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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Flames of Memory: Remembering Their Sacrifice on D-Day

Hello, Again!

It has been a very busy fall at the National D-Day Memorial with events, field trips, and even livestreaming programs for schools across the nation! With all of the busyness, we haven’t been able to post as many blogs as we would have liked to, but we will definitely be making up for that in the next few weeks with information about upcoming events, stories from D-Day veterans, and even the use of pigeons in WWII.

Today, I am excited to introduce a new author for the blog, Sandra Parece. She joined the Memorial’s staff in July and works as the Assistant Site Manager. She spent years as a teacher with our local school system and we have enjoyed having her in our D-Day family. Check out her blog below on our upcoming luminaries event.

-Maggie

_____________________________________________

This year, December 9-11, 2016 will be special days for the National D-Day Memorial with our annual Flames of Memory and Christmas in Wartime Presentation. On these three days from 6PM to 9PM, we remember the 4,413 men killed on D-Day by lighting luminaries.  Arranged throughout the Memorial and all the way down our access road, thousands of luminaries will shine in recognition of Overlord’s fallen and in tribute to the ultimate sacrifice to ensure our freedom. 


As a new employee, I have had the opportunity to help assemble luminaries in preparation for this event.  At first, I saw the task as a productive way to occupy my time and temporarily take my thoughts away from the stresses of the upcoming holidays.  However, as I worked, I realized that placing sandbags into a luminary bag is not just part of the job, but an honor.  Each sandbag represents a soldier who paid the ultimate sacrifice of giving his life so that I can enjoy the freedoms that we share as Americans. Seeing the thousands of luminaries also helps to put the sacrifice of D-Day into perspective. Losing 4,413 Allied men in one day is unfathomable for students who are growing up in a world where it took around 6 years to hit that number of killed in action in Iraq.  

You may purchase a luminary in honor of or in memory of a loved one that has served or is currently serving in the armed forces.  To ensure that your loved one is included in the printed program, luminaries must be purchased by December 5, 2016. Luminaries are $20.00 each or 6 for $100.00.  All gifts are tax-deductible and group sales are available.  To purchase a luminary, click here, email giving@dday.org, or call (800) 351-DDAY.

If you are in the area, I encourage you to visit the Memorial and see the magnificence of the luminaries for yourself. Admission is free, although donations are greatly appreciated. Special thanks to sponsors for this event the Virginia Moose Association and Member One Federal Credit Union!

I wish you peace and happiness this holiday season!



-Sandra

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Remembering Our Nation's POWs and MIAs

Often, we hear stories of those who made it home from war or those who paid the ultimate sacrifice fighting for their country. However, we do not always hear the stories of those who were captured or never found in conflict—our nation’s Prisoners of War (POW) and Missing in Action (MIA). Nonetheless, their families grieve just like Gold Star families, but without closure. To put this into perspective, as of June 9, 2016, there are still 1,618 unaccounted for POW/MIAs from the Vietnam War according to the National League of POW/MIA families.

Personally, when I think of D-Day MIAs, my first thought goes to Staff Sgt. Raymond S. Hoback, one of our Bedford Boys. His story, as told below by his sister, Lucille, demonstrates the pain felt by MIA families:

The next day [after receiving the news of Bedford’s death on D-Day], in our childish way, my sister Rachel and I thought we might cheer our folks up by making them some ice cream.  We were over the freezer cranking away when there was another knock – another telegram.  “The War Department regrets,” the too-familiar preamble read, “to inform you that your son, Staff Sgt. Raymond Samuel Hoback is missing in action.”  Mom and Dad were overcome with grief and I along with them.  To this moment I can remember nothing else that happened that day.  Time simply stopped.
 
Raymond Hoback, D-Day MIA

Raymond was never found. Several of his company mates subsequently reported seeing him lying on the beach near water’s edge, whether wounded or dead they did not know.  What is clear is that he, along with dozens others like him, was taken by the tide into the sea.  A word now about Providence, which manifested itself in the form of a package that arrived at our house a few days later.  It was a book sent by a soldier from W. Virginia, who had landed a day after Raymond had gone ashore.  “While walking on the beach on D-Day plus one,” he wrote, “…I came upon this Bible, and as most any person would do I picked it up from the sands to keep it from being destroyed.”  It was the Bible she had given Raymond for Christmas in 1938.  It was her only tangible connection to her missing son.  She treasured it for the rest of her life, as I treasure it today.

Because they were unable to bring home Raymond, the Hobacks chose to keep Bedford in the American Cemetery at Normandy. Unfortunately, this is just one of the thousands of stories of POW/MIA families across the United States.


If you are in the area, we would love for you to join the National D-Day Memorial on Saturday, September 17 at 11 a.m. for a ceremony to honor our nation's POWs and MIAs.  The event will include a special Missing Man ceremony, wreath laying, songs by Rick Dellinger, and keynote speaker Robert O. Gray, POW, Korea. Gray enlisted in the Army in 1949 at the age of 17. He was stationed in Japan as part of the 24th Infantry Division until he was sent to Korea at the start of the war there.  He was captured by the enemy in November 1950, and spent 34 months in a POW camp. 


Gates open at 10 a.m. and admission is free until noon.  Please bring a chair as seating is limited.  Sam's Dogs will be on site with food available for purchase. Rolling Thunder Chapter 4 and Lynchburg Harley Davidson will also host a Benefit Run to the Memorial on the morning of this event.  For more information on how to participate or donate to the cause, email RTVACH4@gmail.com or click here.  
2015's POW/MIA Ceremony


Until Next Time,



Maggie

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Remembering the Sacrifice of Virginia Tech Alumni on D-Day

Every year when school starts back, we eagerly await the arrival of over 360 first years from Virginia Tech’s Corps of Cadets for their annual visit. It is always exciting to watch the next generation of servicemen and women learn about the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of those who served before them—especially considering the Virginia Tech and D-Day connection.

Virginia Tech (VT) was established in 1872 with agricultural and military training central to its mission. During World War II, not only did students serve but the campus was transformed into an active-duty military installation. In all, more than 7,000 VT alumni served in WWII, of whom 323 died in service to their country.

One of our Bedford Boys and D-Day fatalities, John Schenk, was a Business Administration major at Virginia Tech. You can read more about John’s experience here. Throughout the first month or so of the invasion, VT lost 20 alumni in and around Normandy. There is a plaque just outside of the Memorial’s Gray Plaza that memorializes VT’s contribution to the D-Day Invasion.

