Wednesday, 24 April 2024

D-Day commemoration marks invasion's 64th anniversary

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Bob Bartley of Lakeport cuts a dramatic silhouette at the Friday ceremony. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

LAKEPORT – Cutting an imposing figure in his World War II-era Army uniform, Lakeport resident Bob Bartley was more than 5,000 miles and 64 years away from the beaches at Normandy, but looking at him gave a sense of what it might have been like on that frightening morning decades ago.


Bartley was at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial mast in Library Park on Friday morning to pay respect to the soldiers who took part in the D-Day invasion.


Beginning on June 6, 1944, the invasion saw an estimated 160,000 Allied soldiers fight to gain a foothold in a Europe overwhelmed by Hitler's forces.


Bartley's green wool uniform included an ammunition belt and haversack which was many pounds short of the supply-laden, 90-pound packs US soldiers carried on their backs as they scrambled onto Omaha Beach.


The military's amphibious vehicles landed too far out in some cases, so men jumping into the sea found themselves up to their necks – or over their heads – with the packs on their backs and bullets whizzing by.


Many men drowned struggling under their packs. Accounts by survivors recount soldiers having to swim through corpses to get to land.


Bartley was a poignant figure in the short morning ceremony, meant to honor that day and what would turn out to be a masterstroke in the war – against overwhelming odds, mercurial weather and two months after hundreds of men died in Exercise Tiger, a practice run for the invasion carried out off the south coast of England near Slapton Sands.


“We're not here to celebrate it, we're here to commemorate it,” Ronnie Bogner, the master of ceremonies, explained of the D-Day anniversary event, held each year overlooking Clear Lake.


Pastor Mike Suski of Lakeport Christian Center led a prayer to bless the gathering. A native of Poland, the day had special meaning for Suski, who told the crowd that he was born in “Old Europe.”


During the ceremony, Bogner said that US casualties were highest among the US troops who landed at Normandy, because of Omaha and Utah beaches' treacherous conditions.


The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Vietnam Veterans of America were on hand, and the colors of the US military branches were on display, as was the POW/MIA flag. On the memorial mast flew the “First Jack” (often called the “snake flag,” said Bogner, for its portrait of a snake and the words, “Don't tread on me”), the US flag and the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association flag.

 

 

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Special guests seated in the audience's front row included Jim Harris of Lucerne, who was at Pearl Harbor and then D-Day three years later, aboard the destroyer USS McCook (DD 496), which helped destroy German positions used for firing on the soldiers landing on the beach. He was joined by fellow Pearl Harbor Survivor Walt Urmann, who served aboard the USS Blue; and Alice Darrow, widow of Dean Darrow, who was at Pearl Harbor aboard the USS West Virginia.

 

 

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The real deal: Jim Harris of Lucerne was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 and D-Day in 1944. Photo by Ginny Craven.
 

 


California Highway Patrol Commander Dane Hayward once again attended the ceremony, bringing with him several CHP officers, and Lakeport Police Chief Kevin Burke attended in full uniform.


Newly re-elected District 5 Supervisor Rob Brown was the guest speaker. Brown said he was born 16 years after the invasion, but was fortunate to be raised in Lake County, where veterans are valued.


He said he hopes future generations will learn to value their veterans.


Brown pointed to differences in the media coverage of World War II and the current war in Iraq. He quoted a World War II-era headline that asked, “Why doesn't Hitler quit?” Brown contrasted that with sentiment in today's media, which he said asks instead why the US doesn't quit.


“It's dependent on us to continue to support our troops,” Brown said.


He recognized efforts like Operation Tango Mike, founded by Ginny Craven – who was in attendance – for working to keep up soldiers' morale.


A bugler from the United Veterans Council's Military Funeral Honors Team played “Taps” as the US flag was lowered to half-staff for the remainder of the day in remembrance of the invasion.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

 

 

 

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Bob Bartley sported an authentic World War II-era military uniform. Photo by Ginny Craven.
 

 


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