Remembering D-Day

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D-Day was 70 years ago today.

According to the website army.mil/d-day, “On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which ‘we will accept nothing less than full victory.’ More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high – more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded — but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.”

The D-Day victories were the beginning of a series of victories that ended the war in Europe less than a year later.

LOCAL VETERANS WHO SERVED 70 YEARS AGO TODAY

I searched for local D-Day participants. At American Legion Post 291 in Newport Beach, I was told that two D-Day veterans passed away recently. Buena Park’s Walter Ehlers died on February 21, 2014. He was the last living Medal of Honor winner from D-Day.

I spoke to Jack Hammett, the 94-year-old Chairman of the Freedom Committee of Orange County. He was in the United States Navy Hospital Corps from 1937 through 1959. He awoke to “explosions like big guns going off” in Hawaii on December 7, 1941. Pearl Harbor had just been attacked by the Japanese, which brought the United States into World War II.

By February 1944, Jack Hammett told me he was in Netley, England, located about 4 miles south of South Hampton. Hammett described that the allies took over Queen Victoria’s Royal Military Hospital, and converted it into an allied Naval hospital receiving casualties for the planned D-Day invasion. Hammett and others at this hospital were treated to “buzz bombs by Germans” as they prepared the facilities during the weeks prior to June 6, 1944.

Two and half years after being nearby for the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett was part of a medical group receiving the wounded allied soldiers brought back from across the English channel beginning on D-Day. They received casualties of the D-Day invasion and performed triage. Many were from the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions.

There isn’t room in this article to summarize the videos of all the local World War II veterans describing their experiences. But you can watch their stories online at fc-oc.org.

Fellow member of the Freedom Committee of Orange County Bob Meyer was a glider pilot in Europe during World War II. You can see a video of his story of the risks he and his fellow glider pilots took.

Dick O’Brien was in the infantry in General Patton’s third army, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day and met the Russians at the end of the war. There is a video of Sergeant O’Brien recounting his experiences.

David Lester did reconnaissance behind enemy lines, and deactivated mines and explosives. He was part of the Battle of the Bulge in Europe.

THE FREEDOM COMMITTEE OF ORANGE COUNTY CAN SUPPLY SPEAKERS TO YOUR CHILDREN’S OR GRANCHILDREN’S SCHOOLS

Hammett told me that members of the Freedom Committee of Orange County has lectured to 100,000 students in the last 18 months. Schools they have visited include those in the Newport Mesa Unified School District, Orange County Department of Education, and Vanguard University. This is a valuable resource here locally. I would encourage you to look at their web site and consider facilitating one of their speakers for your children’s or grandchildren’s school.

VIDEOS & IMAGES OF D-DAY

There is a large amount of video, photographs and written stories on the internet about D-Day. One great summary is on a United States Army web site (army.mil/d-day). There are more images on a special Navy site as well (history.navy.mil).

The National World War II Museum has a lot of materials (nationalww2museum.org).

REMINDERS TODAY

If Vin Scully is broadcasting for the Dodgers on June 6, he’ll talk about D-Day. He has done so every June 6 for a while.

CELEBRATE OUR D-DAY VETERANS

On the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, we celebrate and honor those who were part of the D-Day invasion, and those who were serving in the United States armed forces in 1944 all over the world. They deserve it.

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