Today, the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets’ mission is to nurture and create great leaders ready to pursue military careers or to enter the public and private sectors after graduation. This summer, many of the cadets went to Normandy and learned first-hand about the sacrifices made by those whose footsteps they are following. Read about their trip to Normandy here.

Thankfully, it was a mild morning for the 360 or so first year cadets to rotate through seven different stations at the Memorial. Many of our volunteers, and even one of our World War II veterans, come out year after year to lead a station and share about the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of those who stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944 because it is inspiring to see young men and women who understand the importance of service to their country.

Check out the following news stories to hear more about the visit from the cadets themselves:





Until Next Time,




Maggie

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Naval Combat Demolition Unit: The Navy SEALs of WWII

My name is Victoria Carr. I am a senior at Mary Baldwin College as a history major and I’m spending my summer as an intern at the National D-Day Memorial. As an intern with the Education Department, I have worked closely with the school groups, giving tours, and assisting with educational programs and events.

During World War I, a group of elite men was added to the U.S Navy to help with destroying enemy defensive obstacles. In World War II, these men were called frogmen and were a part of the Naval Combat Demolition Unit. Today, this group is known as the Navy SEALs.

Once the US entered WWII, the Navy saw that in order to defeat the Axis powers they would need to perform a large number of amphibious attacks. They decided that men would have to go in to reconnoiter the landing beaches then locate and destroy obstacles and defenses. The Army and Navy established the Amphibious Scout and Raider School at Fort Pierce, Florida in 1943 to train men in the specialty of amphibious raids and tactics. Most of these men used their skills though North Africa, the Pacific, and the Normandy landings. 

As time went on, there was a need for men to destroy obstacles. In 1943, the Navy created a large dedicated force for this task called the Naval Combat Demolition Unit, or NCDU, also located at Fort Pierce, Florida. The NCDU force meant recruitment beyond just the pool of experienced combat swimmers to the Seabees (the Navy’s construction battalions), the U.S Marines, and U.S Army combat engineers.  Most of these men were used to disarm explosives, but now they were going to learn to use them offensively. One innovation was to use 2.5 pound packs of tetryl placed in a rubber tube so that they could twisted around obstacles for demolition.

By June 1944, 34 NCDU teams were deployed in England as a part of Operation Overlord. The Germans had placed defenses on the French lines to make it hard for the Allied forces to attack without heavy lost. As the NCDU teams arrived in England, the scouts and raiders were out getting information on the obstacles placed along the French coast. For training, they built a replica of the Belgian Gates on the south coast of England for the teams to practice on. They learned that they could blow the gate to pieces creating more of an obstacle, but they would need to find the key corner joints so that it fell down flat. The Allied attack plans had the NCDU teams landing in the second wave of the D-Day invasion on 6 June 1944 and working at low tide to clear the obstacles so that troops could get though.

NDCU 140- Hill's Hellions
My Great Grandfather, Donald C. Carr, was part of the NCDU team during World War II and D-Day.  His NCDU was called the “Hills Hellions” or NCDU 140. He wrote a letter to his high school when he returned from Normandy. He wrote:

“I returned recently from the invasion of Normandy. The demolition crews to which I am attached were the first to land on the shores of France. Our mission was to destroy the beach obstacles so that the incoming troops and supplies could be landed with minimum of loss. Landing slightly before H-hour, we encountered heavy enemy resistance. After completing our mission we remained on the beach for 28 days then returned to the French debarkation point for transportation to England and the United States. I am sorry to say that we only returned with 53% of our men.  There are many new cemeteries on the shores of France that are filled with men who gladly gave their lives for the cause. As men have said before, you give us the equipment, we shall do the rest.”

It has been an honor to spend my summer interning at the National D-Day Memorial and having the opportunity to honor and preserve the men who stormed the beaches on June 6, 1944, like my grandfather.

-Victoria

                

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Bob Slaughter's Order of the Day: An Endangered Artifact

On June 5 or 6, 1944, hours before embarking on the greatest invasion of WWII, American soldiers, sailors and airmen received a special message from their commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower. The printed “pep talk” informed the men that they were “about to embark upon the great crusade,” defined the coming fight as one of freedom versus tyranny, and encouraged the men that “we will accept nothing less than full victory.” Known as the Order of the Day, the D-Day message was one of the most important military documents in US history.

Bob Slaughter, D-Day Veteran
Founder of National D-Day Memorial
Few of the men that day, facing the biggest fight of their lives, thought to save their copies of the Order of the Day. But one man who did was the founder of the National D-Day Memorial:
John Robert “Bob” Slaughter of Roanoke.

Bob was a survivor of D-Day, a sergeant in the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Like his fellow soldiers, he received a copy of the Order of the Day as he awaited the order to begin the invasion of Normandy. But unlike most of the men, he realized the historic nature of the document and of the day. He circulated through his company and had his buddies sign their names to his copy; then folded it into a plastic bag and tucked it into his wallet. He carried his Order of the Day through the rest of his time in service, and afterwards described it as his “most treasured souvenir of the war.”

It was, for many years, his own personal memorial to the men of D-Day. Of the 75 soldiers who signed Bob’s Order that night, eleven would be dead within hours.

Bob went on to become perhaps the best known D-Day veteran in the nation, but he never forgot the men who never made it off those beaches. Often he would speak to school groups, club meetings, or civic organizations, and show his Order of the Day as he told his poignant story.

Slaughter's copy of the Order of the Day
Bob died in 2012. Earlier this year, his family donated his framed copy of the Order of the Day, along with the rest of his papers, to the Memorial he did so much to build.

 The tattered scrap of paper is now one of the most significant items in our collection, a tangible reminder of the costs of that crucial day in history. It was actually there on Omaha Beach, and against all odds survived. Very few original copies of Ike’s Order survive, and even fewer with the signatures of D-Day participants. That’s why the staff and volunteers who have had the chance to see and hold Bob’s Order (it’s too fragile to be on public display, so only limited access is permitted) find it a chilling experience. All have been awed; some have been moved to tears, as they realize that for so many heroes it was the last time they ever wrote their name.

The Order is, sadly, in very fragile shape. Printed on inferior wartime paper, it literally endured months of battlefield conditions. Creased, torn, faded and unfortunately repaired with tape, this highly significant artifact stands greatly in need of conservation. Yet the rarity and historical significance of Bob’s Order of the Day make it imperative to preserve this endangered artifact. It’s a testament to one of the most important battles of the 20th Century and to the men who fought it.

