Today is the anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944
My father came ashore on Omaha Beach. He came on a craft just like this. His LCVP (Landing Craft,Vehicle, Personnel) hit a sandbar. He was a 1st LT. The gate dropped, he shouted ‘follow me, men’, and he stepped off first. Into over 8 feet of water. One of his men grabbed him by the rucksack and pulled him back onboard just as the boat was backing off. Saved from certain drowning, the LCVP moved a few feet over and they all then moved out. If you have seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, you have seen scenes like his.
The specific photo above was taken from the LCVP, USS Samuel Chase. Disembarking were the troops of Company E, 16th Infantry Division, known as The Big Red One. They were wading onto the Fox Green section of Omaha Beach straight into the German 352nd Division. During the initial landing on June 6th, this unit suffered two-thirds of the company to casualties. Yep, 2/3’s. Hard to imagine.
So, why talk about D-Day on a Genealogy and Family History website? All you have to do is look at the numbers from D-Day and imagine the impact on families. It has touched millions in the States and many millions more in Europe and beyond. In brief:
- Allied troops on D-Day came from the United Kingdom, Canada, United States, Australia, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, and Poland.
- 156,000 Allied troops landed in Normandy that day.
- 11,590 aircraft flew 14,674 sorties.
- 2,385 aircraft and 867 gliders were used by the USAAF and RAF on D-Day.
- 6,939 vessels were involved, which called on some 195,700 sailors.
- By D+5, thre were 326,574 troops, 54,186 vehicles, and 104,428 tons of supplies landed on the beaches.
- In April and May, 1944, operations leading up to D-Day cost nearly 12,000 lives.
- Allied casualties on D-Day alone are estimated at 10,000.
- US casualties were 1,465 dead, 3,184 wounded, 1,928 missing, 26 captured,.
- 24 warships were sunk, 25 merchantmen ships sunk, and a further 120 vessels damaged.
- In the Battle of Normandy, over 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded, or went missing. This total includes nearly 37,000 Allied dead.
So why mention this on a genealogy/family history website? Simply because the impacts are hard to fathom across the world as a result of this day and the ensuing battles.
Take for instance, just one town: Bedford, Virginia. Home of The Bedford Boys. (You can read a nice story about The Bedford Boys here.)
This small Virginia town of some 3,000 lost 21 men on D-Day. This town sent 34 men to fight in WWII and saw only 13 come home. The devastation is hard to even think about, just for this one town. It is no wonder that the National D-Day Memorial and Museum is located in Bedford, Virginia. They had the largest per-capita loss suffered by any United States community on D-Day.
Roy Stevens, a Bedford Boy and survivor who lost his twin brother, Ray, perhaps said it best when he said, in World War II History magazine, “A veil of tears hung over Bedford”.
I can not imagine what it must have been like for Elizabeth Tess. On July 17, 1944 she was a 21-year-old Western Union operator for Bedford. She relates that she was in shock as the casualty reports kept coming that day over the wire. Then she had to oversee the delivery of those 21 notices of death in that small town.
After D-Day, my father’s assignment was as graves registration officer for 9 months. He only spoke to me one time in his life about this assignment. Only once. He wanted my children, his grandchildren, to know what war was really like. After hearing his stories, I am astounded that he came home and was able to cope with those memories of that duty assignment. He said decades later he could still be haunted by the memory of the unique odor of death in a burnt out Sherman tank.
I was blessed to visit Omaha Beach with my father when I was much younger. It almost did not happen. We were on a family car trip through Normandy and my father had fallen asleep. My mother decided to drive to Omaha Beach ‘for him’. When we arrived and woke him up he got angrier than I had ever seen him and he refused to leave the car. The rest of the family got out and we began to walk around. Sometime later, my father finally joined us. He took my hand and walked me where he walked. Showed me where he landed. Where he lost friends and comrades. It was one of the few times in my life I ever saw my father cry. It was when we got to the crosses, as you see in the photo above. He could look at them, but he could not walk among them.
So, please take a moment today. Perhaps at 11:00 am and remember this day back in 1944 and thank all those who gave so much — and all the families that day touched.
God bless us, everyone!
Onward To Our Past,