Wednesday, 19 June 2024

Solemn commemoration marks 65th D-Day anniversary

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Lucerne resident Jim Harris was aboard the destroyer USS McCook at the D-Day invasion in June of 1944. He recounted that day at a 65th anniversary commemoration held June 6, 2009, in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 


LAKEPORT – Several dozen people gathering at the lakeside Saturday morning to remember the day, 65 years before, when 155,000 Allied soldiers took part in history's largest amphibious invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France.


D-Day – June 6, 1944 – was the day when thousands of troops and ships arrived and began the historic landing at Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno and Gold beaches.


The actual operations ran from June 4 through 14, 1944, as part of Operation Overlord, an audacious and seemingly improbable plan that ultimately pierced Adolf Hitler's hold on Europe and led to the Allied victory in World War II.


The local ceremony, led by Ronnie Bogner, was held at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial mast in Library Park. The Lakeport Sea Scouts – teenagers not many years different in age from the young men who would have arrived on Normandy's beaches decades ago – raised the American flag on the mast.


Rev. Mike Suski, a chaplain with the Lake County Sheriff's Office and Lakeport Police Department, offered an opening invocation.


Suski, born in Poland, said D-Day had special significance for him; his father, at age 16, was taken from his home by the Nazis and forced into slave labor in the salt mines on the border of Germany and France. The Allied advance freed the elder Suski and millions of others, and turned the fortunes of the war. Suski said his fathered died March 13.


He remembered those who gave their lives for freedom, peace and democracy, and prayed for those now serving in the country's leadership.


Businessman John Tompkins led the group in singing the “Star-Spangled Banner.”


Bob Bartley, a Kelseyville resident who is a member of a World War II reenactment group, wore an authentic wool uniform like that worn by the soldiers landing at Normandy. Bartley had attended last year's D-Day ceremony in full uniform, including the pack carried by the men, which can weigh as much as 70 pounds. He skipped that part this year, noting that it left his back out for days the last time.


Those heavy packs proved fatal for many soldiers in the landing. In some cases, the soldiers were let off of the amphibious carriers in deep water and had to try to swim to shore with the weight. It was noted during the ceremony that many men drowned under the packs' weight.


Other historic military touches included a 1968 Kaiser relay truck used by the Marines during Vietnam which Carl Thompson, a California Highway Patrol officer, is restoring.


One of the featured speakers was Lucerne resident Jim Harris, who was at both the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941 and at D-Day, where he served aboard the destroyer USS McCook (DD 496).


He recalled the practice run for D-Day at Slapton Sands, near Dover, England. “This rehearsal was what you might call chaos,” he said, noting that German submarines showed up and sank three troop ships. Slapton Sands was kept so quiet that the men who died there were counted as casualties at D-Day he said.


The stormy weather in June of 1944 caused a delay in the invasion, he said. Many ships already had been under way and had to be rounded up after the cancellation order was given.


Eventually, though, on the morning of June 6, 1944, 5,000 vessels were under way toward the French coast. “We were so very fortunate that the fog held,” Harris said.


But there were problems with the landing, from men landing too far out and struggling under heavy packs to the soldiers scrambling up onto the beach to find they had only 8 feet of beach up against a cliff to find safety, while fierce fire came from the cliffs above at Pointe du Hoc.


Harris said the USS McCook's captain saw Germans firing from the cliffs above onto the Allied forces on the beaches. The admiral gave the command to go after them, so the 345-foot McCook was steered into the breakers, trying to avoid mines while attempting to get close enough to shoot at the cliffs above. With each wave, the ship had to be thrust into reverse to avoid the mines or running aground.


In his book “The Americans at D-Day,” author John C. McManus writes that the McCook shot 1,000 rounds that day.


Harris, a helmsman on the McCook, said she and another destroyer, the USS Carmick, wiped out the German fire power in the cliffs in about 20 minutes, including German “tiger” tanks.


“That was the longest day I ever lived,” he said.


Another World War II veterans, 89-year-old Bob Tucker, spoke at the ceremony.


Tucker wasn't at D-Day, but he took part in the Allied invasion of North Africa in 1942 under Gen. George Patton, “the greatest soldier that walked this earth.”


He shared D-Day statistics: there were 5,303 ships, 13,000 US paratroopers, 325 heavy bomber planes and 2,500 dead. Omaha Beach was an important landing spot because of the cliffs and reefs that prevented landing elsewhere along the coast.


Recalling his own trip to Europe for the war, Tucker said as he sailed out of New York City, he looked at the Statue of Liberty and said, “Oh, girl, I may never see you again.”


Punctuating the end of the ceremony was a rifle salvo by the United Veterans Council Military Funeral Honors Team and the playing of “Taps.”


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

 

 

 

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The Lakeport Sea Scouts posted the colors at the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association's memorial mast in Library Park at the beginning of 65th anniversary commemoration held June 6, 2009, in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 

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Bob Tucker, a World War II veteran, discussed the war and D-Day on June 6, 2009, in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 

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The United Veterans Council Military Funeral Honors Team offers a salute as the bugler plays

Upcoming Calendar

19Jun
06.19.2024
Juneteenth
19Jun
06.19.2024 5:30 pm - 7:00 pm
Free veterans dinner
22Jun
06.22.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
Farmers' Market at the Mercantile
22Jun
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Love of the Land Dinner
25Jun
06.25.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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29Jun
06.29.2024 10:00 am - 1:00 pm
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Farmers' Market at Library Park
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07.04.2024
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