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D-Day - A time To Remember Uncommon Valor

Brig. Gen. Theodore D. Roosevelt, Jr.
Brig. Gen. Theodore D. Roosevelt, Jr.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. It is a day to remember and honor those who had courage in a critical situation.

It is also a day to look in the mirror and ask ourselves if we have the courage to do the little things that need to be done in America today, everything from challenging voter fraud to enforcing the local laws that are meant to make life livable our villages and towns.

Courage is a rare trait. Most of the people we meet in our daily lives, from politicians to registered voters, don’t have an ounce of courage in their bodies; and this is more true for politicians than for almost anyone else.

That’s because in reality, in a critical situation success often depends on someone having the courage to do what needs to be done regardless of the consequences.

On D-Day, thousands of men stormed the beaches that morning to free Europe from Adolph Hitler’s murderous clutches. But the entire invasion almost failed because everything that could go wrong did go wrong, at the worst possible moment -- from the weather to sea sickness to the Nazi defenders slaughtering the troops as they came ashore.

The invasion had stalled and the generals were already talking about pulling the men off the beaches when a few men had the courage to do what needed to be done, in some case even though they had been ordered not to do so.

For example, according to the U.S. Navy’s historical site, on the morning of 6 June 1944, thousands of US troops on Omaha Beach were pinned down by German artillery and machine guns dug in on the bluffs overlooking the beach.

They were trapped between the murderous fire from the defenders on the bluffs in front of them and the rising tide behind them.

Late that morning James E. Knight, a soldier in the 299th Combat Engineer Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division, saw an American destroyer come into the shallows behind him and fire over his head at the German machine gun emplacements and artillery bunkers , on the bluffs.

Because that naval gunfire knocked out some of the German gun emplacements guarding the exits from the beach, Kight and the other soldiers trapped at Omaha Beach were able to leave the beach and move inland.

Knight believes the naval gunfire from that one destroyer might have turned the tide of the Omaha landing, and, possibly, the whole Normandy invasion.

That destroyer was the U.S.S. Frankford, commanded by Captain Harry Sanders.

Sanders had orders not to fire on the German gun emplacements on the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach. According to his orders, Sanders was to direct the gunfire from the USS Frankford on the German positions behind the beach in support of the American paratroopers who had jumped into the French countryside behind Omaha Beach during the previous night.

Bu Captain Harry Sanders realized that if he blindly followed his orders, that the troops on the beach would be butchered by the German gunfire. So he took the Frankford in closer to shore, even though that violated his orders, and he ordered the Frankford’s gunners to fire on the German gun emplacements on the bluffs, even though that also violated his orders.

That same morning, when Brigadier General Norman 'Dutch' Cota landed on Omaha Beach the entire beach was in total chaos and not a single American soldier had made it off the beach.

Cota was the Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, and he landed with a part of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, in the second wave, approximately one hour after H-Hour.

He was the first American General and probably the oldest man to land on Omaha beach that day. But that didn’t stop him.

Instead of looking for a reason why he couldn’t do something, he looked for a reason why he could.

What Cota found was a disaster in the making. Every American soldier who had landed on Omaha Beach before Coda was either dead, wounded, or crouched behind the seawall trying to avoid the German gunfire.

So Cota did something about it. Some people would even say Cota did something stupid. The cigar-chomping General walked out into the middle of the beach and started each group of soldiers huddled on the beach to encourage them to pick up a weapon and move inland.

Standing up on that beach meant almost certain death. Cota was a target for every German gunner at Omaha Beach. But he stood up and walked along the beach anyway, because that’s what needed to be done.

How many leaders do you know who will do anything but blindly follow the plan, even when the plan is obviously not working?

Too many of our leaders, from the Village Board to the US Congress, look for a reason why they can’t do something rather than looking for a reason to get things done.

Four men earned a Medal of Honor on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Here is a list of those men and their Medal of Honor citations.

Carlton William Barrett, November 24, 1919 – May 3, 1986

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in the vicinity of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. On the morning of D-day Pvt. Barrett, landing in the face of extremely heavy enemy fire, was forced to wade ashore through neck-deep water.

Disregarding the personal danger, he returned to the surf again and again to assist his floundering comrades and save them from drowning. Refusing to remain pinned down by the intense barrage of small-arms and mortar fire poured at the landing points, Pvt. Barrett, working with fierce determination, saved many lives by carrying casualties to an evacuation boat lying offshore.

In addition to his assigned mission as guide, he carried dispatches the length of the fire-swept beach; he assisted the wounded; he calmed the shocked; he arose as a leader in the stress of the occasion. His coolness and his dauntless daring courage while constantly risking his life during a period of many hours had an inestimable effect on his comrades and is in keeping with the highest traditions of the U.S. Army.

