Category Archives: Heroes Among Us

This Day

By lex, on June 6th, 2011

Sixty-seven years ago.

This Day 062011

From Ronald Reagan’s “Boys of Point du Hoc” speech:

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D-Day Plus 75 Years : A Short Story

At this precise moment 75 years ago – 9 hours ahead of Pacific time – the first amphibious landings started at Normandy.

By dawn on June 6, thousands of paratroopers and glider troops were already on the ground behind enemy lines, securing bridges and exit roads. The amphibious invasions began at 6:30 a.m. The British and Canadians overcame light opposition to capture beaches code named Gold, Juno and Sword, as did the Americans at Utah Beach. U.S. forces faced heavy resistance at Omaha Beach, where there were over 2,000 American casualties. However, by day’s end, approximately 156,000 Allied troops had successfully stormed Normandy’s beaches. According to some estimates, more than 4,000 Allied troops lost their lives in the D-Day invasion, with thousands more wounded or missing.

He’s been gone about 20 years, but I still remember him stopping by my late father’s office every Wednesday at 1200 for lunch, in that big 70s Lincoln.

I can’t remember him without a smile and some pleasantries when he arrived. Never knew him by anything other than his nickname, which was Dusty. Outside of his family, I doubt that anyone else did, either.

He and my father would then head off for restaurants unknown. They were 2 Army veterans of that era. Neither talked much about those times.

He was wounded in that war and recuperated in a British hospital. As he was recuperating, there was an Army nurse at his side.

And from that time for over 50 years that nurse never left his side.

One Thanksgiving they invited us to their home. I had to decline, having a prior invitation.

It is a dinner I have regretted missing for 20 years. My parents told me that after dinner over desert and wine, the conversation got serious. After all those years, he opened up for the first time and talked about his day on that beach 75 years ago.

Since I wasn’t there, all I have are the few things I was told afterwards.

He was in the second wave.

What he remembered most that day were the drownings. Not all of the Higgins Boats  could get to the shoreline. If the feet couldn’t find the bottom with all of the equipment carried – 90 lbs in some cases – you were in big trouble.

And you couldn’t stop to help them.

You were trying to stay alive and get ashore. He watched his best friend drown.

When my mother asked him if he was worried about dying, he replied that “you never think it will be you“.

Allied victory wasn’t certain that day. Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s chief of staff, gave it 50% odds of success *. Eisenhower had an alternative letter ready in the event of failure.

Winston Churchill went to bed that evening worried that by next morning, he would learn that 20,000 were killed. That was the number of British killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. He also remembered the Dieppe Raid just 2 years earlier. After 6 hours and 60% casualties, the British were forced to withdraw.

(Then) Lt. General Omar Bradley was very close to ordering a withdrawal at Omaha.

“…by mid-day on June 6, caused Gen. Omar Bradley, a competent and “unflappable” commander, to fear that his 29th and 1st Divisions had “suffered an irreversible catastrophe.” He came within an inch of ordering withdrawal of the Omaha force — representing the main bulk of the American D-Day effort.”

“…The beaches of Omaha were a real trap for the troops of the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions. The first assault wave was brutally cut down, while the second left the beach strewn with the wounded, the dead and broken equipment.”

I’ve always kept to a rule of not using people’s names in my posts unless I have their permission, but in this case I’ll make an exception. They’re both long gone now.

He left us shortly after that dinner and she left soon after.  I think too of the anonymous thousands who have already left us, taking their own stories of that day with them.

They deserve more than to be forgotten.

They were Dusty and Doris Miller.


 

 

* The Secret of D-Day, by Gilles Perrault. (1965 – out of print). 

More on the 2nd wave here.

 

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A Talk With 2 WW2 Aces

A Talk With 2 WW2 Aces

I just had one of the more pleasant and interesting afternoons that I can remember in some time. A few days ago, an ad from the Neptunus Lex Facebook page blipped by – “History Come Alive – a Talk With Bud Anderson and Dean “Diz” Laird at the California Aerospace Museum.

I had to get a ticket.

Anderson, as many know, flew with Chuck Yeager (they are friends to this day) in the famous 357th Fighter Group. He is a triple ace.

Before today, I hadn’t heard of Dean “Diz” Laird. He too is an ace and is the only Navy WW2 ace to have served in both the ETO and the PTO.

Until today, I didn’t even know that the U.S. Navy had an aviation presence in the ETO.

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Jim Clark – The Greatest Driver?

How does one measure that? Many will say only consider the confines of Formula 1 racing.

I’m not one of them.

I think today too, more than ever with technology, the car is as important as the driver.

Certainly Michael Schumacher would be on anyone’s short list with 7 world F1 championships.

I don’t wish to denigrate his achievements, but I think the evolution of his Ferrari was as important as his abilities.

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The Medal of Honor: Not all beer and skittles

Being a Medal of Honor recipient places one in one of the most elite military fraternities in the world, with just 70 living members. Created during the Civil War, 3,504 men, and one woman, have been bestowed that honor. Mary Walker, a surgeon during the Battle of Bull Run, was the lone female recipient.

For many, instead of being a reminder of having the highest honor this country can bestow, it is a reminder of the worst day of their lives.

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RIP Niki

The only Grand Prix that I have ever seen was in the summer of 1973, courtesy of the Army Special Services.

If you were off duty they sometimes arranged day trips of the local areas. The German Grand Prix was to be at a fabled course called the Nurburgring. This course, built in the 1920s, was the longest closed circuit course by far, at 14 miles or so. Fourteen miles of terrifying sharp turns, long straights, and in one area a jump through the Eifel forest.

Racing great Jackie Stewart called the course The Green Hell, and the term stuck.

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Hang Tough

 

By lex, on November 27th, 2010

It’s my secret belief – well, now it’s out in the open – that many of the readers here watched the HBO miniseries, “Band of Brothers.” Among that number, no few read Stephen Ambrose’s book of the same name. Over the course of the miniseries we invited a company of World War II dogfaces who helped liberate Europe into our room week after week. If like me, you bought the DVD collection, maybe night after night. We got to know and appreciate the humor and sturdy courage of soldiers Guarneres, Toye, Effron, Liebgott and Malarkey. We appreciated the quiet professionalism of Sergeant Talbert. We nurtured a congenial contempt for Captain Sobel, who forged the soldiers and officers of Easy Company into a hardened fighting force, but was too pursued by his own demons and incompetency to lead them.

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