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The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
  • LV Times columnist: Reflecting on The Longest Day

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  • One would have to live under a rock not to be aware of the historical significance of this week. Virtually every media of every persuasion has informed us that Friday was the 70th anniversary of what came to be known as The Longest Day, made popular by a book of that name and later one of the most famous war movies ever made.
    So, you should be well aware of the facts and historical anecdotes of the Greatest Generation’s participation of 70 years ago.
    This column is a much more personalized remembrance, tales from my three visits to the Normandy beaches on the coast of France.
    On my first visit, about 25 years after D-Day occurred, I was awed by the very fact of being at the place most high on my list of places on earth to visit. That was long before the popularity of what we now call our “bucket list.”
    I was with Friend Wife, who was somewhat encumbered by being, as I tell it, about nine and one-half months pregnant with our first child. And, our visit was in the summer, as was the original D-Day, and the heat of far western France did not help my wife’s physical condition at all.
    As soon as we arrived in the D-Day area, I went in a little shop and bought a battlefield guide in English, which was most helpful in allowing us to navigate to the hallowed spots. The first one I wanted to visit was Pointe du Hoc, the highest ground in the area, where the Germans were supposed to have had huge naval guns capable of blowing our invading ships out of the water.
    Intelligence determined they had to be knocked out, and the 2nd Ranger Battalion was given the mission of climbing a sheer 200-foot or so cliff to spike the guns. They did, with horrific casualties, only to find the guns had been removed for maintenance farther inland.
    As a first lieutenant, that gave me an early uneasiness about military intelligence.
    When we got to the top I was in a hurry to get to the edge of the cliff and look down.  Friend Wife was not in such a hurry, so I raced on ahead. When I got to the cliff there was a poorly maintained set of wooden steps that led to the bottom.
    I gingerly started down them, to take pictures of the top. I was gone only a few seconds, but when I went back to the top, my wife was in tears.
    A car with a German tag had pulled in behind us, and she thought in my zeal I’d run to the edge of the cliff and toppled over into the sea below, so she was trying to think of how to say “Help, my husband just fell into the sea.”
    Page 2 of 2 - But when she saw me, that became a moot point, and she was ready to leave that horrid place, which to me was a little piece of military heaven. I was not in such a hurry to leave.  
    She waited in the car as I climbed through the German gun emplacement. I must have taken 1,000 pictures. The bad news is I have no clue where they are today. They have to be around here somewhere.
    It would be 2006 before I would meet a Ranger who climbed those legendary cliffs at Pointe du Hoc. The six Ranger battalions of World War II had their final annual convention in Lawrence that year, and at long last I met Len Lomell, second Ranger to reach the top, who graciously autographed a WWII helmet for me that has the 2nd Ranger insignia painted on the back.
    That treasure, and many more, will be on display at the 17th annual Veterans Salute at the Mid-Continent Public Library Platte City branch Oct. 18. This year’s Salute will honor the D-Day boys of 70 years ago.
    Mary Eisenhower, old friend and granddaughter of the man in charge, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, will be the guest speaker in Platte City at 9:30 a.m. that day. Today she is part of the official U.S. delegation to the celebrations at Normandy to honor D-Day’s 70th anniversary.
    Much more on that big day later. Boy, I loved visiting Normandy Beach.
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