That is why the National D-Day Memorial has nominated Bob’s Order of the Day for the Top Ten Endangered Artifact program of the Virginia Association of Museums. And to raise awareness of the need to preserve such treasures, our supporters are invited to vote online through the month of August in the popular poll!

Anyone and everyone can cast their votes at www.vatop10artifacts.org. Supporters are encouraged to vote as often as they like—there is no limit of one vote per person or one vote per day. We’ve timed it—you can vote about five times in one minute!

Those wishing to make a lasting impact can also donate to the conservation of any of the twenty nominated artifacts, including the Order.


We have participated in the Top 10 Endangered Artifacts Poll for many years, but this time we are hoping folks will support our nomination in record numbers. It’s an important part of our history and a great way to honor the men who won the war for us. So get started voting—vote early, vote often!


-John

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Deciding Who Comes Home at the End of the War

On May 8, 1945 Nazi Germany surrendered to the United States and other Allies marking the end of the war in Europe. This surrender, known as VE Day marked the end of World War II for millions of soldiers and civilians. For the American soldiers in Europe that had fought across the continent from the beaches of Normandy this was the end of 335 days of combat and the start of occupation. In order to fairly decide which units and soldiers were sent to the Pacific theater and which would be sent home the Army developed a points system. This system, officially designated the Advance Service Rating Score, quickly became a hot topic with the troops.

Point System for Discharges at End of WWII
The Army’s reasoning behind this system was two-fold. Instead of shipping units whole from Europe the Army understood that it’s soldiers wanted to go home and soon. Draftees and National Guardsmen that had been in for the duration since 1941 often had the highest scores and were rotated home quickly. For example: Sgt. Bob Slaughter of D Company, 116th Infantry Regiment who stormed ashore on Omaha Beach had accumulated a score of 135 points by May of 1945, almost double the minimum of 85. His high score came from 52 months of active service, 33 of it overseas, 2 Bronze Stars, 2 Purple Hearts, the American Theater Ribbon and 5 Battle Stars on the European Theater Ribbon.

When Bob returned home to Roanoke, Virginia he worked for the Roanoke Times newspaper until his retirement in 1987. In the 1980s he began to organize reunions of his World War II unit. At the same time, he began a campaign for a memorial dedicated to the memories of the D-Day fallen. This culminated in the dedication of the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia on June 6, 2001.

Bob Slaughter's Medals
In order to keep units at full strength with combat veterans returning home, recently inducted soldiers would be sent overseas to join the Army of Occupation in Europe. One of these replacements was my grandfather, Pvt. William B. Ford Jr., who spent a year in Bremerhaven, Germany with the Army of Occupation. The surrender of Japan on August 14, 1945 allowed the drawdown of forces to continue with the points limit revised to 80 and soon to 50 by the end of 1945. As the points needed to be discharged dropped, so did the number of men in uniform. By January 1, 1946 almost fifty percent of the 8.3 million men in the Army had returned to civilian life in the states. These veterans contributed to the rapid growth of post-war America and the eventual Baby Boom of the 1950s. After grueling months on the front lines these soldiers finally returned home to their sweethearts, a warm bed and Mom’s apple pie.

As the Greatest Generation quickly passes away, it is ever more important to celebrate and remember the legacies of World War II. In 2010, Congress unanimously voted in favor of a national “Spirit of ’45 Day,” typically held on V-J Day (August 14), to preserve and honor the legacy of the men and women of the World War II generation so that their example of national unity, shared sacrifice, can do attitude, and service to their community and country continues to inspire future generations of Americans.
Spirit of '45 Alive Concert 2015

On Saturday, August 13, 2016 at 7PM, the National D-Day Memorial will host its annual Spirit of ’45 Alive concert—an outdoor concert featuring The Let’s Dance Band with a tribute to the WWII generation. Tickets are sold at the door. In honor of Rosie the Riveter, wear a red bandana or scarf and receive $2 off admission. For ticket pricing and more information, visit www.dday.org or call 800-351-DDAY. A special thanks to Weldex and Bank of the James for sponsoring this event!


-Will


Sources:

Slaughter, John R. Omaha Beach And Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter.
                St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2007.

Kennet, Lee. G.I.: The American Soldier in World War II. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons,

                1987.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

V-Mail: Communicating During World War II

Millions of men served in the US military during World War II.  Many of them needed to be trained and equipped for combat, but equally important were the many support roles which allowed for smooth operations.  Even the simplest tasks became much more complex due to the sheer scale in which they needed to be carried out, and so an army of men was needed to support the army of men.  But regardless of their role the men had one unifying factor; they were away from home.  And so these millions of men sent and received millions of letters, and the task of sending and delivering all this mail proved quite the challenge.

V-Mail Processed into Microfilm
The major problem came in transporting the mail across the Atlantic Ocean.  Mail sent via cargo ships was slow to arrive, taking up to a month.  But the alternative of sending mail via cargo planes, taking less than two weeks, was expensive.  Cargo space on these planes was at a premium, and letters were bulky both in weight and in the space that they took up.  In searching for a way to address this problem, the military postal service turned their eyes to the British “Airgraph”.

The British had encountered the same problem as the Americans when it came to sending mail to and from their troops stationed in the Middle East.  After the Italians closed off the Mediterranean Sea and Suez Canal to the Allies, mail had to be sent all the way around the Cape of Good Hope.  This meant letters could sometimes take three to six months to arrive at their destination.  Sending mail by air was far preferable, but the bulk needed to be reduced.  Their solution they termed the “Airgraph”.  Based on a process invented in the 1930s by Eastman Kodak, the “Airgraph” became the preferred method of sending mail.  Letters would be written on premade forms, these forms would be censored and scanned onto microfilm, the microfilm would be transported by plane, and on arrival the letters would be printed onto photo paper and delivered.
 
V-Mail Letter
The US military postal service adopted this process renaming it “Victory Mail”, or “V-Mail” for short, and it proved extremely effective.  The savings of this system were enormous; 2500 pounds of paper letters in 37 mail sacks could be condensed into only 45 pounds of film in one mail sack.  In turn, this freed up room for more materiel to supply the war effort.  The US further reduced waste by only printing the letters at 60% scale.  The use of V-mail also inadvertently deterred espionage; as only photocopies of letters were being sent, invisible ink and microdots were rendered useless.  In addition, letters could not be “lost” in transit; every letter carried a serial number and new copies could be printed if necessary.  After being introduced in mid 1942, V-Mail became the primary method of communication for US soldiers stationed abroad until the end of the war in 1945 with over a billion letters going through the system.  As such, it was a staple not just of a soldier’s life, but of Americans back home as well.



