by Henry Lane Hull
F[\dropcap]ive years ago my Good Wife and I took the B.E.s on a trip to France, one of the most memorable aspects of which was our treading the beaches of Normandy. There we saw the vestiges of what happened on those sands 75 years ago today. Many of the Nazi bunkers remain on the crests of the hills overlooking the English Channel, as do parts of some of the various rusty hulks of the Allies’ ships that deployed the troops to begin the overthrow of Hitler.
On the day of our visit the sun was shining and the waters were calm. The luxuriant green vegetation had reclaimed much of the territory. On D-Day the barrages of gunfire had eliminated the flora that previously had grown there unchallenged by mankind. The setting was both peaceful and idyllic.
After the beaches we walked through several of the American cemeteries, neatly maintained with their white marble headstones memorializing those who had given the ultimate sacrifice. Reading the inscriptions listing the military units and states to which the deceased had belonged brought about reflection on how the Second World War had brought our country together in pursuit of the common good, the preservation of human freedom.
I thought especially of Richard Russell, who lives in Clifton Landing, and is the former proprietor of the Pontiac dealership here in Kilmarnock. On D-Day Richard’s task as a Navy seaman was to deposit the troops on the shore to begin the assault with the ascent of the foreboding cliff in the face of furious Nazi fire. Shortly after D-Day Richard’s unit was sent halfway around the world to facilitate General MacArthur’s landing at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines, thus he was an eyewitness to the two most significant naval actions of the War.
The late Hugh Mann, who died four years ago, five days shy of his 90th birthday, was one of the infantrymen who followed in Richard’s footsteps. Less than a month after D-Day, on July 1, the day before his 19th birthday, Hugh was hit by enemy shrapnel that severely wounded both of his arms. He survived, and was evacuated back to England, and then brought home for recovery and rehabilitation in a veterans’ hospital for over two years. Originally from Michigan, as his recuperation progressed Hugh moved with his parents to Wicomico Church, where despite his injuries he was able to begin a new career as a plumber and electrician, a move that lasted for over a half-century. He rarely spoke of his brief military career, but was able to overcome the adversity imposed at such an early age and lead a productive life in many arenas.
The planning and execution of D-Day, officially termed Operation Overlord, was under the command of General Eisenhower as the Supreme Allied Commander. As a young Army officer in the Philippines, the future President was befriended by the co-founder of the Army Dental Corps, Colonel Edwin Tignor, a native of Wicomico Church, whose home, “Ingleside”, still sits back from the road overlooking the traffic on Route 200. In his pre-presidential days Eisenhower visited the Tignors at Ingleside, and he and the Colonel remained friends until the latter’s death in 1963.
June 6, 1944, was also graduation day at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Among the graduates that day was John S. D. Eisenhower, the Commanding General’s son, who rose to become a Brigadier General and later Ambassador to Belgium. The younger Eisenhower was a gifted historian, who wrote in detail about the Second World War. In his retirement he moved to Trappe, Md., across the Bay on the Eastern Shore.
For many people the War seems as remote as the Roman Empire or the Crusades, but to others in our midst it remains quite real, be they military or civilian. Perhaps the best encomium to describe what happened on D-Day and thereafter is to remember the words of the philosopher George Santayana, as often quoted by General Eisenhower: “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to relive it.”