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D-Day Remembered

Splasher Six Volume 29, Summer 1998, No. 2
Cindy Goodman, Editor

For many, the passage of time has robbed D-Day of its human face. Rather than being remembered as an epic story made up of individual and collective acts of heroism, it has been deprived of its emotional value and is now simply another day in June. When D-Day comes around, people no longer see the many men of the 82nd and 101st Airborne who fell into inundated fields and swamps and drowned. They don’t think of the irony of the wind and tides, which pulled so many of the landing craft off course, yet landed craft on Utah Beach 2000 yards off course onto aless fortified area. So many of us didn’t see and therefore don’t remember the three assault waves that were bottled up behind the first on the killing fields of Omaha Beach, or the 2nd Ranger Battalion that scaled Pointe du Hoc under murderous enemy fire only to discover that the “big guns” they had been sent to neutralize were actually telephone poles.

D-Day marked the turning point of the war in Europe and ultimately led to the destruction of the Third Reich, for no complete victory could be achieved as long as Hitler held the continent.

On the eve of this epic battle, Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke the following prayer at the end of his Fireside Chate. “Almighty God; Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a might endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity . . . They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard . . . Success may not come with rushing speed, but . . . we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph. . .”

This “mighty endeavor,” was called by Winston Churchill “The most difficult and complicated operation ever to take place,” and saw the British assigned to Sword and Gold Beaches, the Canadians to Juno, and the Americans to Utah and Omaha. The day is remembered by different people in different ways and holds a special place in the memories of those who survived World War II.

The Eighth Air Force flew four missions on 6 June in support of the invasion, and the following accounts of the day are offered by 100th Bomb Group members to honor this remembrance.

General Tom Jeffrey amazed me with his vivid recall of events. “On 5 June 44, upon returning from a mission with the 100th Bomb Group, I was met at the airplane by Fred Price, the Air Exec, and advised that I was to report to Division Headquarters, and to be armed. He had no idea as to the purpose or the reason for the side arm. I got out of my flying clothes, got into my dress uniform, strapped on my .45 and set out for Elvedon Hall, General LeMay’s headquarters. Upon arrival, I found the other Group and Wing Commanders of the 3rd Air Division arriving, all asking the same questions – why are we here and armed?

Shortly after being ushered into the briefing room, we stood as Gen. LeMay entered. Without fanfare, he announced that ‘tomorrow at daylight the Allied Forces will launch an invasion of the continent of Europe.’ We all smiled, thought we felt like cheering, because to us it meant that the end of the war that we had been fighting for so long was foreseeable, and also that we, the air forces had made the invasion possible. No land invasion could succeed without control of the air, and we had achieved that goal.

A map was uncovered and Gen. LeMay pointed to Normandy as the location of the landing. After other remarks, directions, timing, etc., he made the following statement: ‘The importance of success of this invasion is such that, if it becomes necessary, we will expend every airplane in the 8th Air Force to bring it about, to include use of the bombers to strafe the beaches.’ There were, as I recall, no questions.

On the way back to Thorpe Abbotts, I speculated as to the reason for the .45 and concluded that I was expected to safeguard the information that I had been given at whatever cost. Upon arrival at the base, it was necessary to get things going without letting the cat out of the bag, especially since to be over Normandy at daylight we were going to take off and assemble very early and all in the dark, along with every airplane in the 8th Air Force and the Royal Air Force.

I recall vividly the reaction of the flight crews at our briefing, when I announced the event and target for the day. It was not as restrained as it was at Gen. LeMay’s briefing. Normally the reaction was either silence or a groan. This time there was a great cheer.

As I recall, we got off the ground at 0130-0230, carrying small bombs to be dropped in order not to dig deep craters through which the troops and tanks would have to crawl. I led this mission, which was the first of three that the 100th Bomb Group flew on D-Day.

The raid was uneventful, though the assembly in the dark with 10,000 flares was not exactly an everyday occurrence. AS we approached Normandy at an altitude of 15,000 feet, the weather below us was not too good. We could see, as I recall, some of the flotilla, but not the beach itself, so I believe we made a radar drop. Since, however, the coast would have been clearly visible to radar, we were not concerned with dropping short. I recall that looking out of the cockpit as we approached the coast, that there were aircraft in every direction as far as the eye could see and all friendly . . . also no flak.

When we returned to base, I believe our second mission had taken off. On the third, I remember we loaded the old unarmed administrative B-17E and sent it along. I believe that we put up everything we had that day and I think a lot of men flew that day who normally did not fly missions, but what the hell.”

General Jack Kidd remembers D-Day as a big blur! “Finally, the day for the long-awaited invasion was at hand. As Group Operations Officer it was my responsibility to: organize the seven different flights of from six to eighteen each, sixty-six in all, dispatch them over a thirteen hour and forty-five minute period, brief the crews, check availability of aircraft and crews as the aircraft returned, as most crews flew two sorties that day. D-Day was preceded by three attacks in three days on coastal targets and by six more in the following eight days, all in support of the ground troops. In the spirit of the times – never in memory matched in time of war – every member of the 100th went all-out on D-Day, just as in the entire forty-six months of operations; every individual knew what was at stake. General Eisenhower paid all of us who fought in the air war, including the RAF, a tribute in his Original Invasion Orders: ‘Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground.’”