-Tyler

Friday, July 1, 2016

Our D-Day Fallen: Captain Walter O. Schilling

My name is Will Harris and I am an intern at the National D-Day Memorial. My main focus as an intern this summer is my research project which focuses on Roanoke, Virginia’s National Guard company. D Company of the 116th Regiment, 29th Division was in the same battalion as the famous “Bedford Boys” of Company A. Company D landed just behind A Company on Omaha Beach and suffered a similarly large number of dead and wounded. One of the dead was their Company Commander Captain Walter O. Schilling.

Captain Walter O.
Schilling
Walt Schilling is representative of the concept of a citizen soldier. As a member of the National Guard, he was willing to put his civilian career on hold to defend his nation. Unlike most Army officers in World War Two, Capt. Schilling did not attend the United States Military Academy or any other military college, but instead rose through the ranks. Well respected by his men for his leadership during the 29th’s preparation for the Normandy assault, Capt. Schilling made it his mission to lead from the front.

Capt. Schilling’s leadership style and service as a citizen soldier is similar to that of the character of Capt. Miller in Steven Spielberg’s film Saving Private Ryan. Captain Miller left his job as a high school English teacher to join the Army and eventually serve as the Company Commander of C Company, 2nd Ranger Battalion. Miller, like Schilling, understood the importance of leading his men through his own example, even if the orders they received seemed suspect or unusual.

Snapshot from the movie, "Saving Private Ryan"
While the character of Captain Miller is fictional, he and Walt Schilling represent the hundreds of Captains and Lieutenants who went ashore on D-Day with the mission of leading their men onto the beaches. This proved to be an enormous task with communications almost non-existent and German defenses preventing any type of coherent advance. The surviving officers rallied what men they could, and lead them in the destruction of German emplacements and the eventual exit from Omaha Beach.

The 4,413 names on the D-Day Memorial’s necrology wall are of officers and enlisted men who gave their lives so that France could be liberated and the Nazi regime overthrown. Each name has a story of sacrifice attached to it that cannot be forgotten.


-Will

Sources:

Slaughter, John R. Omaha Beach And Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter.
                St. Paul, MN: Zenith Press, 2007.


http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0334796/quotes

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Defending “Fortress Europe”: The Atlantic Wall

My name is Tyler; I am a history major at the University of Virginia and am interning with the National D-Day Memorial over the summer. My primary internship responsibilities include the expansion and maintenance of our archives, giving tours, and assisting with our many education programs. Having been exposed to so much D-Day history in the past few months, I developed an interest in the obstacles these soldiers faced and decided to complete more research on the Atlantic Wall.
Steel 'hedgehogs' at the Pas de Calais, April 1944

On March 23, 1942 Adolf Hitler issued Fuhrer Directive No. 40 calling for the creation of the Atlantic Wall.  A nearly 2000-mile long line of coastal defenses, the Atlantic Wall stretched from the northern reaches of Norway, along the coast of continental Europe, and down to the Franco-Spanish border.  Its purpose, to defend against an Allied invasion of Europe no matter where it may come.

The monumental task of designing and building this defensive network was given to Organization Todt, the engineering group which had been responsible for both the Autobahn and the Siegfried Line which protected Germany’s western border.  Over half a million French workers were drafted through the Vichy regime’s compulsory labor program to build the defenses.  Many were paid for their labor, although not much, but slave labor was used as well.  Even with these savings in labor costs the project was enormously expensive, requiring both money and resources.  In France alone the cost was over 3.5 billion Deutschmarks, and the wall defenses as a whole required 600 million cubic feet of concrete and 1.3 million tons of steel.

Rommel surveying defenses along the French coast
Initially these defenses were concentrated around naval and U-boat bases. But starting in late 1943, the fortifications were expanded to cover virtually the entire coast.  In early 1944, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel was given the task of improving the defenses against an increasingly likely Allied invasion.  Because of his experience fighting the Allies in North Africa, Rommel believed that Allied air power posed the greatest threat.  Owing to this, he ordered the building of reinforced concrete bunkers and pillboxes capable of surviving an aerial bombardment.  Further inland, in the open fields of farmland, large sharpened logs were driven into the ground.  Known as “Rommel’s asparagus”, these were meant to destroy Allied gliders should they try to land.

Rommel also believed, quite rightly, that if the Allies were able to secure a beachhead then the war would be lost for Germany.  As such, the beaches were where he focused most of his attention.  Numerous beach obstacles were put in place to guard against Allied landing craft. Steel “hedgehogs” and tetrahedrons were placed in the water to tear out the hull of the invasion craft, and log ramps were erected to capsize them. Mines were used extensively, both in the water and behind the beaches as well; in Northern France alone, over 6 million of these mines were laid.  Rommel never believed that these obstacles would stop an invasion, but he hoped they would slow it down enough to allow reinforcements arrive and repulse the Allied forces.


Clearly, the task of invading France was no easy one, and the Allies knew they would need luck on their side in order to pull it off.  The reserve panzer divisions which could have repulsed the invasion could only be released upon the direct order of the Fuhrer himself. And as luck would have it, Adolf Hitler had taken a sleeping pill the night before the invasion and his staff refused to wake him.  Because of this one blunder, the entire defense network was rendered virtually useless and the Allied invasion succeeded.


-Tyler

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Flag Day and the 241st Birthday of the U.S. Army

On June 14, the United States observes two special events in American history: Flag Day and the 241st birthday of the United States Army.

Poster commemorating the 140th
Flag Day on June 14, 1917
Flag Day commemorates the adoption of the American Flag on June 14, 1777 by a Second Continental Congress resolution. Although the Fourth of July has been traditionally celebrated as the country’s birthday, the first movement towards a day to celebrate the flag originated around 1995. A schoolteacher in Wisconsin, BJ Cigrand, arranged for the students in his school district to observe June 14 as a day of celebration for the flag’s birthday. Soon after, other schools implemented similar ideas on June 14, including a program of celebrations in order to “Americanize” recent immigrants to the United States.

