6.6.44

"Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened."
— General Dwight D. Eisenhower


Today marks the 72nd anniversary of  D-Day, and this year it definitely feels more personal. Of course I'll never fully comprehend the penetrating fear as the boys stormed Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword, the way their hearts slammed against their chests, their shaky hands, last words to friends, final time of clasping a comrade's shoulder in brotherly warmth, the cold sweat that slathered their faces, a fear they pushed aside to fulfill their duty. I'll never understand that empty feeling of knowing you might not survive. To look around and know some of your comrades aren't going to make it home. Who will be left behind, haunted by the memories and faces of fallen comrades? The prayers uttered through trembling lips, the helpless misery of watching a friend die beside you ... I can't fully wrap my brain around the courage these men possessed and I'll never be able to adequately thank them for giving up their lives, their futures, their families and friends to rip the world free from the hands of an evil that was spreading like a wild fire.

"Some boys said they'd never make it. I wasn't yellow, but I was scared. No question about it. I was scared to death." 
— D-Day in Color

I've met quite a few WWII veterans this year, four of which were either present at the invasion, or came in right before or after. That human connection brings the horrors, sorrow, courage, and good old American grit to life in a way I've never experienced before. To look in their eyes and wonder what horrors they have seen ... to take their hands in mine, the same hands that once wielded a weapon to defend their families and homeland ... it's humbling. 


Elmer De Lucia was in five major battles; Normandy, Northern France, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), Rhineland and Central Europe. He has been honored with Presidential Citation for D-Day, three Purple Hearts, two Silver Stars, five Bronze Starts, five Major Battle Medals, a Chevalier in the Legion of Honor in France, and a Good Conduct Medal. De Lucia remembers being a scared kid as he recalls June 6th, 1944, D-Day and storming Omaha beach at Normandy later to learn three of this best friends did not make it out. October of 1944, in France, he was wounded in action. December of that same year he was in the Battle of the Bulge and has strong memories of the freezing cold. In WWII De Lucia gave of himself, lost a brother, saw another badly injured and he said, still willing, he would do it all over again.


Tony Zanzinger was a Staff Sergeant with the 501st Parachute Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division. He parachuted into Normandy prior to the invasion on June 6th, 1944, achieving all planned objectives. After returning to England six weeks later, he trained for operation Market Garden which involved jumping 25 miles behind the German line in Holland. Originally planned for 72 hours, the operation actually lasted 72 days. Returning to France for the rebuilding of the unit, they were suddenly called up after three weeks for emergency defense of Bastonge. Fighting Bastonge for six weeks, they were ultimately surrounded by the enemy. The famous response by General McAuliffe when asked to surrender after being surrounded for five days, was "Nuts." The final combat operation for the 101st Airborne Division was the capture of Hitler's retreat home at Berchtesgaden.
Sand and shells Tony brought back from Omaha Beach ... 


Charlie Brown was drafted into the U.S. Army 6 days after his high school graduation. He had 17 weeks of basic training at Fort Braggs, NY, and was then transferred to the 258th FABN Armored Artillery unit and shipped to England via the Queen Mary on January 28th, 1944. Throughout the winter he participated in combat training on Salisbury plains in England. After a long wait, he landed on Utah Beach in Normandy France on July 1st, firing his first rounds at the enemy.  The 258th FABN Battalion was attached to the 2nd Armored Division (Hell on Wheels) or the 30th Infantry Division through most of his 302 days of combat.

I interviewed Charlie Brown last summer and I'm about halfway through transcribing it. Look for a blog post on that sometime soon! (I love this guy!)



Bob Cook's outfit was the first on the continent after D-Day. I had a short interview with him last winter, but I'd like to sit down and get his entire story this summer. "Everyone played an important part. America was at its greatest height during WWII. Everyone was marching in the same direction." 



Last night I just stopped and thought about what my life would be like if I lived in 1944. My brother, brother-in-law, cousins, and friends could have been those young men storming the beaches of Normandy. When you stop to think about what your life and the lives of your loved ones could have been like if you were born in a different time, you realize how very fortunate you are. 

Elmer, Tony, Charlie, and Bob, I salute you and thank you for serving our country. Your sacrifice is not forgotten. 


-Emily

P.S. Today is a good day to watch original D-Day footage and Saving Private Ryan which I reviewed HERE.

2 comments

  1. This was a really touching post, Emily. I think sometimes I only think of WWII as history, not as real people with families and dreams--people who are still living to tell their stories. I am astounded by how amazing these guys are! Like, they were THERE. They saved millions of lives, and now they live normal lives and people (such as myself) forget what amazing heroes they really are. We dream of meeting heroes like we read about in fantasy and historical fiction, while in reality, while in reality, they're living among us. Sorry about the long tangent, I'm just kind of mindblown thinking about it. Your posts seem to do that to me on a regular basis. XD

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    1. They are an amazing generation! Heroes for sure! Thanks for commenting, Elizabeth!

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