July 30, 2004

29th Soldiers remember D-Day lessons

By Sgt. 1st Class David Moore
29th Infantry Division PAO

Walter Carter, the son of Capt. Elmer N. Carter who was a surgeon with the 29th Infantry Division, places a wreath at the gate opening that his father 60 years ago rushed through to save the life of a Soldier. The surgeon was struck down by sniper fire in what was then an apple orchard. Carter was taking part in the commemoration activities recognizing the 60th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion in France. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class David Moore, 29th Infantry Division Public Affairs )

Their hair is white now, and their steps have slowed -- but veterans of the historic D-Day invasion retraced their footsteps on “Bloody Omaha” with purpose, helping present-day Soldiers learn the lessons of the epic battle and gain answers to the question, “Why do we train?”

Nearly a dozen veterans and present-day 29th Infantry Division Soldiers began their quest for memories and answers on the coast of England, where the World War II unit trained among the hedgerows and on the moors for just short of two years for the Normandy invasion. The tour then launched for France, where voyagers linked up with another 75 D-Day veterans and 100 active Soldiers.

As part of D-Day’s 60th Anniversary, today’s light fighters not only attended ceremonies, but trekked through England’s moors and France’s battlefields. Field manuals came to life in the views of rugged hills and empty beaches.

“Being here, you are learning things everyday. When you are training in the field, you ask ‘why are we training this way?” Spc. Amara Sakara, B Company, 1st-115th Infantry, said. “When you meet a veteran, see where they trained, and you see the fields of fire it gives you a greater appreciation for why we train the way we do. It’s certainly the knowledge of basic soldier skills that can determine whether you live or die.”

Maj. Gen. Daniel E. Long, commanding general of the 29th, used the mission as part of the division’s training goals, bringing junior Soldiers to learn first hand the skills necessary to survive in battle.

All of the Soldiers participated in commemoration events from England to St. Lo, France. Between the solemn ceremonies of remembrance and recognition of those whose valor changed the course of history, there was time for the accounts of veterans who lived through the sand and blood of the invasion. There was time to walk the battlefield along with Joseph Balkoski, author of the “Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Division in Normandy,” and the recently released “Omaha Beach D Day, June 6, 1944.”

The division first arrived at Tidworth Barracks in October 1942, and the Soldiers were soon spread across Great Britain for what some veterans guessed was a hundred miles. Veterans of those training days all talked about their two 25-mile marches a week and training in the constant rain on the Moors of Dartmoor. Fog was another obstacle, white curtains that fell in seconds so thick Soldiers couldn’t see the buddy next to them, Glenwood Hankins, 81, of Martinsville, Va., recalled.

“I will always remember my feet bleeding after each of the hikes,” Don Koos, then with the 175th Infantry Regiment, of Whiting, N.J., said.

At Dartmoor, where the division and other Army units trained, there stands a rock outcropping known to locals and veterans alike as Vixen Tor. From the top, the division commander, Maj. Gen. Charles H. Gehrhardt could look down from the peak and see entire battalions maneuvering and training in the area.

Thousands of British citizens cheered 29th veterans for the 60th anniversary of the invasion of Normandy as they made their way through the various disembarkation points that dotted the coastline on the road to France. Several ceremonies, most of which included the British Parachute Regiment World War II veterans, were held at Trebah Gardens and Falmouth.

“We would not be living as we do today in our country that we are so proud of, without the bravery of those who fought for the freedom of this country 60 years ago,” Lady Mary Holborrow, Lord Lieutenant of Cornwall, said. “Today, we remember their sacrifices, their losses, particularly at Omaha Beach.”

Michael Richards, 70, remembered the American Soldiers and how he would go out near the Trebah Garden area and get candy from the Soldiers.

“What I remember most, though, is how quiet it was during the day here. But at night you could always hear the Soldiers marching and equipment like tanks rolling to the boats,” Williams said.

As D-Day veterans linked up with their friends in France for commemoration ceremonies, present day 29ers crawled through the woods, into the giant hedgerows that often slowed the 29th Division infantry units from advancing on St. Lo -- a mission in 1944 that was supposed to take a few weeks and turned into months.

In an area 17 miles inland from the famous Omaha Beach, Staff Sgt. Michael Sawchuck, of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division stood on his toes to peer over the base of the hedges. The heavy shadows along the side of a hedgerow turned the bright of day into twilight.

Upon peering over the wall, his only words looking across the field to the next set of massive hedgerows was, “Amazing.”

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