Prior to the 70th Anniversary of D-Day, Blue Ridge PBS had the honor of recording interviews with two World War II veterans.
It is hard to conceive the epic scope of this decisive battle that foreshadowed the end of Hitler’s dream of Nazi domination. Overlord was the largest air, land, and sea operation undertaken before or since June 6, 1944. The landing included over 7,000 ships, 12,000 airplanes, and over 160,000 soldiers.
After years of meticulous planning and seemingly endless training, for the Allied Forces, it all came down to this: The boat ramp goes down, then jump, swim, run, and crawl to the cliffs. Many of the first young men (most not yet 20 years old) entered the surf carrying eighty pounds of equipment. They faced over 200 yards of beach before reaching the first natural feature offering any protection. Blanketed by small-arms fire and bracketed by artillery, they found themselves in hell. When it was over, the Allied Forces had suffered nearly 10,000 casualties; more than 4,000 were dead – including 90% of the soldiers of Company A, 1st Bn, 116th Inf. Regiment, 29th Division – US Army and Virginia National Guard who went in the first wave at Omaha Beach.
Yet somehow, due to planning and preparation, and due to the valor, fidelity, and sacrifice of the Allied Forces, Fortress Europe was breached – leading to the end of World War II.
Robert Sales of Lynchburg – who had enlisted in the Virginia National Guard when he was 15 – was 17 on D-Day and a member of Company B, 1st Battalion, 116th Regiment, 29th Division. Sergeant Sales was the lone survivor of his 30 man Higgins Boat. He was awarded the Silver Star, three Purple Hearts, the Bronze Star, The French Legion of Honor and several other awards and decorations.
One of the most important pieces of the D-Day Landings was logistics. It took 18 soldiers to support one combat soldier on the battlefield. Everything had to move like clockwork. And in the right order. Thousands – perhaps millions of tons – of ammunition, fuel, equipment, food, medicine, clothing – well, you get the idea – had to be placed behind the front line soldiers. Artillery units had to support that landings. Tank units had to be put ashore. It’s hard to imagine how all this had to be placed in just the right amount – and the right order on those thousands of ships crossing the channel. And, they did it all without computers. Paper and pencil and math.
In addition to the supplies needed, imagine doing this from a new location almost every day. Oh, and add sleeping out on the ground. Bathing in ditch water. And having the German Army shooting at you when you least expect it. Recently we talked to one of our D-Day heroes whose job it was to keep one American unit, the 693rd Field Artillery Battalion supplied. His name is Glenn Mallery, Sr. from Christiansburg. He was a young staff sergeant.