Seventy-five years ago today, on June 6, 1944, the Allied forces of World War II launched the largest seaborne invasion in history. The military action required months of planning, and its goals were nothing less than gaining the foothold that would allow for the liberation of German-occupied France and the eventual Allied victory on Europe’s Western Front. To achieve these goals in fighting Nazi Germany, the manpower — and the costs — were high. The U.S. Army’s website notes that “more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline” and “more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded.” More specifically, 4,414 Allied service members — 2,501 of whom were Americans — were killed on D-Day.
This is a solemn anniversary. A day when we remember those who fought and sacrificed their lives to support freedom and democracy in our modern world.
They are words — and ideals — we can and must stand up for in myriad ways:
By voting, and defending the right of all to vote.
By being knowledgeable about local, state and federal government.
By speaking, writing or marching in support of the concepts and values embedded in the U.S. Constitution. Especially when those values are threatened.
By stressing that civics be included as part of every young person’s education.
And, for some, by serving in the military — the most noble and selfless way of defending freedom and democracy.
Today, military service is voluntary. During World War II, it was not. Many Americans were conscripted to defend our nation and its ideals from the aggression of the Axis powers.
And many Americans sacrificed their lives in that fight.
We must remember their stories. We must tell their stories.
Today, specifically, we honor and remember those who fought, and some who died, on D-Day. A crucial day in our history — the world’s history — it was the moment when the Allies began to turn the tide of World War II.
Lancaster County natives and residents were part of the fight, of course. Some of them — including Maj. Richard D. Winters of the famed Easy Company and “Band of Brothers” — have been featured in LNP over the years. A great many are no longer with us. Soon, all of these heroes will be gone, but their stories will remain. Here are just a few of them:
— Strasburg’s Otis Harrison enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1942. On D-Day, he was part of an 11-man crew on a PT boat. “Our job was to guard the beachhead, so we were about 100 yards off the beach,” he told LNP shortly before his death in 2015. The boat was positioned to draw enemy fire so that Allied service members had a safer path to the beach. “I visited Omaha Beach two times since the war, and couldn’t help but remember the day,” Harrison said. “Anyone who said they weren’t scared wasn’t telling the truth. ... I was proud to have served my country.”
— Raymond Siegrist, who died in 1988, “operated landing craft for the U.S. Navy on D-Day, bringing soldiers as close as possible to the worst of the fighting on Omaha Beach,” LNP reported in 2015. Siegrist’s son, Wayne, said his father was reluctant to talk much about that day but mentioned “unbelievable” carnage and the utmost importance of guiding the landing craft as close to shore as possible — despite all the enemy fire — because each service member was encumbered with 75 pounds of gear and was in danger of sinking into the waves.
— Edmund William Duckworth graduated from Manheim Township High School and then left Elizabethtown College in 1941 to enlist in the Army. Five days before D-Day, he married Audrey Travers, a 17-year-old English girl from Bradpole, Dorset. Duckworth died on Omaha Beach, cut down by a German sniper. Writing about him in 2017, LNP’s Jen Kopf notes: “There is a copy of the July 16, 1944, telegram notifying Mr. Leon S. Duckworth, of Rural Delivery No. 5, Lancaster, that his son had been ‘killed in action, six June, in France.’ ”
— Richard Fitterling grew up in Adamstown. In 2008, he told LNP that he reached the beach on D-Day and “worked his way into France against merciless German fire.” In the chaos, he survived being mistakenly bombed by an Allied plane. And, after all that, D-Day was only the beginning of the fight. In the weeks thereafter, Fitterling’s unit advanced further into occupied France. He was shot in the upper chest on June 23 and spent 90 days in a hospital, almost dying of infection.
And still, Fitterling was among the lucky ones. He made it home. When he returned to Normandy in 2008 as an old man, he dropped to his knees and said a prayer. For his fellow service members. For the fallen.
Today, we remember and are thankful for the Allied forces who fought on D-Day.
For those who didn’t get off that beach alive.
For those who bravely executed an invasion that was meticulously planned — but was thrown off course by countless uncontrollable external factors. They dealt with it all and opened the door for the liberation of occupied Europe.
They changed the course of history.
They saved the world.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force, sent this message to Allied forces before the D-Day invasion: “The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.”
For our generation, the responsibility is to remember the courage and accomplishments of the D-Day participants. To remember, always, and to teach our children and grandchildren what it means to make the greatest sacrifice in the defense of freedom and democracy.