In the June 21, 2014 issue of Soundview Rising
On Memorial Day we honor men and women in the armed forces who have given their lives to keep our great country free. One conflict in World War II in which many lives were lost marked its seventieth anniversary on June 6.
The Battle of Normandy, France, is remembered in our history as crucial in World War II to the winning of Europe by the Allies who had joined together, especially to defeat Hitler.
A visit to the American Cemetery in Normandy will reveal 9,387 headstones, 9,238 Crosses, 149 Stars of David, and 1,557 missing in action. How did this happen? Our political and military leaders had painstakingly innovated and strategized to plan this offensive.
The importance of the Battle of Normandy in winning an Allied Victory in World War II us undeniable. But visiting the beaches where allied troops landed surpasses any expectation of the site.
United States President Franklin Roosevelt and England's Winston Churchill had met in l942 and agreed that to significantly open up Europe during l943 was not possible. This devastating conclusion was, luckily, changed by a naval victory at Midway. This gave Roosevelt the opportunity to express his view that Germany was the main enemy to defeat.
In January 1943 it was decided in Casablanca that a new place was needed for a battle in Western Europe and Normandy was chosen.
Throughout l943 under the leadership of Commander Dwight Eisenhower a plan "Fortitude" had been put in place which aimed to create an element of surprise for the Germans. Deception was used to get the Germans to believe false information. Troops were assembled in the area of the British Isles. The air superiority of the troops assembled was noteworthy. To add to the deception the number of troops assembled in the South West of England was matched with activity on the East Coast. Radio traffic in both areas, South East and South West, were maintained at the same levels so the Germans would not detect any of the Normandy landings.
The night that the forces set out to land l05 R.A. F. planes and 24 Royal Navy craft sent out balloons and dropped chaff causing Germans to have excessive overloading of their listening devices and radars. Even journalists and diplomats in England were given untrue news reports.
The day for the invasion arrived and on June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed in five different places in Normandy: on the American designated beaches of Omaha and Utah while the British used Gold, Juno and Sword. The German defenses were known to be strong, making it difficult for the allies to capture a port for their use.
Because the Allies knew they needed a beach, they created three wharfs for their use placing huge concrete blocks along the waterfront. Two prefabricated harbors were formed at two beaches from materials towed from England. However, only one was able to withstand the violent storm of June 19-21. The harbor at Arromanches was used to help the Allies in Normandy continue their fight.
Despite all the preparation many men died in the process; some drowned, others were felled by enemy fire.
In Westchester there are veterans who served in this conflict. Once the Allies had taken the beachhead, many local men had to pass through there because there was no other way to arrive at the needed destinations. One local veteran who served in Normandy, Gene Longhi, is a resident of New Rochelle and Past Commander of the New Rochelle American Legion. He recounted how his unit departed England for the Normandy shores.
The waters were extremely choppy. It was one of the stormiest seasons they have ever had. After landing on Omaha they were transported by truck to Utah beach. He was in the 518th Port Battalion and said their welcome to Normandy was a torrential downpour. There were empty gliders that had landed and empty parachutes in the trees while men were still coming down by parachute. As the men drove to their destination of Rewenovile, they passed the village of Carentan.
After so many years he remembers all these details.
And certainly we thank him and all our veterans for the freedoms we enjoy in this country.