The Army remembered the servicemen who took part in the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, which began 68 years ago, during World War II, at a reception in advance of a traditional Twilight Tattoo ceremony in Washington, D.C., June 6.
More than 150,000 troops participated in Operation Neptune, part of the larger Operation Overlord, which kicked off June 6, 1944. The date has now come to be referred to as “D-Day,” when Allied forces poured onto the beaches of Normandy, France, as part of an effort to wrest control of the country from German forces, who were already entrenched there.
“More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by days end, on June 6th, the Allies gained a foothold in Normandy,” said Under Secretary of the Army Joseph W. Westphal, who hosted the event. “The D-Day cost was high, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed and wounded. But more than 100,000 soldiers began to march across Europe to defeat Hitler, and Nazi Germany.”
The Twilight Tattoo event is held during summer months on Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall in Arlington, Va., near the Pentagon. During the ceremonial event, the precision drill and discipline of Soldiers of the 3d U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) is displayed along with music from the U.S. Army Band, “Pershing’s Own.”
Attending the Twilight Tattoo event, Westphal said, would be thousands of spectators, mostly young people.
“It is important that they recognize that the freedoms they enjoy today are a result of the sacrifice of millions of people from all over the world that ensured their liberty,” said the secretary, referring to the World War II veterans the Twilight Tattoo was held to honor. “No greater act of bravery was ever carried out than that of millions of citizen Soldiers, and civilians, who faced and defeated tyranny and rebuilt this country and the world.”
Sen. Daniel Akaka, of Hawaii, and also a World War II veteran, attended the ceremony as well. The recognition bestowed upon he and his fellow veterans, he said, is important.
“It is important for the country to know that we sacrificed – and there are many heroic contributions that were made during World War II – to the point where we were able to stop tyranny and bring freedom not only to our country, but the world,” he said. “And today I look upon this as inspiring to the country.”
Akaka served in the Pacific theater in World War II, and he said that today’s soldiers are very much the same as those from 68 years ago.
“There is still the element of sacrifice for our country in our military personnel today,” he said. “And I would tell you that with all the knowledge and technology, they are able to help our country well.”
Earnest F. Gloyna started service in the Army in 1942, when he was just under 21 years old. He served mostly in the European theater and said he spent only two months of his active duty time in the United States. He served as part of the 820th Aviation Engineer unit, and participated in six campaigns, from Omaha Beach to Germany.
He was aboard a ship during the initial D-Day invasion, and arrived at Omaha Beach on “D plus 2.” But he said during the war, he and his unit were always near the front.
“Usually we were near the front line, sometimes we thought we were in the line,” he said.
Soldiers today “have very different equipment, but their spirit is the same,” Gloyna said. “They are equipped with very different equipment we thought would never come around.”
Back on Omaha Beach, he said, they looked for mines by poking the ground with a stick, for instance, something he thinks doesn’t happen today.
But now, he said, when soldiers prepare to go to war, it’s no different than when he and his fellow soldiers prepared for war.
“I don’t think it’s any different than what we did going into Omaha,” he said. “You’ve already gone through the experience of heavy training – training that is absolutely necessary. After that, it is a matter of doing the best you can – and the American soldier is probably better at that than anybody else.”
Among the veterans of World War II in attendance at the event were Sen. Daniel Akaka, Sen. Frank Lautenberg, Albert Darago Jr., Walter Brown, Donald Collins, Louis Cunningham, David Bailey, Douglas Dillard, Robert Franke, James Ellicot, Tyson Hopkins, William Kracov, Bernard Resnick, Alfred Shehab, Myron Wollard, Dr. Earnest Gloyna, Fredrick Griswold and Walter Heline.