For many, D-Day was the defining moment of the Second World War. For many others, it was the defining moment of their lives. Whatever your point of view, the day must have been, to quote Winston Churchill, “The greatest adventure in human history.”
The First World War lived in the shadows of the Second World War, but the monuments erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers of that conflict are but a shadow of the monuments erected to commemorate the fallen soldiers of the Great War. In this blog post we will examine some of the most poignant of these, starting with the men of the Royal Sussex Regiment who fought in France in the summer of 1944. After fierce fighting at the Normandy beaches, the Royal Sussex Regiment moved forward to the town of Amfreville. On June 8th, 1944, the men of the Royal Sussex were ordered to defend the bridge over the River Orne, which was vital to the German advance on Caen. As the Royal Sussex moved across the bridge, they came under heavy fire
The world’s biggest holiday, Easter, is soon upon us. The Christian holiday celebrates the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and its origins can be traced to a holiday that arose in the ancient world. The Romans believed that a goddess, goddesses and even a god were present with them on April 25th. At this point, the Romans were still pagan, but it is told that at the time of the celebration the Romans would drop their swords and shields, and swear an oath of allegiance to the goddess. The oath was originally made to the goddess, but over time, the goddess became represented by a male deity, and this became the Christian holiday we know today.. Read more about d-day surprise and let us know what you think.
At the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, these objects from the beaches of Normandy are called silent witnesses.
If a picture says more than a thousand words, some things you see in real life might be worth a million.
Historical artifacts tell stories in a way that captures the imagination and conveys the reality of a particular moment in time. It can be instructive to read about an important event. Hearing the description can be instructive. But seeing a tangible object that was there, something that survived the struggle and became a cherished memory, can inspire.
At the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, we often call these objects silent witnesses. Among the many artifacts on display, some are of particular interest because they were brought back from the Second World War. June 1944 they were seen on the beaches of Normandy during Operation Overlord. Carried by a soldier, held by a sailor, embraced by a comrade, comforting a dying friend – these relics of one of history’s most fateful days speak to all who see them.
As time passes, fewer and fewer survivors tell their stories directly. All too soon, only silent witnesses will remind us of the tragedy and triumph that was Victory Day. On these pages you will find a selection of these special coins from the commemorative collection. Each tells its own story, and together they form a larger story – the story of a precious victory. Silent Witness is a testament to the courage, loyalty, and sacrifice of a generation that saved the world by reclaiming some French beaches in 24 terrible hours. ✯
-John D. Long is the education director of the National Memorial Day Association.
DEAD GROWTH : It’s not clear who wore that bulletproof vest on D-Day, but chances are he didn’t like it. Designed to allow amphibious troops to organize, transport, and quickly access the equipment they needed, the garment was generally considered clumsy by soldiers and was seen more as a hindrance than an advantage in combat. Many refused to wear their vests; those who did, often threw them down quickly. Consequently, only a few have survived to date.
ALL AT ONCE: James Foster, a Virginia native, was killed at Omaha Beach while serving with an anti-aircraft unit. His personal effects were then returned to his widow Margaret. In addition to her wallet, which contained this water-damaged photo of the couple, she also took her watch. He probably recorded the exact time of Foster’s death.
FOR THE PROTOCOL : Shortly before D-Day, Allied troops received a printed letter of encouragement from General Dwight D. Eisenhower (see above), commonly known as the Order of the Day. He informed them that they were about to embark on the great crusade and that they should accept nothing less than total victory. John Robert Bob Slaughter (below) handed out his copy to his fellow soldiers and had them sign their names on the front or back. Then he put it in a plastic bag and hid it. Only later did he learn that 22 of the 75 people who signed the order never returned home: 11 died that same day on Omaha Beach. Slaughter could not rid himself of their memory and in 2001 established the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, to honor those who died on the 6th. June 1944.
THE MIDWEST IS THE BEST: This well-preserved bomber jacket (above) belonged to decorated pilot Marshall Johnson. Johnson, pictured below, is from Milwaukee, which inevitably became his nickname (note the city’s most famous product pictured on the skin). The name of his B-24, El Flako, is on the back of the garment. Johnson noted each mission on a small emblem on his jacket; he continued to fly other aircraft, but the last flight he took place for was D-Day.
FLYING HIGH : This company flag (technically a Guidon) crossed Utah Beach with Company B of the 299th Engineer Combat Battalion. The task of the unit was to destroy German obstacles and clear mines, a task made difficult by the fact that almost everyone had landed in the wrong place that day. When other units of their battalion landed on Omaha Beach, the 299th Engineer Battalion was the only engineer unit with troops on the shores of Omaha and Utah.
A LOOK AT THE PAST: Frank Draper – one of 20 men from the town of Bedford, Virginia, who died on D-Day – was wearing these binoculars (above) as his landing craft approached Omaha Beach. A German shell struck the ship and Draper (below) was mortally wounded before he reached shore. He was taken back to the warship SS Empire Javelin, where a British sailor administered first aid by removing a pair of binoculars from the dying man’s neck to comfort him. Draper died minutes later; the man who cared for him, Bert Fuller, kept the twins for 61 years as a reminder of D-Day before returning them to Draper’s family in Bedford in 2005.
HIS PLACE: These combat boots were worn by Sergeant Thomas J. H. W. Battleship. Ruggiero from 2. Ranger Battalion as he trained to climb the steep cliffs of Pointe du Hoc for D-Day. But on the 6th. June, the landing craft Ruggero was capsized by a German shell. Ruggiero survived, and two days after starting the hike, he left for the cliffs as planned.
TO CARRY A CROSS: Dr Robert Weir (pictured below) was the battalion surgeon on D-Day and had to set up a field hospital to treat the wounded as soon as possible after the landing. Unfortunately, 29-year-old Weir was never able to save a life; he lost his own when he was hit by enemy fire shortly after leaving the landing craft. A few weeks later, the bandage Ware wore that day (see above) was returned to his grieving family.
HOLES IN THE STORY : This German M-35 helmet, found by an American soldier in a bunker on D-Day, was kept as a souvenir for many years before it ended up in the collection of the National D-Memorial. The fate of the owner – presumably named Wentz, as the faded signature on the inside of the rim suggests – is unknown, but the bullet holes in the metal may provide clues.
All photos courtesy of John D. Long/National D-Day Memorial.
This article was published in the June 2023 issue of World War II magazine.World War II rages across Europe in 1944 when the Allies invade Normandy and take a grave toll on both the Germans and the Allies. Out of all the weapons used during D-Day, none was more powerful than the so-called “Long Toms.” These gigantic artillery pieces weighed over a 20,000 pounds and had a range of 25 miles. One of the heaviest weapons ever used in American soil were these cannons, and they were used to great effect in the D-Day invasion.. Read more about d-day death photos and let us know what you think.
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