It was 70 years ago today that more than 160,000 Allied troops, from the U.S., Great Britain and Canada, stormed a 60-mile stretch of the French coast near Normandy during the World War II invasion known as D-Day.
"It was a very significant operation. The timing and scope had to be just right, and every branch of our military was involved," said Roy Ash, veterans services officer for Washington County.
Ash was unable to locate records indicating how many local residents were involved in the operation.
SAM SHAWVER The Marietta Times
Judy Waller and son, Bryan Waller of Marietta, hold a 1994 edition of The Marietta Times honoring the 50th anniversary of D-Day that included a photo and interview with Judy’s father, Lester Seaman, who served as a medic and crossed Omaha Beach at Normandy just three days after the initial invasion took place on June 6, 1944.
The Associated Press
U.S WW II veterans of 82nd and 101st airborne division, salute as the national anthems are played during a ceremony in homage at paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st airborne division, in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, France, as part of the commemoration of the 70th D-Day anniversary, Thursday, June 5, 2014. World leaders and veterans prepare to mark the 70th anniversary of the invasion this week in Normandy.
According to estimates in military archives, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded during the invasion, but another 100,000 were able to start marching across Europe, spelling the beginning of the end for Hitler and his Nazi forces.
"There had been a lot of planning for the invasion, but nobody was really prepared for what they would have to face at the actual landing," Ash said. "A lot of men were killed before they left their LST (Tank Landing Ship). Some of those ships opened their gates too early and water poured in, and some men probably drowned."
Dick Sabol, 89, of Williamstown, moved into Europe with the 16th Armored Division just after the D-Day invasion. His tank units were able to cross southern Germany and liberate Czechloslavakia once the D-Day assault was completed.
A message from President Obama
President Barack Obama issued a proclamation Thursday designating June 6, 2014, as D-Day National Remembrance Day. He called on Americans to honor those who fought and died so that others might be free with this proclamation:
On June 6, 1944, before dawn broke across the beaches of Normandy, scores of Allied service members prepared to fight a battle that would decide the fate of freedom in the 20th century. The odds weighed against them. That year, the Nazis had fortified the Atlantic Wall against a seaborne invasion, lined the coast with mines and planted sharpened poles to await Allied paratroopers. On D-Day, American, British and Canadian forces advanced through thickets of barbed wire and scaled heavily protected cliffs. They braved gales of bullets and artillery fire, taking heavy losses as they cut through Nazi defenses. Thousands gave their last full measure of devotion, and by the end of the day, the ground on which they died was free once more.
Victory on D-Day dealt a significant blow to an ideology fueled by hatred. It allowed America and our Allies to secure a foothold in France, open a path to Berlin and liberate a continent from the grip of tyranny. It made possible the achievements that followed the end of World War II - the Marshall Plan, the NATO alliance and the shared prosperity and security that flowed from each.
Seventy years later, we pay tribute to the service members who secured a beachhead on an unforgiving shore - the patriots who, through their courage and sacrifice, changed the course of an entire century. Today, as we carry on the struggle for liberty and universal human rights, let us draw strength from a moment when free nations beat back the forces of oppression and gave new hope to the world.
"My God, the Germans had guns planted in the hills all along the shores at Normandy," he said. "A lot of our guys were shot up, like ducks sitting on a pond. I was really fortunate to have missed being part of that invasion."
Marietta resident Carol O'Grady's father, the late Robert Doan, was among the U.S. Army troops who fought their way across the beaches and onto the French mainland.
"He really didn't talk much about the D-Day invasion on the beach at Normandy," she said. "But here was a man who came from the little village of New Matamoras who was there for his country."
O'Grady said her father, who died in 2012, often said he was still pretty "wet behind the ears" when he took part in the invasion.
"But they gave their all for our freedom, and they were more than willing to do it," she said. "And we need to remember what they did so the world doesn't repeat mistakes of the past. We need to keep these memories alive."
Charles Seaman of Barlow said his late father, Lester Seaman, also didn't share much with his family about his part in the D-Day invasion.
Lester served as a medic with the U.S. Army's 2nd Armored Division during the war. In a Marietta Times article on the 60th D-Day anniversary in 2004 Lester said his unit missed the first wave of the Normandy invasion by more than 72 hours.
"The boat my outfit was scheduled to go out on hit a mine and sank in the channel during the invasion," he said. "When we finally did get over to Normandy the company clerk was typing up our missing-in-action papers...They thought we were in the boat that went down."
Charles said his father traveled back to France for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
"He wanted to take photos of locations where he had been to see what they looked like after 50 years," he said. "When he died in 2010, there was only one other veteran remaining from this area who had been part of the invasion."
Lester bequeathed his photos and memoir of those war years to his grandson, Bryan Waller, of Marietta.
"He left the U.S. from New York City in December, 1942, and landed in Casablanca on Christmas Eve, then went through the war, all the way to Berlin," Waller said. "He landed on Omaha Beach three days after the Normandy invasion and was also in the Battle of the Bulge."
Waller said his grandfather traveled across Europe in a medic's jeep that he named "Miss Clara," after his wife, Clara Seaman, waiting back home in the states.
"After crossing Europe his unit took occupation of Berlin in July, 1945, a couple of months after V-E Day (Victory in Europe) on May 8," Waller said. "Then he just returned home and went to work building his feed store business."
One of Lester Seaman's boyhood friends from the Barlow area was Andrew Brackenridge, who also served in Europe, with the Army's 3053rd combat battalion in Normandy. The two met only once during the war, at the Allied invasion of North Africa.
Andrew's son, Sid Brackenridge, said his father was assigned to a weapons carrier vehicle.
"He wasn't part of the initial invasion, but arrived at Normandy a couple of months later," Sid said. "He told us that the German minefields were still active when his unit arrived."
He said after arriving in Normandy, Andrew and some other soldiers noticed smoke coming out of one of the buildings.
"A sailor knocked on the door and when the door opened there were German soldiers inside, but they shut the door," Sid said. "So the sailor obtained two sticks of dynamite and lit them at the door. Then the Germans came out-15 of them."
He said the soldiers surrendered to members of his father's unit, claiming that they didn't want to surrender to a U.S. sailor.
"D-Day and the Allied soldiers should be remembered. People often talk about how many men have died in wars since World War II, but at least 9,000 died in just one day at Normandy," Sid Brackenridge added. "And the thing that impresses me is the reason we fought WWII-because WWI didn't solve the problem with Germany."