An important day in American history passed Sunday with many not noticing. It was the anniversary of D-Day, in which a Dunn native played a major role.
It was June 6, 1944, when Allied troops under the leadership of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower stormed the beaches of Normandy in what was code named Operation Overlord. The landings, one of the largest in world history, slowly evolved into a battle lasting two months.
The estimated force of 160,000 troops and 5,000 vessels crossed the English channel and entered German occupied France with Nazi defenders greeting them with showers of bullets, bombs and other deadly ammunition.
Most of those landing did so with 90-pound packs on their back. They did so through chest-deep waters in many case, further slowing them down as they made their advance.
Many brave soldiers drowned before the shooting ever started when their boats were swamped by the weather-angered waves of the English Channel. Others started fighting as they recovered from seasickness on their journey from England.
There are approximately 10,000 allied troops lying in cemeteries around Normandy that died in action related to Operation Overlord. Many more were undoubtedly injured and others suffered permanent emotional damage from what they saw and experienced. It is important to remember those sacrifices.
Those in the Dunn area should also remember what Gen. William C. Lee did that impacted the battles. Gen. Lee, whose former home is now a museum in Dunn in his honor, was largely responsible for the training of paratroopers dropped behind enemy lines that fateful day. Those troops provided essential support for the troops landing on the beach.
Gen. Lee was eventually given the nickname “Father of the Airborne” for his role in beginning the Airborne Corp. The museum in his honor is a must stop for history lovers.
I have read statements from those still living who were on the beaches of Normandy that the movie “Saving Private Ryan” is fairly accurate in its depictions of the landing troops. If this is true, anyone who has seen the movie quickly realizes what these men really gave to their country.
D-Day veteran Ray Lambert confirmed the impact of the battle when he said, “Where tourists see calm water and gentle waves, I see the faces of dying men.” Mr. Lambert was injured twice during the invasion, but still managed to help more than a dozen soldiers that day. Failing to honor sacrifice like that is just wrong.
With World War II survivors dying every day we have limited time to thank these heroes. It is estimated only approximately 3 percent of World War II veterans are now still alive.
Americans should honor that sacrifice and those of us from Dunn should remember how important the contributions of our own Gen. Lee really were. Each year, we should mark June 6 as one of the greatest days in our history.
Tom Woerner is a former reporter with The Daily Record and former editor of the Harnett County News. He can be reached at email@example.com.