On June 14, 1914, Franklin K. Lane, Secretary of the Interior, delivered a “Flag Day” speech, reiterating the words the flag reportedly had spoken to him that morning: "I am what you make me; nothing more. I swing before your eyes as a bright gleam of color, a symbol of yourself”. On May 30, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation officially establishing June 14 as “Flag Day”. But it wasn’t until August 3, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating the holiday as “National Flag Day”.

June 14, 2016 is the Army's 241st Birthday
Also celebrated on June 14 is the birthday of the United States Army. On June 14, 1775, the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of riflemen to serve the United Colonies for up to one year; the authorization of these riflemen is often recognized as the adoption of the “American Continental Army”. These “expert riflemen” were the first units directly raised by the Continentals. With the establishment of the Infantry, the Continental Congress also allowed for the establishment of four other basic branches of the Army: Adjutant General’s Corps (June 16, 1775), Corps of Engineers (June 16, 1775), Finance Corps (June 16, 1775), and the Quartermaster Corps (June 16, 1775). Over the next few centuries, the Army added additional basic branch components as well as Special Branches. Since its creation in 1775, the United States Army has been involved in all major conflicts in United States history, including the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, American Civil War, First World War, Second World War, Vietnam, Gulf War, and Iraqi War.

The National D-Day Memorial will honor Flag Day this Saturday with a special ceremony presented by the Bedford Elks Lodge 2844. The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. and will include a history of the nation’s flag and a visual representation of those flags through the decades.
Regular admission fees apply. Adult admission is $10; veterans are $8; students are $6; children under 6 are always free. Active duty and reserve military service members are admitted free as part of the Blue Star Museum program (Memorial Day through Labor Day.) See full event details for this Saturday on our event page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/1787671074799890/


-Abby

Thursday, June 9, 2016

“Miracle of Deliverance”: The Evacuation of Dunkirk

Abby with Hayden Furrow, a WWII and D-Day Veteran
My name is Abby and I am an Education intern here at the National D-Day Memorial. As an intern, I assist with field trips and give tours of the Memorial. As the first full week of June comes to a close, I wanted to focus on one of the events that set the stage early on in the war: the evacuation of Dunkirk.

After the Germans invaded the Low Countries (comprised primarily of Belgium and the Netherlands), the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with French and Belgian troops, sent aid in order to prevent their fall. Despite sending aid, the Allied forces were unable to prevent the German panzer divisions from moving into the Ardennes and towards the English Channel. On May 20, the Germans cut off the BEF after capturing the coastline. The German objective then shifted to taking various Channel ports to prevent the Allied forces from successfully evacuating to the British mainland. On May 24, Hitler instructed General Gerd von Rundstedt, the commander of the German forces in the Low Countries, to go forward with the attack against the cornered Allied forces. Rundstedt planned to utilize his infantry and armored divisions, along with Luftwaffe support, to finish the BEF off.

British soldiers shoot at attacking aircraft during invasion.
Fearing for the worst, General Lord John Gort, commander of the BEF, called for the evacuation of his forces from Northern France.  Gort withdrew the BEF and established their position around the port of Dunkirk. Back in England, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Vice Admiral Bertram Ramsay met to plan the evacuation, codenamed “Operation Dynamo”. The evacuation called for a fleet of naval destroyers and merchant ships, supplemented by 700 “little ships” (civilian pleasure craft, fishing vessels, etc.). The operation hoped to take two days to rescue 45,000 men, as German interference was expected to end the evacuation after a 48 hour window.

British troops evacuating Dunkirk's beaches.
Operation Dynamo commenced on May 27. On the first day, 7,669 men were rescued, with many soldiers having to wade out to the boats in order to board. On May 28, 17,804 were rescued. Despite the original plan for the operation to last only two days, the evacuations continued past May 28, as the German perimeter around Dunkirk began to shrink. The Royal Air Force continued to push back the Luftwaffe’s attacks, allowing the evacuations to continue well into June. In early June, with increased attacks by the Luftwaffe, daylight operations were ended and evacuation ships only ran at night. On June 4, with German forces only three miles from the harbor, the last Allied ship (HMS Shikari), departed the port at 3:40 AM. Left alone, the remaining two French divisions were forced to surrender to the Germans.

With the general success of Operation Dynamo, a total of 332,226 men (including men from the BEF, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Polish forces) were rescued. In his We shall fight on the beaches speech of June 4, Winston Churchill dubbed the Dunkirk evacuation as a “miracle of deliverance”. Despite significant loses, the Dunkirk evacuation secured the core of the British Army and made it available for the immediate defense of Britain in upcoming campaigns, such as the Battle of Britain.

Sources:

Harman, Nicholas. Dunkirk, the Patriotic Myth. 1980. Print.

Friday, May 27, 2016

What, Exactly, Did Ike Say to Launch the Invasion?

We all know the result of Eisenhower’s order on that fateful day. 150,000 men, 12,000 planes, and 7,000 sea-going vessels launched the most intricately planned (and most risky) amphibious assault in history on the beaches of Normandy. But what exactly did the Supreme Allied Commander say to make that happen? The quick answer is: no one knows.

Captain J.M. Stagg
Eisenhower had already issued one monumental order on June 4th: the invasion must be delayed. Although as he met with his staff and meteorological experts that day, the weather was fine. Ike was concerned with conditions a few hours in the future. His chief weather adviser, Captain J.M. Stagg, reported that a storm front was moving into the Channel and would make the landings virtually impossible if carried out as originally scheduled on June 5. (Had the weather cooperated that day, our Arch would be one inch shorter at 44 feet and 5 inches.)

Through June 5th, Eisenhower and his meteorological team continued to monitor the forecast. Weather prediction on this level was a new science, and it was fortuitous that the Allies excelled at it compared to the Germans, who were blissfully unaware that an invasion could take place in such conditions. Rommel famously decided he could take a day off to visit his wife on her birthday because of the storm.

Ike’s team gathered again in Southwick House at 0330 on June 5th, in miserable weather, to mull the latest reports and the fate of the invasion party that was already at sea in the Channel. Stagg predicted a break in the storm by dawn. The Supreme Allied Commander had a decision of epic proportion to make: go or no go? Another delay could prove disastrous. It would mean recalling the troops already at sea and risking an intelligence leak that could reveal to the enemy the carefully guarded secret of the invasion.

Ike asked opinions of his staff, paced around the room, mulled his options, and then said…What?

The most frequently reported version of his order to launch the invasion is along the lines of “OK, we’ll go”, which Eisenhower himself used later in speaking of the meeting. The “official” tour script for volunteers at the Memorial records the “three words that changed history” as “Ok, let’s go”, which historian Stephen Ambrose preferred in several writings.

