On Wednesday, Nov. 11 we will honor America’s veterans for their patriotism, sacrifice, love of country, and their willingness to serve for a common good. The day serves as a celebration for us to acknowledge our veterans as well as present active duty armed service members.
Everyone seems to have their own story to remember of their loved ones or their own experience in the military. I was asked to share one of my experiences in remembrance to honor those who have served. This issue of The Journal-News includes a Veterans Day section in tribute to our men and women who have served and are on active duty today.
In 2019 my wife Sue and I, along with sister and brother-in-law Anne and Ralph McLaughlin, ventured to England and France to participate in the 75th Anniversary of D-Day, the invasion of Europe by Allied Forces during World War II on June 6, 1944. We were joined in Cherbourg, France by our son, Major John Galer and his wife Emily.
We started our trip travelling to Great Hormead, U.K., about 35 miles north of London, where Russ Abbey erected a memorial in 2010 to Archie “Sunny” Daniels, a Hillsboro pilot who died when his P-47 fighter aircraft crash landed in a field barely a quarter mile from the town on Feb. 11, 1944. He died on impact. We overlooked the crash site and were shown US Signal Corp photos of the crash. Daniels is buried in an American Military Cemetery in Cambridge.
Abbey took us to Nothamstead, site of a B-17 bomber and P-38 fighter base that during the war housed over 3,000 U.S. men and women. It was just two miles from Daniels’ crash site and was the airfield he was trying to safely land his damaged P-47.
Only two buildings are left from the WWII air base, but Abbey has turned them into a museum. He enjoyed showing his collection of artifacts and items from the old bomber group.
In England we visited many historical points, Churchill’s War Rooms, Imperial War Museum, Bletchley Park–where code breakers broke the German’s codes–and Southwick House, with its huge map of Europe and where Eisenhower made the decision to launch D-Day.
While also in London we met George Cross, 95, of Arizona. Cross had obviously been to Normandy before. He arrived on the morning of June 6, 1944 around 2:30 a.m. as a member of the 505th PIR, part of the 82nd Airborne Division. Cross, a D-Day survivor, was escorted by George Harmer a Vietnam vet, and member of the 173rd Airborne. Both were from Buckeye, AZ, and were guests of Stephen Ambrose Tours for the D-Day remembrance.
Crossing by ferry from Portsmouth to Normandy was enjoyable with British WWII re-enactors and military veterans partying heavily for the four-hour trip.
After arriving in Cherbourg we were escorted to the battle areas of D-Day. Ste-Mere-Eglise, the first objective of the 82nd Airborne Division, was our first stop. Hillsboro native Cpl. Bill Dagon fought there and was wounded nearby in the early morning hours of June 6. La Fiere Bridge, our next stop, was the site of a three-day battle that allowed troops that landed at Utah Beach a path inland. Our new friend D-Day survivor George Cross met with another veteran there. Neither had met before, coming from different units of the 82nd, but had both fought securing, then advancing, from that bridge.
Day five was spent visiting Utah Beach, Carentan, and Pointe du Hoc. With thousands of visitors in Normandy for the D-Day remembrance traffic was very slow, but in spite of it or maybe because of it we were able to watch parachute jumps from WWII era C-47s and an overflight of 30 WWII aircrafts. One of the jumpers was a D-Day veteran, over 90 years of age. You’ve just got to love guys who jump out of airplanes.
At Pointe du Hoc, a cliff climbing assault was made by present day US Army personnel. There, a group of Emergency Responders from Colorado presented a moving tribute to the D-Day veterans complete with a band and bagpipes.
June 6 on the trip was entirely about the D-Day ceremony. We got on buses very early to get to the Anniversary Ceremony at the Omaha Beach American Cemetery. The 11 a.m. ceremony was a little delayed as the security lines were very long for the 15,000 guests and attendees. Entering the cemetery are a sea of peaceful trees and landscaping, as you walk in through the paths, a wide view opens up of white crosses laid out on lush green grass carpet where 9,388 Americans are buried.
The ceremony at American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer was particularly poignant as most veterans of World War II are in their 90s. Rain had been predicted for all week as it is a lot in Normandy but June 6 was sunny. During the ceremony both President Trump and French President Macron spoke of the legacy left by men buried there.
One hundred seventy D-Day survivors attended the event, and some were singled out. Ray Lambert and five others were the only ones to make it out of their landing craft. “The fire was intense, again and again Ray ran back into the water dragging one man out after another. He was shot in the arm, leg ripped open by shrapnel and his back broken– at the age of 23,” Trump said. Various stories were told of valor, courage, sacrifice and heroic efforts that were just sobering.
President Macron awarded five Legion of Honor medals. It was noted that French families who come from all over France help take care of the cemetery and still place flowers, and still like us, never forget.
The following day, we explored Omaha Beach. Vierville is the right flank of Omaha Beach and is where the 29th Infantry division had huge losses getting ashore. There is a monument there built from one of the German defense bunkers and now dedicated to the National Guard. The 29th Division was originally a guard unit from Virginia before being called up for service.
Colleville on the left flank, and the WM 62 German fortified position there, kept the 1st Infantry Division from getting ashore for most of the day. One of our tour members from California related his father’s activities to our group on that stretch of beach that day. His dad was a company commander of an engineering battalion. That unit, with its two armored bull dozers, helped greatly with finally getting the American forces off the beach and into Colleville. “Coming ashore the battalion commander was killed right beside my dad, and later in the day while directing activities in the operation a bullet travelled up the sleeve of my dad’s arm, exiting by his elbow and killing the sergeant beside him,” he explained to us. Before we left, he spread his dad’s ashes along the beach.
Visiting the museums along the beach was also very interesting, but the whole experience of the trip was one of remembrance for those who have served, some we have known, most we never knew.
On our last day we explored the Pegasus Bridge battle area, where the British Airborne captured the bridge to secure the left flank of invasion in an effective glider operation. Cafe Gondree on the approach to the bridge was the first building taken by the allies on June 6, 1944 and is still in operation and was a great place for a bite to eat.
The veterans pictured in today’s special section come from various eras including the Civil War, WWI,WWII, Korea, Vietnam and Gulf War and Iraq Conflicts. We thank all our veterans from all wars, conflicts and eras, for their service and we thank those who submitted photos of their loved ones for this special section. Your fond remembrance of your relatives or friends has helped to make this effort something special for this community.