Four soldiers from small Kansas town died together on D-Day
By JASON BEETS | The Salina Journal, Kan. | Published: June 8, 2019
Four young men, including two brothers, from a small eastern Kansas town all died together on a ship at Omaha Beach on D-Day, during the invasion of Nazi-occupied France in World War II.
Sgt. John Herrick, Pvt. Rex A. Gore, Sgt. Jay B. Moreland, and Sgt. William W. Moreland each attended high school in Bushong a town in Lyon County, Kansas. Ann Buchman, 91, who now lives in south Salina, attended Bushong Rural High School with the four boys, who were a few years ahead of her in school.
About 134 people lived in Bushong during World War II, and about 40 students attended Bushong High School.
The Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to declare war on Japan, which it did less than an hour later. Congress declared war on Nazi Germany, Japan's ally, on Dec. 11.
Buchman turned 14 the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. She said she'll never forget the day of the attack, which took place when she was a high school freshman. When she returned home from church, her dad was listening to the radio.
"I said something and he said, 'Shhhh.' So ok, I shut up. Pretty soon he came running and I asked, 'What's the matter?' He said 'Pearl Harbor has been bombed.' I asked, 'Where's that?'"
Several young men from Bushong would serve in the U.S. military during the war that followed. Jay Moreland graduated high school in 1941.
His brother William Moreland graduated in 1942 with John Herrick and Rex Gore. Buchman said all of the 9 boys in the class of 1942 served in the military. Bushong's 1942 graduating class had only 11 students.
Years later, Buchman's son-in-law Mike Baker researched the stories of the four young men from Bushong who died on D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, the four men served served together in the U.S. Army's 149th Engineer Combat Battalion on the same ship during the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. That day, the ship struck two mines and came under fire from the Germans.
"One of the mines exploded under the fuel tanks of the ship, and 19 soldiers were immediately incinerated including, most likely, the Bushong boys who died together," Baker said. "I don't imagine they knew what hit them. Their bodies were never recovered."
Seth Shepard, a member of the U.S. Coast Guard, documented the role of the LCl (L) 92, the ship the Bushong boys were on, in the Normandy Invasion.
"I was with this veteran U.S. Coast Guard crew through those 16 hours of tortuous waiting after our ship – the Coast Guard manned LCI (L) 92 struck two deadly mines in swift succession, followed by direct hits from German 88s," Shepard wrote, referring to German artillery. "It was the worst hell the crew had ever experienced in four major invasions."
Shepard said the men on the ship played an important role in the U.S. war effort.
"I think each man to himself felt that he was in a way glad to be in the operation that was to make history. Perhaps not actually glad, but at least conscious that he was doing something vitally important for his country that he could be proud of in the years to come," Shepard wrote. "We were just one tiny part of the greatest amphibious invasion operation in all history, but we were vitally important in the establishment of that beachhead."
Buchman said her hometown only gradually learned what happened to their four young men who died on D-Day. Herrick, Gore, and William Moreland died at the age of 19, and Jay Moreland died at the age of 21.
"Shortly after the word came out that one of them was missing, pretty soon the next one was missing, and somebody else was, and the next thing you knew, we found out they were all killed," she said. "They were good students and they were just a bunch of happy kids. And that's all they were when they were killed, just probably kids."
Reflecting on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Buchman said people likely didn't fully realize the impact the war had on the servicemen who served in WWII.
"I guess we knew how bad it was, but we just didn't stop to think what they actually went through," she said. "Now we read the stories of some of them that were there, and it was pretty rough. It's kind of hard to see it."
All five young men from Ann Buchman's 1945 class served in WWII, including her husband Russ Buchman, who passed away in 2012.
Baker, 67, has always loved learning about history, and especially WWII. Baker, who now lives in Duncan Falls, Ohio, served in the military himself for three years in the 1970s.
Mike Baker visited the American cemetery and memorial at Colleville-sur-Mer overseeing Omaha Beach with his wife, Linda Baker, and their daughter in the Fall of 2018. Baker's daughter, U.S. Army Sgt. Becky Baker, was stationed in Germany at the time and took leave from the military to visit the cemetery with her parents.
They found all four names on the "Wall of the Missing."
"It was very moving as we started to find the names and we checked off all four," Mike Baker said.
Sgt. Becky Baker performed as part of U.S. Army Europe Band and Chorus during a ceremony, attended by President Donald Trump, Thursday at Normandy that observed the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
Dianne Smith, President of the North Lyons Veterans Memorial Project is raising money for a veteran's memorial, which will be located on Main Street in Bushong. She said a total of 10 young men from Bushong died in World War II.
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