Jimmie Waters Monteith, Jr., July 1, 1917 – June 6, 1944

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France. 1st Lt. Monteith landed with the initial assault waves on the coast of France under heavy enemy fire.
Without regard to his own personal safety he continually moved up and down the beach reorganizing men for further assault. He then led the assault over a narrow protective ledge and across the flat, exposed terrain to the comparative safety of a cliff. Retracing his steps across the field to the beach, he moved over to where 2 tanks were buttoned up and blind under violent enemy artillery and machine gun fire. Completely exposed to the intense fire, 1st Lt. Monteith led the tanks on foot through a minefield and into firing positions. Under his direction several enemy positions were destroyed.

He then rejoined his company and under his leadership his men captured an advantageous position on the hill. Supervising the defense of his newly won position against repeated vicious counterattacks, he continued to ignore his own personal safety, repeatedly crossing the 200 or 300 yards of open terrain under heavy fire to strengthen links in his defensive chain.

When the enemy succeeded in completely surrounding 1st Lt. Monteith and his unit and while leading the fight out of the situation, 1st Lt. Monteith was killed by enemy fire. The courage, gallantry, and intrepid leadership displayed by 1st Lt. Monteith is worthy of emulation.

John J. Pinder, Jr., June 6, 1912 – June 6, 1944

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, near Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

On D-day, Technician 5th Grade Pinder landed on the coast 100 yards off shore under devastating enemy machinegun and artillery fire which caused severe casualties among the boatload. Carrying a vitally important radio, he struggled towards shore in waist-deep water. Only a few yards from his craft he was hit by enemy fire and was gravely wounded. Technician 5th Grade Pinder never stopped. He made shore and delivered the radio.

Refusing to take cover afforded, or to accept medical attention for his wounds, Technician 5th Grade Pinder, though terribly weakened by loss of blood and in fierce pain, on 3 occasions went into the fire-swept surf to salvage communication equipment. He recovered many vital parts and equipment, including another workable radio. On the 3rd trip he was again hit, suffering machinegun bullet wounds in the legs. Still this valiant soldier would not stop for rest or medical attention. Remaining exposed to heavy enemy fire, growing steadily weaker, he aided in establishing the vital radio communication on the beach.

While so engaged this dauntless soldier was hit for the third time and killed. The indomitable courage and personal bravery of Technician 5th Grade Pinder was a magnificent inspiration to the men with whom he served.

Theodore D. “Teddy” Roosevelt, Jr., September 13, 1887 – July 12, 1944

(Roosevelt, who the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, led the U.S. 4th Infantry Division's 8th Infantry Regiment and 70th Tank Battalion landing at Utah Beach.)

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France.

After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches.

He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice.

Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

(On 12 July 1944, slightly more than one month after at Utah Beach, Roosevelt died of a heart attack in France).

(Howard E. Woodford, June 21, 1921 – June 7, 1945

He volunteered to investigate the delay in a scheduled attack by an attached guerrilla battalion. Reaching the line of departure, he found that the lead company, in combat for the first time, was immobilized by intense enemy mortar, machinegun, and rifle fire which had caused casualties to key personnel.

Knowing that further failure to advance would endanger the flanks of adjacent units, as well as delay capture of the objective, he immediately took command of the company, evacuated the wounded, reorganized the unit under fire, and prepared to attack. He repeatedly exposed himself to draw revealing fire from the Japanese strongpoints, and then moved forward with a 5-man covering force to determine exact enemy positions.

Although intense enemy machinegun fire killed 2, and wounded his other 3 men, S/Sgt. Woodford resolutely continued his patrol before returning to the company. Then, against bitter resistance, he guided the guerrillas up a barren hill and captured the objective, personally accounting for 2 hostile machine gunners and courageously reconnoitering strong defensive positions before directing neutralizing fire.

After organizing a perimeter defense for the night, he was given permission by radio to return to his battalion, but, feeling that he was needed to maintain proper control, he chose to remain with the guerrillas.

Before dawn the next morning the enemy launched a fierce suicide attack with mortars, grenades, and small-arms fire, and infiltrated through the perimeter. Though wounded by a grenade, S/Sgt. Woodford remained at his post calling for mortar support until bullets knocked out his radio. Then, seizing a rifle he began working his way around the perimeter, encouraging the men until he reached a weak spot where 2 guerrillas had been killed. Filling this gap himself, he fought off the enemy.

At daybreak he was found dead in his foxhole, but 37 enemy dead were lying in and around his position. By his daring, skillful, and inspiring leadership, as well as by his gallant determination to search out and kill the enemy, S/Sgt. Woodford led an inexperienced unit in capturing and securing a vital objective, and was responsible for the successful continuance of a vitally important.

Today is the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. It is a day to remember and honor those who had courage in a critical situation.

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