But there seems no end of other variations of The Order. In reality, Eisenhower himself never seemed aware of what he said. In 1964, then ex-President Eisenhower gave no less than five different versions for one article in a French magazine commemorating the 20th Anniversary of the Invasion. In his memoir Crusade in Europe, he merely says he “announced the decision” and that no one present disagreed.

A few of the various permutations that have been proposed for The Order through the years include:
  • “OK, let ‘er rip.”: This was actually the earlies version, reported in Reader’s Digest in August 1944, and apparently approved by Eisenhower at the time
  • “Well, we’ll go.”
  • “OK, boys. We will go.”
  • “All right, we move.”
  • “OK, we’ll go ahead.”
  • “Yes, we will attack on the 6th.”
  • “Yes, gentlemen, we will attack on the 6th.”
  • “Gentlemen, we will attack tomorrow.”
  • “We will make the attack on June 6.”
  • “We will attack tomorrow.”

So, which one is accurate? Or do we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that one of the most important decisions ever made in warfare has no definitive text to accompany it?

Southwick House
Only by putting yourself in the room at Southwick House can you begin to see how such a monumental moment could escape so unremarked. Picture a room full of officers on the verge of the most important operation they will ever experience.  There are no recording devices; no one takes notes. All listen intently to the weather reports and various opinions bandied about; all contemplate what happens next once the decision to go (or to delay) is made. They watch Eisenhower intently, but to a man all understandably have their minds more on their duty that on the curiosity of future history buffs.

In short, no one was concerned about the wording of the order. They only cared what the order was. Tellingly, Ike later recorded that as soon as he said whatever it was he said, the room emptied in moments. Each man there had a job to do and immediately got into gear to accomplish it. Recalling who said what and in what words was not a priority.

Incidentally, there is also no definitive list of exactly who was in the room that morning, and no agreement in the historical record of exactly what time the decision was made. Such details were lost in the fervency of the moment and fog of war.

The Supreme Allied Commander’s monumental decision raises a couple of interesting points. First, note that his order was the ONLY one Ike issued that day. His work was done in the months leading up to Operation Overlord. On the actual day, he could only pace, smoke too much, and wait as agonizingly slow and incomplete information arrived at Southwick.

Second, notice that he alone made the decision. He did not consult, and was not expected to consult, General Marshall in the States or the President himself. Such weighty responsibility entrusted entirely to a single officer would never have happened in the totalitarian regimes of our enemies, or even with our ally, the Soviet Union.

So Ike made the call. But, in the end, we can never know exactly what he said to make it. We can only contemplate the results of his order, and the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the men who carried it out. 

-John

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Captain Ned S. Elder, One of the First to Land on Omaha Beach on D-Day

Richard Elder,
Volunteer at the National D-Day Memorial
Perhaps I am slightly biased when I say this, but the National D-Day Memorial has some of the best volunteers around. Not only are they a delight to work with and to learn from (since many of them know way more about WWII than I do), we absolutely could not do what we do without them. In just 2015, over 90 active volunteers contributed over 10,766 hours of recorded service time.

Today, I am excited to share a blog post written by one of our volunteers. Richard Elder has been a volunteer at the National D-Day Memorial since March of 2013. He travels over 90 minutes to donate his time and knowledge as a tour guide every week. But, he also has a personal connection to D-Day as his father was one of the first men to land on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Check out his post below.

-Maggie
_______________________________________________________________________________

Captain Ned S. Elder, commander of Company C of the 743rd Tank Battalion was one of the first Americans to land on Omaha Beach on 6 June, 1944.

Captain Elder, a Reserve Officer, reported for duty as a First Lieutenant at Fort Knox, Kentucky in February, 1941 where he was assigned to the 69th Armored Regiment. By the summer of 1942, he became commander of Company C (Charlie Company) and led his Company through training for dessert warfare. In November, 1943, the 743rd was transferred overseas to England for 5 months of Top Secret Training for its role as an assault company on Omaha Beach.

DD-Tank
This Medium Tank Company was equipped with floating Sherman Tanks, commonly called DD Tanks, which were to be launched from LCT’s (Landing Craft Tank) out in the English Channel 4000 yards from the beach. A second drive, propelled the tank through the water as if it were a boat. Once on shore, these tanks were to array themselves along the water’s edge to provide artillery and machine gun support for the combat engineers and initial assault waves of infantry.

According to the invasion landing plan, Charlie Company was to be the first American soldiers to land on the Dog White sector of Omaha Beach at H hour – 5 or 6:25 AM.  Immediately to their right, Company B of the 743rd was to be the first to land on the Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach followed by landing craft carrying Company A, 116th Regiment (also known as The Bedford Boys). It is well documented that some of the fiercest fighting took place on these two sectors of the beach which accounts for the heavy losses incurred by The Bedford Boys.

During the early hours of 6 June 1944, Captain Elder’s Company of 16 DD tanks was aboard 4 LCT’s afloat in the rough waters of the English Channel awaiting the moment for the run to the beach. At about that time, Captain Elder was faced with a difficult decision – whether to launch his 16 tanks from the LCT 4000 yards from the beach as planned, or to direct the LCT’s to carry his tanks directly to the beach. Captain Elder decided on the later course of action. This decision played an important role in the gaining of a foothold on the Coast of France. As a comparison, two Companies of DD Tanks on his left decided on the first of the two courses of action, resulting in the sinking of 20 of 22 DD Tanks in the rough waters of the English Channel.

Medics from the 743rd Tank Battalion caring for 
Lieutenant Robert M. Hodgson on Omaha Beach.
Immediately upon landing his Company on Omaha Beach, Captain Elder directed the fire of his tanks against enemy pill boxes and strong points along the high bluffs of the beach. Shortly after landing, Captain Elder was wounded but refused to be evacuated. Despite intense enemy fire, he dismounted from his tank to select enemy targets and direct the fire of his Company. Due to the effectiveness of this fire, Captain Elder was eventually able to drive his tanks through the enemy lines and establish a vitally needed beach exit. For his actions on D Day, Captain Elder was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Purple Heart.

In the days following 6 June 1944, Captain Elder continued to lead his tank Company night and day. These actions included leading his tanks from the beaches to relieve the 2nd Ranger Battalion which had been surrounded by the enemy after their dramatic D-Day assault on Point De Hoc.

