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World War II veterans recall D-Day at national memorial

The Friends of the National World War II Memorial hosted a ceremony and wreath presentation at the World War II Memorial's Atlantic Arch to commemorate the 74 years since 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.

MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRIPES

By CAROLINE HURLEY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 6, 2018

WASHINGTON — Lincoln Harner, 93, remembers being late to D-Day.

“We were supposed to arrive between 10 a.m. and noon on D-Day, but we didn’t get in until 7 p.m. due to heavy seas," said Harner, speaking at the National World War II Memorial on Wednesday at an event commemorating the 74th anniversary of the invasion of Europe. "We stayed on the landing ship docked on the beach all night, and watched all the battleships firing at the fortifications and the Germans firing. We saw two German planes come over … but they drew so much fire that they took off.”

Harner was a technician fifth grade in the U.S. Army, but was with the British 50th Infantry Division to offer artillery support during the landings in Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944. The invasion was delayed from June 4 to June 6 due to high seas on the English Channel. Harner arrived in Normandy on the evening of June 6, and later rejoined the First Army on June 30 after his time with the “Brits.”

Before the invasion, Harner feared he would be seasick while crossing the Channel, because he was sick for the entire journey across the Atlantic when he first shipped out.

“I was sick for nine days straight on the SS Île de France,” he recalled, “but I didn’t have trouble after that. We docked in Greenock, Scotland, not far from Glasgow, and immediately got on a train and went to Wales. We were in Wales for three weeks, and then we were assigned over to near Ipswich on the North Sea coast. That’s where we prepared to go to the [Normandy] invasion and waterproofed our vehicles and ate fish and chips and gave gum to the kids, but got ready to go from there.”

To this day, D-Day remains the largest amphibious invasion in history, with more than 160,000 troops landing in France. The Allies sustained at least 9,000 casualties that day on the way to opening up a Western front in the war against Germany.

Eight World War II veterans attended Wednesday's ceremony, including Harner and his friend Eli Linden, 95, who was a private first class in the Army and a prisoner of war.

“I landed 2 days later in Omaha," Linden said, "and they moved me to Utah (Beach) to join the 90th (Infantry Division). I was there for a couple of days and was eventually wounded, because they were shelling us, and so I went back to England for about two months, off the line, which was fine with me.”

After recuperating, Linden was sent back to join his division.

“Same company, same squad, but they were all different, a lot of them were sent back or wounded. And I survived it.”

Linden was captured by the Germans on Dec. 1, 1944.

“We were brought back to the German lines, and we were interrogated and put on boxcars for three days, stuffed into a boxcar, and we went all the way into Germany. That’s where I stayed for five months. And one day the Russians, Cossacks, came into our camp and we were liberated.”

After being freed, Linden was due to take part in the invasion of Japan. He credits President Harry Truman with saving his life: “When I got back to the states they gave me a rifle again for the invasion of Japan. And then my hero, Harry Truman, dropped the (atomic) bomb. I’m still here.”

Two years after the war, Linden met his wife, Thelma, at a dance. They will have been married for 70 years this year, and he makes special mention that they are “still dancing.” She accompanied him to the ceremony in Washington.

U.S. Navy Chaplain Commander Garry R. Thornton, Jr., of the U.S. Navy, offered a prayer during the ceremony that honored the sacrifice of WWII veterans as a “hallmark in patriotism and selflessness.”

Josiah Bunting III, a Vietnam veteran and chairman of Friends of the National World War II Memorial, also spoke at the event. Bunting, remarking on how some of his students in the college seminars he teaches do not recognize the names of World War II generals, said, “I hate to think that 50 or 100 years from now the heroes of the Greatest Generation, particularly those who made the ultimate sacrifice, will be forgotten. We cannot forget the Greatest Generation in their greatest moment.”

As the 75th anniversary of D-Day approaches next year, there are fewer and fewer veterans left to tell the stories of D-Day and WWII.

The importance of remembering why the United States fought in WWII was highlighted by Gen. Frederick Kroesen, who was among the honorees. Kroesen, 95, served as a company commander of the 63rd Infantry Division during WWII, and went on to lead in the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He was later the commanding general of the U.S. Armed Forces Command, from 1976 to 1978, and Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, from 1978 to 1979. He was not at D-Day, but fought in Europe from November, 1944 until the end of the war.

“We owe (veterans) our freedom,” he said. "If we don’t sustain that through our willingness to sacrifice in wars if it is necessary ...

"It’s still worth the cost. We have to generate that kind of understanding among your generation,” Kroesen said.

Also at the service was 94-year-old Herman Zeitchik, of Silver Spring, Md. Zeitchik, then a sergeant in the Army, stormed Utah Beach during the eighth hour on D-Day. He later fought in the Battle of the Bulge, and was among the troops who liberated Dachau concentration camp.

When asked about his experience on D-Day, Zeitchik struggles to find words to describe it: “There’s nothing I can say. They just let us off the boats, and you had to fight your way up,” he said.

Zeitchik thinks it is important for younger generations to remember what happened during the war. He teared up as he reflected, finally saying, “We just … the people that are here are lucky. We’re lucky that we’re here.”

hurley.caroline@stripes.com

The Friends of the National World War II Memorial hosted a ceremony and wreath presentation at the World War II Memorial's Atlantic Arch to commemorate the 74 years since 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France.
MEREDITH TIBBETTS/STARS AND STRI

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