Monument honoring Navy's D-Day efforts is unveiled in Normandy
September 28, 2008
SAINT-MARIE-DU-MONT, France — It’s been more than 64 years since Irving Shapiro was last in Normandy, and he had at least a couple of good reasons for not wanting to go back.
Each of them earned him a Purple Heart on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when, as a sailor aboard LST 492, he made two trips to and from Omaha Beach —Bloody Omaha, as it’s sometimes called — to drop off men and equipment and to pick up the dead and wounded.
Now in a wheelchair, something drew him back to Normandy and to the memories he said he’s tried hard not to think about.
On Saturday, the first official monument to the members of the U.S. Navy who took part in the Normandy invasion was dedicated, unveiled before a crowd of at least 1,000 spectators, including a handful of U.S. and French veterans and the widows of two men who had participated in the invasion.
How Normandy went so long without a monument to the Navy is a bit of a mystery.
Five years ago, a local tour company pointed out the fact to the leadership of the Naval Order of the United States, the service’s oldest fraternal organization. There are hundreds of monuments and plaques throughout Normandy, they told the organization.
The other U.S. services, the British, Danish, Polish, free French and other Allied forces all had monuments commemorating their involvement, said Gregory Streeter, a retired Navy captain who spearheaded the effort to erect a Navy memorial at Normandy.
"Operation Neptune was the largest amphibious operation in the history of the world. We could not believe that our Navy was not recognized for its contribution to that historic event," Streeter said. Operation Neptune was the assault phase of Operation Overlord, the name given to the liberation plan that included the Normandy landing.
Through private donations, the organization raised roughly $500,000 to ensure the Navy would leave more than its memories on Normandy.
Eight ships were sunk here, and 1,068 sailors and Coast Guardsmen died. Roughly one-fifth of all U.S. casualties on the first day of the invasion were Navy, Streeter said.
"Victory or defeat at Normandy would determine the future — not just for France or Europe, but for all humanity, for freedom, for liberty," said Gordon England, the U.S. deputy secretary of defense and former secretary of the Navy.
The Normandy invasion would have been possible without the Allied naval forces, which remains the largest naval armada ever assembled, said England, who was present at the unveiling.
The weather was poor, the seas rough, the water was littered with bodies of dead troops, some shot, others drowned by their gear, said England. "Yet somehow, in the midst of this chaos and carnage, each of them bravely did his duty. They were all heroes."