Captain Elder was killed in action by enemy tank fire on 11 July, 1944 near St. Lo, France. A brick honoring Captain Elder has been placed in the Gold Star Memorial Garden at the National D-Day Memorial.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Identifying D-Day Fallen: John E. Anderson

D-Day was almost 72 years ago, but the memories are still vibrant, the pain of the losses hasn’t faded, and many mysteries remain unsolved. We’re pleased to report, however, that this month one of the heroes of D-Day will come home and receive the long-overdue recognition which circumstances until now have denied him. It’s a compelling story.

John E. Anderson
John Emanuel Anderson of Willmar, Minnesota, was a Motor Machinist Mate 1st Class in the US Navy on June 6, 1944. He served as part of the crew of LCT-30 (Landing Craft Tank), delivering part of an anti-aircraft battalion to Omaha Beach in the thick of the fight. That noble vessel entered the field of D-Day legend with a “damn-the-torpedoes” charge against the beach obstacles, many of which had been submerged by rising tide by the time LCT-30 arrived.

Although the ship completed its mission safely, in withdrawing from the beach it was hit by a German shell and the engine room where Anderson was stationed flooded. He was the only fatality reported in official records for that craft; however for reasons never fully explained his body was listed as not recovered.

(The rest of the crew abandoned ship and hit the beach, where several were wounded by enemy fire or shrapnel. They were eventually able to evacuate, but their beached vessel, now without a working engine, remained for days afterwards and is seen in the background of many post-D-day photos).
Some assumed Anderson had been buried at sea by his shipmates later. Others that his body washed out into the channel, never to be seen again. What didn’t occur to anyone was that his remains and his identity might have simply become separated.

Back in Willmar, Anderson’s parents and family mourned. They no doubt relived their grief, mixed with a twinge of pride, when John’s name went onto the “Tablets of the Missing” at the Normandy-American cemetery. And they went to their own graves never knowing where the mortal remains of their son were.

Now fast forward to 2009. A researcher (who has made it his mission to help give a name to the unidentified remains of American military personnel) contacted John Anderson’s family. An elderly sister survived; plus many of the next generation who felt immense pride in their kinsman’s service. The researcher claimed to have evidence that John’s body had not, in fact, been lost at sea, but had been recovered from LCT-30 and had been listed as unidentified burial X-91, lying in an anonymous grave in Normandy.

The only way to be sure, however, was to do DNA testing on surviving relatives and on the remains in X-91. The family was more than willing, but the military took much more convincing. What they hoped would be a matter of months turned into more than six years.
However, patience and persistence paid off, and last fall the remains were disinterred and brought to the US for DNA testing. The results were conclusive. The body in X-91 could only be that of John E. Anderson. Later this month, he will be laid to rest next to his parents in Wilmar in a special ceremony.

It’s been six dozen years since 2,499 American men laid down their lives in a valiant effort to complete their mission in Normandy. One of those men now has come home. A 72-year-old mystery has been solved; a grieving family now has closure to a painful memory of loss. We as a nation can take the opportunity to honor John Anderson and the other men who died alongside him. They completed their mission to, in Ike’s words on that fateful day, “bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”


Welcome home, Petty Officer Anderson, and may you rest in peace beneath the brilliant blue skies of Minnesota. The National D-Day Memorial will be sure your legacy of valor, fidelity and sacrifice never fades.  


-John

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Walk in His Boots: Lt. Col. Lawrence Meeks

Ever want to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes? We’re guessing you wouldn’t want to go where these shoes went—across Omaha Beach in some of the fiercest fighting of WWII. But once we tell you the story of this well-worn pair of boots, you’ll gain new respect for the man who wore them and the men who fought alongside him.

Lt. Colonel Lawrence Meeks
The shoes, now in the collection of the National D-Day Memorial, were worn by Roanoke native Lt. Colonel Lawrence Meeks on June 6th, 1944. Meeks commanded the 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division—the soldiers chosen as the very spearhead of the invasion.
According to interviews done before Meeks’ death in 1995, his battalion was originally slated to land on the Dog Green sector of Omaha Beach, where the fighting would prove to be the thickest and the casualty rate the highest. But in a pre-invasion briefing, regimental commander Colonel Charles Canham of the 29th asked Meeks “Are your men ready to die?” Meeks replied “Hell no! But we are ready to do our jobs, sir!”

An honest and admirable answer, but reportedly not one taken well by Canham. Soon afterwards he changed the plan and reassigned Meeks’ battalion to land later in the first wave. This likely saved a lot of lives in his unit; but Meeks and his men still had plenty of opportunity to do their duty.
Meeks would later report that the landing craft on which he was approaching Omaha Beach hit a mine, and the ramp was blown off. The man next to him, a Captain Gaffney, was killed and died on Meeks’ shoulder. As the craft filled with water, Col. Meeks and his men had to swim for it; most had to shed their equipment and arms to keep from drowning. They arrived on Omaha Beach virtually unarmed.

Meeks' high top boots that he wore on Omaha Beach
Meeks gathered his surviving men and led them to the meager cover of the beach’s shingle. He would later realize that had his landing craft not sunk, and had they landed where they were supposed to, they likely would have all perished—there was a brutally lethal machine gun nest directly in their original path.

For his gallantry and leadership on June 6th, Meeks would be awarded the Silver Star. He also received a Bronze Star among other decorations for heroism.

Many months and harrowing experiences later, Meeks would receive his orders to go home. As he packed his belongings, he took special note of the high-top shoes he had worn across Omaha Beach and for many miles afterwards. Wanting to keep them, either for sentimental or historical purposes, he affixed a tag to the shoes reading “These shoes are the personal property of the undersigned. They were worn ashore by him on D-Day and it is his desire to keep them.”


Tag from Meeks' boots
In 1998 the shoes were donated by Col. Meeks’ son to the D-Day Memorial. Naturally, any such item with such a close link to the beaches of Normandy is a cherished relic for us. It can be awe-inspiring to take such treasures out of their archival storage and wonder that they could tell us if they could speak. Of course, they do speak to us in a sense, reminding us of the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of heroes like Lawrence Meeks. In our future Education Center/ Museum we plan to use such artifacts to continue to tell the compelling story of D-Day.


-John

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A 1940s Radio Show

What did the Bedford Boys hear on the radio the night before they shipped out for service in the regular army, service that eventually took them into the war and to Omaha Beach on D-day?

