D-Day dispatches from Normandy

Staff Writer reports on D-Day 75th anniversary events in Europe

By: Brian Louwers | C&G Newspapers | Published June 6, 2019

Editor’s note: Staff Writer Brian Louwers is in Europe, visiting historic spots and attending ceremonies in France and the Netherlands marking the 75th anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944). Below are some dispatches and photos he’s sent in about his experiences:

Day 3, June 4:

This is where the Big Red 1 fought it out with the German defenders on Omaha Beach. You’ll see a network of concrete bunkers. That’s strongpoint WN 62, the 35 positions defended by the German 352nd Infantry. The map shows what is and what was here. It was a tough assignment for the men of the 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division in the first assault wave at 6:30 a.m. Casualties were extreme. More than 1,000 Americans were killed or wounded in this sector by midmorning, including 95 percent of the officers. Naval gunfire and intrepidity by the Army helped turn the tide. The position was mostly clear by 1 p.m., but at a huge price.

I met a man whose dad, William Weingarten from New Jersey, slept in one of the bunkers on the night of June 7. He was in the same outfit as one of my guys, Bill Sayed, of St. Clair Shores, the 294th Joint Assault Signal Company. Mr. Weingarten never talked about what he experienced, apparently. I’m going to connect the family with Mr. Sayed's recorded interview. We featured him in our newspapers in August 2015 (https://www.candgnews.com/news/end-through-their-eyes-85323) and preserved his story for the Veterans History Project.

The Army and Navy were back today, by the way. We had Blackhawks overhead and a ship offshore during our visit.

The last photos are taken at Pegasus Bridge in Ranville. We met Scottish RAF pilot Donald Mason there. He flew 120 missions in Stirling bombers during the war, including towing one of the gliders that landed British commandos at the bridge shortly after midnight on D-Day. Read about that mission. He’s a rock star and kicking it at 98!

Day 2, June 3:

After a full day spent visiting battle sites, villages and museums near Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc, we started our second full day here with a visit to the American Military Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer. As we were waiting in line to enter the visitor center, we decided instead to follow a group of 16 World War II veterans being escorted by retired NFL linebacker Donnie Edwards and volunteers with his Best Defense Foundation.

The group was extremely gracious and allowed me to jump in the press pool. I had the chance to speak with them and to take photos and video as they laid a wreath at the flagpole of the cemetery, where 9,000 Americans who died fighting in Normandy are buried. There were several D-Day veterans in attendance, including Russell Pickett, 94, of Tennessee, Company A, 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, who carried a flamethrower off a landing craft in the first assault wave at Omaha Beach. Just being there with these men and one woman — Leila Morrisson, 97, of Windsor, Colorado, a nurse with the 118th Evacuation Hospital — was an amazing and inspiring experience.

After that, we drove to St. Come du Mont and visited the “Dead Man’s Corner” Museum and the D-Day Experience. The museum is dedicated to the vicious battle for control of the crossroads intersection leading to the town of Carentan, set between Omaha Beach and Utah Beach, fought between American paratroopers with the 101st Airborne Division and the German 6th Falschrimjager Regiment. The name was coined by the paratroopers after an American tank commander’s body lay on a destroyed tank at the corner over three days of fighting. The museum contains an insane amount of artifacts, both American and German. It's really something if you're into this stuff.

Driving south from the corner you travel along “Purple Heart Lane.” That name, as you can imagine, speaks to the price that American paratroopers paid to secure the four bridges along the road leading to the town of Carentan, a strategic crossroads that linked the Omaha and Utah beachheads. The Americans entered the town after a bayonet charge.

From Carentan, we went to the “Bloody Gulch” battle site, another creative name coined by the airborne. Here, at the Monoir de Donville, American paratroopers, soldiers from the 29th Infantry Division and tankers from the 2nd Armored Division squared off with the remaining German paratroopers, supported by the 12th SS Panzergrenadier Division.

We bookended our day with a visit to the German Military Cemetery in La Cambe.

Honored. Humbled. Exhausted. This place is amazing.

Day 1, June 2:

For a first timer in Normandy, this place is awesome and intimidating. Today was our first full day here. We woke up in Colleville-sur-Mer, visited two museums, went to Pointe du Hoc, and spent quality time on Omaha Beach at Colleville, Vierville and St. Laurent. There is so much to see. So many festivities. It's more solemn for me. The killing, sacrifice and life-long scaring that took place here were necessary, sadly. And the Greatest Generation just carried on. I'm honored and humbled.