Next Thursday will mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Rick Franck, Col., U.S. Air Force (retired), spoke about the invasion at Monday’s Memorial Day services. His comments are recorded here.
Chairman Schultz, members of the board, honored guests, ladies and gentlemen:
In June 1944, Germany and its allies controlled most of Europe. In the occupied territories, concentration camps were eliminating people who the Nazis deemed were inferior and undesirable. Thousands of Russians were being killed on the Eastern Front. Hitler’s goal of a Thousand Year Reich was on schedule to be attained.
Seventy-five years ago, allied forces launched the most successful large-scale invasion in military history - Operation Overlord. It was the turning point in the war to liberate Europe and defeat Germany. 350,000 allied forces took part in the D-Day operation; 156,000 allied troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of beach in Normandy. The beaches were code named Sword, Juneau, Gold, Utah, and Omaha.
On the initial day of battle, there were approximately 9,000 allied casualties. By the end of the campaign there were more than 200,000 casualties, including over 50,000 killed in action.
9,387 Americans are interred in the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1,557 are remembered on the walls of the missing.
On the eve of battle, General Dwight D. Eisenhower penned a letter to the allied forces.
(Franck read an excerpt of the letter, but it is instead reprinted here in full with Franck’s permission.)
General Eisenhower fully realized the gravity of the risk associated with his order to send so many to attack Normandy. He also penned a letter to be released in the event the invasion failed. It said, in part: “If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.”
The significance of D-Day was described by author Roy Wenzl: “Most battles are quickly forgotten. But all free nations owe their culture and democracy to D-Day, which can be grouped among some of the most epic victories in history. They include George Washington’s defeat of the British army at Yorktown in 1781, which allowed the American experiment in democracy to survive, and to inspire oppressed people everywhere. And in 490 and 480 B.C., the small armies and navies of Greece defeated the huge invading forces of the Persian Empire at the battles of Marathon and Salamis. The Greeks saved not only themselves, but their democracy, classic literature, art and architecture, philosophy and much more. Historians put D-Day in the same category of greatness.”
We are here today to honor those Crawford County residents who gave their lives in that invasion along with another Crawford County resident who served as an airman in World War II, was imprisoned by the Germans, returned home, enlisted in the army during Korea, was again captured and died in a Korean POW camp.
With us are special guests from several states to help us honor their family members.
Captain Charles Cassaday was a 26-year-old P-38 pilot who flew photo reconnaissance missions during D-Day to monitor the movement of German forces. His low-altitude missions were extremely dangerous. He made a photo record of the greatest invasion in the history of warfare. He was shot down on June 8, 1944, over Eindhoven, Netherlands, while photographing German troop movements, and his body is interred in the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial.
Lt. Col. Don L. Weiss was a Denison High School and University of Iowa graduate. He was a B-26 bomber pilot flying his 54th mission when his aircraft was shot down on June 22, 1944, near Caen, France. At the time, he was the highest ranking Crawford County resident serving in the war. His remains were not initially recovered and he was listed among the missing at the Normandy American Cemetery. His remains were later recovered and identified. He and three of his crew members were subsequently interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
PFC LeRoy A. Maas attended school in Charter Oak. He enlisted in April 1942, along with his two close friends, William A. Kuehl and Martin Wellner. All three were Crawford County farmers. Their unit landed on Utah Beach on June 6, 1944. He was killed in action on July 4, 1944, in an assault on a hill defended by elite German SS and paratrooper units in the Cherbourg Peninsula. He is interred in Normandy American Cemetery.
PFC Martin J. Wellner farmed near Charter Oak. He was one of the three friends who enlisted together. He and his unit landed at Utah Beach on D-Day - June 6, 1944. He was killed on July 4, 1944, in the assault on the same heavily-defended hill in the Cherbourg Peninsula. He is interred in Normandy American Cemetery.
PFC William A. Kuehl was a 1934 graduate of Schleswig High School. He enlisted in April 1942 with his two friends, Martin Wellner and LeRoy Maas. He and his unit landed on Utah Beach on D-Day. On July 7, 1944, three days after his friends died in the battle to take the heavily-defended hill in the Cherbourg peninsula, PFC Kuehl died in the continuing assault on the same hill. He was 26 years old. He is interred in Morgan Cemetery, Schleswig.
Pvt. Herbert A. Koch was inducted into the Army in July 1943. His unit landed as part of the D-Day invasion. He was killed in action in Normandy on June 13, 1944, and is interred at the Normandy American Cemetery. We do not know the other details of his service and sacrifice
PFC Vernon Gluesing was killed in action in Normandy on June 21, 1944. He is interred in the Morgan cemetery in Schleswig. We do not know the other details of his service and sacrifice.
Sergeant First Class Donald J. Jones was an airman in World War II. He was shot down in the English Channel. He was captured by the Germans on April 24, 1944, and held as a prisoner of war in Stalag 17B in Austria. He was repatriated in April 1945. He enlisted in the Second Engineering Combat Battalion, Second Infantry Division, during the Korean War. He was again captured in action at the Ch’ongch’on River, Kunu-ri Gauntlet on November 30, 1950. He died June 30, 1951, from malnutrition in a prisoner of war camp. He was interred at Oakland Cemetery on April 8, 1955.
My family is tied to D-Day, as well: my father was a 24-year-old lieutenant on a minesweeper, the YMS 349. His ship was one of the first two into Omaha Beach to sweep mines so that the Higgins boats could reach the beach.
I had the privilege of visiting Normandy on the day before the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landing. I walked the sands of Omaha Beach and stood on Pointe du Hoc, whose cliffs were scaled by the 2nd Ranger Battalion. It lies just to the west of Omaha Beach. I saw the partially-submerged steel structures that guarded the beach - designed to sink the wooden landing craft. I saw the vast expanse of open beach with no shelter from the intense German fire that ended at the heavily fortified hills to the south of the beach. I saw the concrete pillboxes and the many craters left from the heavy bombardment that led up to the assault. I walked on the hallowed ground at the American Normandy Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
You cannot fully appreciate the bravery of the young men who, at tremendous cost, assaulted that beach, without seeing it.
With the implementation of the all-volunteer force, fewer and fewer Americans defend our liberty. Americans now serving on active duty are less than one percent of our population. Our Air Force is the smallest it has been since it was created in 1947. Our inventory of aircraft is the oldest in Air Force history. The number of veterans has plummeted from almost half of the population in 1970 to 16 percent of the population in 2014. Serving in the military is in danger of becoming limited to a family duty instead of a shared societal duty.
Veterans are more than twice as likely to have children serving on active duty than the general population. At the recent confirmation hearings for the incoming army chief of staff, General James McConville, seated behind him were his wife, Maria, an army veteran, and four family members, all active duty soldiers.
I am very proud that both of my sons are active duty Air Force pilots and my brother flew in combat during Vietnam and retired as a career officer.
The danger lies in the increasing separation of those serving from those whose liberty they protect. Fewer and fewer public officials who make decisions about sending soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen in harm’s way have actually experienced military service or combat. It is therefore fitting that we publicly honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice to preserve our liberty by recognizing them on our bridges. That daily reminder may encourage our youth to consider military service.
To the special guests who are here - please accept our gratitude for the service of your family members and the sacrifice that they made to protect us all.