We can’t know the answer to that question, but we can surmise that it may well have been a live musical performance broadcast from the Roanoke studio of WDBJ radio. A little news, some corny humor, some advertising for sponsor Dr. Pepper, and a lot of great music would have been on the agenda.

On Saturday, April 23, the Java Brothers will recreate a live WDBJ radio broadcast from the 1940s such as departing National Guardsmen from our area may have heard. Ralph Berrier, whose grandfather and his twin brother (the Hall brothers) often performed live on WDBJ, headlines the group, and portrays the announcer, the beloved Roanoke icon “Cousin” Irv Sharp. In between songs, Berrier will read original homespun scripts extolling the medicinal value of Dr. Pepper, the sponsor of the shows in the 1940s. Check out a video of their performance below:

The Java Brother’s will perform the recreated broadcast (plus some of their more modern music) at the National D-Day Memorial in conjunction with the annual “Prelude to Invasion” event. Their performances will be at 11:30 and 2:00. Other activities include reenactors, a skit on the Bedford Boys, children’s activities, and special programs for Scout troops.

Regular admission fees to the Memorial apply, with discounts available for Boy and Girl Scout groups. For more information, call 800-351-DDAY or email education@dday.org.


Hope to see you there!



Maggie

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Prelude to Invasion: Meet the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand

Hello Friends!

As we are getting ready for our event, Prelude to Invasion: Meet the Allies, we want to share today about the role of the United Kingdom and its former colonies Canada, Australia, and New Zealand in World War II and D-Day.

United Kingdom

After realizing that his attempts at Nazi appeasement failed, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill succeeded him and lead the United Kingdom through World War II. He utilized the support of their commonwealth allies—Canada, Australia, India, and others—to maintain a presence in North Africa with the hopes of eventually striking Italy and eventually into the heart of the Axis powers. Germany attacked the UK through the sea cutting imports they needed to survive during the Battle of the Atlantic and also through the air with the Battle of Britain. Before the United States entered the war, they supported the UK militarily through the Lend-Lease Program.

British troops landing on D-Day
After Pearl Harbor, the US provided a needed boost to the UK after losing Malaysia and Singapore and the threat of a Japanese attack on Australia. Through the US and UK’s alliance, they were able to expel German and Italian forces from North Africa in May 1943, topple Mussolini’s regime in July 1943, and cross the English Channel to invade France in June 1944 marking the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany. In the Pacific, the UK also lost Burma to the Japanese, but prevented a Japanese invasion of India.

Although the UK was victorious in World War II, it also brought about the end of their global empire. They lost influence over their overseas possession, and also lost the role of world leader to the US.

Canada

Initially, Canada, specifically Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, stood behind Britain’s policy of appeasement in the 1930’s against German aggression. However, after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, King himself had no doubt that in a great war involving Britain, Canada could not stand aside. Prior to D-Day, Canadian forces participated in the unsuccessful Dieppe Raid and defense of Hong Kong. They also participated in the Sicily campaign.

Canadian troops landing on Juno Beach on D-Day
On D-Day, 15,000 troops in Canada’s 3rd Infantry Division landed on Juno Beach under the operational control of the British 1st Corps. The Royal Canadian Air Force committed 39 strategic and tactical squadrons on D-Day flyer 230 sorties of the 1,200 total mounted by Bomber Command. Nearly 10,000 officers and men (more than six times the strength of the Royal Canadian Navy in 1939) served aboard the 126 Canadian fighting ships, 44 landing craft among them, participating in Operation Neptune on D-Day.

Between 1939 and 1945 more than one million Canadian men and women served full-time in the armed services—much more than one would expect for a nation that had a population of 11 million. More than 43,000 were killed. Despite the bloodshed, the war against Germany and the Axis powers reinvigorated Canada's industrial base, elevated the role of women in the economy, paved the way for Canada's membership in NATO, and left Canadians with a legacy of proud service and sacrifice.

Australia

Australia declared war on Germany on September 3, 1939 in coalition with Great Britain shortly after the German invasion of Poland. Around this time, women in Australia compromised the majority of the working class with paid employment. Throughout World War II, Australia fought in the European and Pacific theaters alongside the U.K. and the United States with almost one million men in their armed forces. For the first time since being a British colony, Australia was directly attacked by the Japanese. On D-Day, Australia contributed over 3,000 military personnel who served under British command in the Royal Navy, Army, and Air Force.

During World War II, Australia experienced the greatest prison break in history at Cowra, New South Wales. The Prisoner of War Camp No.12 contained POWs from Japan and Italy. On the night of August 4th, 1944, over one thousand Japanese POWs broke out of the prison believing that dying while attempting to escape would wipe out the shame of capture. 231 Japanese POWs were killed and 107 wounded. Another 45 died by suicide or in the process of being captured in the following days. In order to prevent Japanese retribution against Australian POWs, the incident was kept secret for over six years. Like the United States, World War II advanced Australia’s economy and industrialization allowing it to progress to a more cosmopolitan society.

New Zealand

New Zealand joined World War II when Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939. Economic and defensive considerations also motivated the New Zealand involvement — reliance on Britain meant that threats to Britain became threats to New Zealand too in terms of economic and defensive ties. New Zealand provided personnel, equipment and supplies for the British forces in addition to deploying their own divisions to aid in the Allied effort.

Spitfire Pilot from New Zealand
About 30,000 members of the Royal New Zealand Air Force were in Operation Overlord. Squadrons for New Zealand’s fighters and bombers flew in every phase, the former performing with particular efficacy above Omaha Beach on D-Day. Some 4,000 officers and men of the Royal New Zealand Naval Volunteer Reserve also took part in Operation Neptune. On D-Day many of New Zealand’s junior officers commanded either landing craft delivering troops to the British beaches or one of the numerous motor torpedo boats interdicting German E-boats.

The Second World War was New Zealand's greatest national effort to date. About 140,000 men and women were dispatched overseas to serve in fighting formations-- 104,000 in New Zealand’s armed forces, the rest in the British or New Zealand naval or air forces. In March 1944, there were just under 70,000 New Zealand personnel serving overseas. New Zealand’s casualties during WWII numbered 11,928.

While each fought as an independent nation, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand supported the United Kingdom from the beginning of the war and fought alongside each other as a part of the Allied Expeditionary Force on the beaches of Normandy. It wasn’t just the soldiers, sailors, and airmen who demonstrated fidelity on D-Day, but also the countries of the Allied Expeditionary Force.


Until Next Time,




Maggie