The Germans informed Barwick O. Barfield, in Stalag Luft III, of D-Day. “We were very excited. A German officer took a stick and drew in the sand a map of where it had taken place. He told us that the Allies would be pushed back into the sea.”

Barwick’s wife, Marilee Barfield recalls June 6, 1944 in a very different way. “It was a Tuesday. My family was invited out to a luncheon and had not had the radio on, but I remember there was a premonition of something going to happen or had happened. When we arrived at the home of our hostess, she told us of the invasion. Everyone was excited. Later on in the afternoon when we arrived home, there was a note on the back door saying ‘call Western Union.’ I became very upset, called, and was told the messenger was on his way with the telegram. Our neighbors had seen him come earlier and were concerned for me because of Barwick and also because my stepfather was fighting in the Pacific. Neighbors were very close in those days. I can still see the messenger walking up the walkway; it seemed to take him forever.

‘The Secretary of War desires me to express his deep regret that your husband 2nd Lt. Barwick O. Barfield has been reported missing in action since 24 May over Germany. If further details or other information are received you will be promptly notified. The Adjutant General.’ (On June 26, 1944, Marilee received word that her husband had been captured and was a POW.)

Earl Benham, a 350th Squadron ROG, had concluded his flight duty before D-Day, but remembers the following. “I had been on the field all night for field duty. I returned to the barracks for sleep right after takeoff. Field security of the mission was good. I learned of the D-Day operation after I was awakened by the first returning crews.”

Muriel Jones, widow of Paul G. Jones (418th Squadron pilot – Messie Bessie 42-30152), was working at 20th Century Fox on D-Day. She didn’t know it at the time, but it washer husband’s first mission with the 100th. “I was thinking that maybe this would help end the war so that he could come home sooner. I never could make myself think he might not come back at all.”

Charles E. Thompson, a pilot with the 351st Squadron spent D-Day as a POW. “After walking the perimeter of Stalag Luft III with my bombardier Lt. William J. Sprow, Jr., I returned to my room of seven other POWs for our noontime tea. Shortly thereafter, we were surprised by the arrival from our camp’s secret, central radio, of the latest Berlin and BBC news. We were cautioned to keep our voices down at the end of the news. There were no restrictions on the big smiles and back poundings however.”

Bill Dixon, a 418th Squadron waist gunner, responded that “My recollections of D-Day will be somewhat different than most. I was shot down on 6 March 1944. We made it to Sweden and were interned there. On D-Day I was living in Turisthemmet, Rattvik, Sverige. Turisthemmet (which means The Tourists Home) was a small hotel. Rattvik is a small summer and winter resort village in the State of Dalarna, Sweden. When I awoke on D-Day morning, I did what I did every morning upon awakening. Without getting out of bed, I reached over to the desk, took out a cigarette, switched on my radio which was tuned to a German radio station because they played the best contemporary American music. But this morning was slightly different. The German announcer was very excited and told about the invasion and how the Allied troops were being repulsed, thrown back into the channel, and could never consolidate their position on the continent. At that point, I got out of bed, tuned the radio to short-wave, and attempted to find an English language broadcast. My German was problematical at best and I wanted to verify what I thought I had just heard auf Deutsche. At that point my roommate came in all excited because they had picked up a British broadcast on the radio on the second floor lounge. The rest of the day was spent by most of the fellows almost exclusively in listening to radio broadcasts.”

Col. Jack Moore (349th Squadron) was in a German POW Hospital at Obermasfeld, Germany, on D-Day. “We got the news of the landings about mid-afternoon and there was much rejoicing. Of course we expected to be liberated shortly, but actually it took more like a year before it happened.”

George Miller, a 351st Squadron WG, was still in training in Denver, getting ready to go to gunnery school in Las Vegas on D-Day. “The best we could do was offer our prayers for those many brave people in Normandy.”

Harry Crosby: “During the month of May, we felt the pace go up. In the weeks before D-Day we put up two whole groups: 100th A and 100th B plus 12 supernumeraries. We dropped every kind of bomb we had. We were softening up the coast from Holland to Spain.

In the week before D-Day, I worked 24 hours a day superintending the preparation of maps, flight plans and formation for over a hundred different missions and variations. As a result, I worked for 75 hours straight. The night before D-Day I was a zombie and was ordered to go to my quarters and get some sleep.

Twenty-four hours later I awakened and it was all over! The BBC was announcing the landings and Axis Sally was corroborating. And I had missed it all!”

Bill DeBlasio, tail gunner on Rosie’s Riveters (42-30758), had already been rotated back to the states. On D-Day, Bill remembers, “I was in Pittsburgh, PA, spending my time between my Mother and Sister and the girl I was engaged to. We had no wild parties or even close to it. . . just a big relief that it went as well as it did.”

Butch Goodwin, a 350th Squadron Pilot, remembers, “We were alerted and awakened early June 6 for the long awaited mission to invade the continent. I flew two missions on D-Day. Shortly after D-Day I started looking for my brother Glen (a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne) and located him in a hospital in the Wales area. I was able to obtain a B-17 on a Sunday and flew to the hospital. Glen had been injured during the invasion and had spent four days in a foxhole before being located by medics. My brother-in-law was also in the invasion with the 2nd Armored Division.”