Frères d’Armes

Frères d’Armes
Not a day goes by that Johnnie Marino doesn’t think about D-Day June 6th 1944. As an ammo carrier in the 2nd Infantry Division, his job was to haul cases of 105mm shells onto the beach where he would hook up with the howitzers arriving later that morning. At H+1, the LST carrying elements of Johnnie’s company dropped the ramp. And all hell broke loose. The company came ashore on Easy Red sector, Omaha Beach. The ramp on Johnnie’s LST wasn’t half way down when they were met with a withering hail of mortar, small arms and interlocking machine gun fire.  In a matter of seconds, a dozen men lay dead or severely wounded. Men Johnnie had trained with. Friends. Brothers in arms. The howitzers never made it ashore. Along with 26 other artillery pieces, 50 tanks, 50 landing craft, 10 larger vessels and almost all the radios, they were lost or destroyed. At 3000 dead, wounded or missing, American casualties on Omaha Beach were the highest of any Allied losses during Operation Overlord. Johnnie Marino remembers every second of that bloody morning on the Normandy coast. Like every other veteran, he has no idea how and why he survived and others did not. In his billfold, Johnnie carries a small slip of paper on which he carefully wrote the names of every friend he lost. In 66 years, that slip of paper has never left him. Today, Johnnie has come to Washington DC with 120 other veterans of World War II. They served on every front in both the Pacific and European Theatres of Operations. At the initiative of Lone Star Honor Flight, they have come from Texas to visit the World War II Memorial. In just two years, Lone Star Honor Flight has enabled more than 500 World War II veterans, all well over eighty years of age to experience what some describe as one of the high points of their lives. This is the fifth and final trip and as on every previous occasion, these men –and some women too- on Lone Star Honor Flight Five have come to Washington with their memories. As vivid today as they were several lifetimes ago. Americans who visit France are often surprised to discover the depth and sincerity of what is called le devoir de mémoire (a duty to remember). Each year, the nation celebrates the liberation of Paris in August 1944 by the French 2nd Armored Division of General Leclerc incorporated into Patton’s 3rd US Army. France celebrates the end of the war in Europe with la fete du 8 mai 1945. And never misses an opportunity to honor the service and sacrifice of those who fought to restore freedom and democracy to a broken nation. On this final Lone Star Honor Flight to Washington DC, four veterans are officially recognized by the Republic of France. Representing the Chief of the French Army General Staff and the Military Attaché to the French Ambassador to the United States, Colonel Etienne Charpentier addresses the 120 veterans gathered on the steps of the Memorial Amphitheatre at Arlington National Cemetery. “I want to tell you that the memory of your service 66 years ago not only did not fade away in the pages of history books, but is really the bedrock of the very strong relationship that has always linked our two nations, particularly since WWII. Every young French student knows about your courage, your bravery, your sacrifice, and the nation as a whole is, remains and will remain grateful to you forever. We are proud to recognize four of you whose service contributed to the liberation of my country. And although we recognize their individual contribution, be sure that through them, I would like to recognize the value of each of you.” Like Johnnie Marino, Dewey Carpenter hit Omaha Beach on D-Day. Dewey was a medic and he would remember June 6th 1944 as the busiest day of his life. Just one month later, Clarence Kelly’s APC rolled on to Utah Beach as part of the 6th Armored Division heading west to liberate Brest. Bill Grusy flew his P51 Mustang from newly-liberated airfields in France. As part of the 9th USAAF, his wing went in low and fast providing tactical air support to the ground offensive, hastening the day when all of France would be free. There are 9387 Americans buried at the Normandy American Military Cemetery located on the bluff just behind Omaha Beach. Among them are downed air crews as well as 1557 Americans who lost their lives in the conflict but who could not be identified. Just like Arlington, the Normandy American Military Cemetery is hallowed ground. It is American soil, ceded in perpetuity by France without charge or tax. Today, it is difficult to grasp the scope and the sheer geography of Operation Overlord. Omaha Beach was one of five vital sectors which had to be assaulted and held on D-Day. The landing grounds extend along nearly one hundred miles of coastline, impossible to take in on just a short one day visit. Eloquent though it is “Saving Private Ryan” suggests that all of D-Day was a terrible, bloody slaughter. Not so. For the most part, it was a brilliant success with losses far lower than Allied military planners had forecast. Obtaining and holding a foothold of freedom culminating in the final and enduring triumph of democracy in Europe is the main fact of Operation Overlord. All over Normandy, thousands of plaques and markers bear silent witness to what many consider to be the greatest military event in history.  But by its very scope, that momentous day is also the sum of a half a million individual stories.  Just like the story of PFC Johnnie Marino. Malcolm Pepper © 2010   If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. 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