplies on dead soldiers to use on the wounded.
The courage it took to enter that fray of confusion and death must have been terrorizing. The air was filled with the sounds of shelling and shouts of pain, smoke and general chaos for many days.
For many of those boys – I can’t help but call them that despite some being in their 20s – this was their first experience with combat. They were sitting ducks as German shells consistently tried to mow them down.
Alfred Edwards, of Fort Wayne, operated a rhino barge as part of the first wave of troops to approach the shore of Omaha Beach. Donald Wolfe, of Fort Wayne, flew 43 bombing missions in a B-26 before lending support on that day, while another Army Air Corps, veteran Bob Kiester of Fort Wayne, flew missions over the beaches with his B-26 crew of the 9th Air Force. Paratroopers dropped in shortly after midnight to secure bridges.
The Battle of Normandy was a harrowing and costly conflict. Some sources estimate more than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing. This figure includes more than 209,000 Allied casualties, with 37,000 deaths amongst the ground forces and 16,714 deaths amongst the Allied air forces.
The admiration and affection the people of the lovely Normandy region of France continue to express for the American forces in the 21st century was evident in ceremonies on Omaha Beach filled with bouquets of live flowers in American flag colors. Thousands of re-enactors strolled through villages in the region, honoring the country’s 4-year liberation (1940-1944) from Germany.
Perhaps most meaningful for my husband and me, was seeing a young man being sworn in for American military service on Utah Beach. As an Air Force family, we can only imagine the date and location must have special significance for him, such as a family member who fought – and possibly died — there.
Since 2015, I have written a column in this newspaper of World War II stories (I recently added Korean War stories). I’m not exaggerating when I say these veterans are among the best people I’ve ever met.
Please don’t let this day pass without showing respect to our remaining World War II veterans. Most are well into their 90s. When you see them in a restaurant, tell them, “thank you for their service,” and pay for their meal. Attend Honor Flight homecomings (hfnei.org). Visit a neighbor. Read Steven Ambrose’s Band of Brothersand other books to learn more about this time of our world’s history.
It took courage for those young guys to run off those boats, fly those planes and fire on beaches. Where would we be today if they had not been brave enough to fulfill their mission? God bless our troops of all eras and their families.
Sons recall father’s stories about D-Day invasion 74 years ago
His sons – Greg, 63, of Euclid, and Stan, 71, of Mentor – recently recalled that their father (who died in 2000 at age 79) never talked about the war for most of his life.
They’d ask, and the Collinwood High School grad would glare, give them “the look,” or quickly change the subject.
“It came to a point, I just stopped asking because I knew he was going to get mad and I didn’t want him to be mad at me,” Stan recalled. “And probably somewhere in there I thought, well, he doesn’t want to talk about it for a reason. Now I understand why.”
A stroke that their father suffered about seven years before his death changed all that, according to the brothers.
“He started opening up. That’s when he started telling us details,” Greg said.
A box of old photos taken during his combat tour – including rare views of the D-Day beachhead a day after the invasion – came down from the attic.
And the old soldier talked about his service as a member of an intelligence and reconnaissance platoon that scouted ahead of infantry advances.
He told his sons the funny stories, like the time officers ordered the soldiers to go out and scout-up some steaks for dinner. The vet had wryly noted, “Well we butchered a cow and made sure we had some steaks for ourselves that night!”
Source: cleveland.com, news-sentinel.com