Before Allied Troops stormed the French coastline along a 50-mile stretch in the Normandy region 69 years ago, General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “You are about to embark upon the greatest crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you…I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle.”
Over 156,000 Allied troops from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada, France and Norway took part in the invasion. From the U.S. alone, over 6,600 soldiers were considered casualties; just over 1,450 Americans were killed in action.
Both joined the Navy; Gerald, in February 1941 and Harold in August 1941. Gerald took part in multiple battles in the Mediterranean. Harold traveled the North Atlantic, landing in England. The two communicated monthly via letter, but they did not see each other.
Until June 6, 1944; their twenty-third birthday.
Gerald’s ship took troops to Utah Beach. Harold’s ship headed for Gold Beach. When Harold’s boat arrived in the middle of the night, he was part of the crew on a Higgin’s boat (incidentally, Higgins was born in Columbus and attended Creighton Prep High School) that carried troops to the shore.
After taking the second load of soldiers to shore, Harold waited on the LST 30, scheduled to move in at 9 AM. A raucous horn blasted the air and when Harold turned, he saw the noise was coming from the LCI 14, the ship carrying his twin brother.
Long story short, Harold was granted permission to take a small craft to his brother’s boat for a quick visit.
Of course, Gerald scolded his brother for not wearing a helmet or Mae West (life jacket) since there were 88s in the water. Harold said he just wanted to see his brother.
Then, the two brothers separated again, two ships passing in the early morning light.
Gerald continued serving in the European theatre until the war ended. Harold remained until VE Day and was transferred to the Pacific theatre. After being discharged, the brothers returned to Elgin.
I listened to the story, the details of loss and glimmers of hope, for over 90 minutes, knowing there was no way I could fully comprehend the experience and aftermath they went through.
No, this wasn’t a Hollywood-ized version of war. It was real life, a tearjerker that happened to end as happily as it could. I fought back tears until they refused to stay silent and in place.
That evening, when sharing the experience with Scott, I questioned how to preserve this wonderful gift of history, how to ensure that future generations realize the sacrifices made by our nation’s citizens, because sometimes, we take things – like freedom and sacrifice and courage – for granted.
Many of us forget the messages we should learn from the past and the tangible sense of history available from older generations.
We need to start listening.