“The sky was full of our aircraft. I didn’t see any enemy airplanes. Saw fires at several places and flashes from what I judged to be enemy guns,” reported United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) Capt. Charles Cassaday of his reconnaissance flight over the Normandy, France, invasion beaches on June 6, 1944. “There were lots of troops and hundreds of boats. Noticed two crashed aircraft on the ground. One was British and the other was American.”
Thursday is the 75th anniversary of the invasion.
Cassaday, a Denison native, flew his missions in a twin-engine F-5 (P-38) Lightning that was armed only with cameras.
He was 26 years old.
His account was printed in the June 22, 1944, Denison Review.
“Boats of every description crowded the channel and ran in steady streams from one coast to another,” Cassaday continued. “Huge war ships were broadside to the coast hurling fire at enemy defense installations. I could see the flash from their guns and that from enemy guns returning the fire. Several boats had been hit and were burning. A few of the tanks and vehicles our troops were unloading on the beach were burning too. Soldiers were pouring from invasion craft and were splashing through the choppy channel to worm their way through obstructions on the sandy beach.”
Operation Neptune, as the Normandy landing was codenamed, was the largest seaborne invasion in history.
Nearly 160,000 Allied troops took part.
“Already the battle had been carried inland and I could see tions. Small French villages along the entire coastal area were burning, but there was no indication of life in any of them. I guess the inhabitants had heeded the allied pre-invasion warnings and left before the fight began,” Cassaday reported.
In the first operation of the invasion, about 13,000 paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions dropped by parachute into France overnight on June 5/6. About 4,000 troops were landed by glider after daylight arrived.
“In some places the ground was dotted with various colored parachutes and I could see gliders here and there where our airborne troops had landed,” Cassaday reported. “Although the enemy resistance was tough and his fire heavy, our boys appeared to be pushing back and streams of tanks and trucks were moving toward the front.”
Though news of specific events was scarce in the first days after the invasion, the June 8, 1944, Bulletin reported, “Local Men Trained to Help Crush Axis War Machine.”
“American infantrymen in England training for the invasion of the continent are preparing themselves to be the most versatile soldiers in the history of the United States Army,” according to the story.
The Denison Bulletin reported that services had taken place in local churches when news of the invasion arrived.
“In humble supplication, Crawford County residents Tuesday morning set aside home front activities to enter churches of their faith and choice to pray for the safety and deliverance from danger of their loved ones who are participating in the long-awaited invasion of continental Europe. Six places of worship in Denison were crowded to over-flowing by men and women, young and old, who assembled at 10 o’clock - half an hour after the air raid warning signals and church bells heralding D-Day had sounded,” the Bulletin reported.
The Bulletin also noted that D-Day had stimulated the latest bond drive for the war effort.
“Landing of allied troops on Hitler’s Fortress Europa has lent considerable impetus to the approaching fifth loan drive and meeting with county workers here Tuesday night E. A. Raun, county war finance chairman, expressed assurance that local residents would ‘back the boys to the limit,’” the Bulletin reported.
A day after Cassaday’s account of the invasion was printed in the Denison Review, his parents received disturbing news.
“Capt. Charles G. Cassaday, photo-reconnaissance pilot stationed in England, was reported missing in action over enemy-occupied Europe since June 8, according to word his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Ralph S Cassaday, Denison, received Friday,” the Denison Bulletin reported on June 29.
On August 31, 1944, the Denison Bulletin and the Denison Review reported that Cassaday had been killed on June 8, two days after the invasion of Normandy began.
Cassaday was one of eight Crawford County men who were killed in action and had bridges named in their memory this Memorial Day.