Not Just An Ordinary Day

Do you know what today is, June 6th? Is it just another day? Is there anything special about it that should be remembered? If I were to poll the demonstrators and protesters that have been going about making their voices heard and in some places, causing complete chaos and havoc… would they know that there is something about June 6th that is very special? In 10-15 years, when my nieces and nephews are in the teen years, what will they know about June 6th? It was NOT just an ordinary day!

June 6th, 1944 – 76 years ago – on the sandy beaches of Normandy… Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach and Sword Beach… Approximately 13,000 American paratroopers of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions made parachute drops early on the morning of June 6th followed by approximately 4,000 glider troops with supporting weapons, medical supplies and signal units later that morning.

June 1944, France: Paratroopers drop into Normandy. (Photograph: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/CORBIS)

By 6:30am on June 6th, 1944, what would become the largest amphibious invasion in the history of warfare had commenced. More than 150,000 of the most brave & resolute soldiers from the Allies of the United States, Britain and Canada stormed the beaches of Normandy.

The German forces were dug in deep on the beaches and their resistance would be fierce. The weather in the initial invasion was not optimal and would make the fighting more intense in the early hours of the invasion.

Allied military leaders understood that the cost of such an invasion would be a high price. But, they were will to pay that price to push the German Nazis out of France. It was a bold strategy. If they would have been defeated, these men would have gone down in history as maddening fools. But, they would not hear of defeat. It was NOT an option because it was NOT just another ordinary day.

Brave men waiting to launch out into the morning sky to defend freedom at any cost.

Was this man thinking about his family? Was he searching through the depths of his memories to see his mother’s face, perhaps for what he thought may be his last time? Was he thinking about the letter in his pocket, close to his heart, that told of his son that was just born. A son that he has never seen or never held… perhaps he is praying that he’ll get a chance to meet his son.

With the airborne troops already on the ground, infranty and land support began arriving on shore via Higgins Boats. As they splashed into the water, bullets strafed by their heads. Artillery exploded overhead. Men fell quickly in the ensuing chaos. There was no time to lend aid to the man that become your best friend. Bodies floating in the water, men screaming in pain and agony and those close to death begging to see their mother just one more time.

It was a time of epic tragedy, epic loss and finally epic victory! Men are jumping from their Higgins Boat into water above their heads, water that was stained red with the blood of their brothers who had already fallen.

Scenes from the U.S. landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, 76 years ago. (Robert Capa / Magnum Photos

According to the D-Day Center, the invasion, officially called “Operation Overlord,” combined the forces of 156,115 U.S., British and Canadian troops, 6,939 ships and landing vessels, and 2,395 aircraft and 867 gliders that delivered airborne troops. D-Day would take years of planning and plenty of subterfuge to confuse, perplex and frustrate Adolf Hitler and the German Nazis. To that end, the Allies used fake radio transmissions, double agents and even a “phantom army” commanded by American General George Patton to trick the Nazis into thinking that the Allies would invade at Pas-de-Calais, the closest French coastline to England.

But, on June 6th, in wave after wave of thousands of landing ships, more than 156,000 Allied infantrymen stormed the five beaches. Facing them on the fortified beach-fronts were 50,000 German troops. By June 11th, all five of those beaches in Normandy had been secured by the Allied Forces.

The cost was high. On June 6th, the Allied losses at Normandy are estimated to be at least 4,413 killed.

Causalities and wounded line the beaches of Normandy on June 6th, 1944

(https://dod.defense.gov/Portals/1/features/2016/0516_dday/docs/d-day-fact-sheet-the-beaches.pdf)

It was NOT just an ordinary day on June 6th, 1944 on the Beaches of Normandy. Matter of fact, it was anything BUT ordinary. These were heroes who woke up that morning whose lives had a destiny with greatness. Let’s not forget their sacrifices. The actions and heroics of those men on June 6th, 1944 changed the course of World War II. Within a year, Germany signed an unconditional surrender on May 7th, 1945.

I endeavor to never forget the sacrifice of these men… these heroic men, many of whom never made it home to see their family again. Their sacrifice is the reason I live in the greatest country on earth.

A View from Jennie Wade’s House

I have been through a plethora of historic tours. I love them! It seems that there is something to be learned and appreciated at everyone. However, when in Gettysburg, PA in May of 2017, I toured the Jennie Wade House… it was by far one of the best tours I have ever been on!

You may be asking, “Just who is Jennie Wade?”

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Jennie Wade

Well, I’m glad you asked! Jennie Wade was a 20 year old civilian living in the city of Gettysburg, PA in the summer of 1863.

When war broke out in 1861, her brother and her longtime boyfriend/fiance, Jack Skelly, left to go fight for the Union Army. Her older sister had already married and her father was in an asylum. So, in July 1863, it was just Jennie, her mother, her two brothers and a young boarder, 6 year old Isaac, that she and her mother took care that were living in the family home on Breckenridge Street. Jennie & her mother made their living as seamstresses.

When the war came to Gettysburg, Jennie & her family left their home on Breckenridge Street to go her sister, Georgia McClellen’s, home on Baltimore Street. Georgia’s husband was also away fighting with the Union Army and Georgia had just delivered her first child five days prior. So, wanting to help Georgia and believing they would be safer at Baltimore Street, they made the move to Georgia’s house.

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Street View of “The Jennie Wade House”

On the afternoon of July 1st, 1861, the Union troops retreated into the hills directly south of the town. This meant that Jennie & her family at Baltimore Street were now directly in the line of fire between Union and Confederate troops.

Jennie, remaining calm, reportedly made multiple trips out of the house to take food and water to Union soldiers. Bullets continued flying all day long and into the next day, shattering the facade and piercing windows of the duplex they were in.  At one point, an artillery shell crashed through the roof, knocked a hole in the wall and came to rest in the eaves where it would remain for 15 years.

Throughout the day of July 2nd, Jennie continued her missions of mercy for the Union soldiers. She also helped to take care of her sister and nephew and found the time to start yeast for more bread.

The next morning, the fateful morning of July 3rd, Jennie went out with her younger brother early in the morning to gather firewood for the day. Jennie ate breakfast and read from the Bible. Suddenly, a bullet then flew through a window and lodged in the bedpost next to where Georgia was lying with her son. The family was in grave danger, it would seem.

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Jennie was working using this exact bread kneading box when a bullet, presumably from a Confederate Sharpshooter, struck her killing her instantly. The wood floor still shows faint traces of her blood.

Jennie would not be deterred however. At 8:30 am, she was finishing kneading dough for more biscuits for the Union soldiers when another bullet penetrated two wooden doors, went through Jennie’s back and into her heart killing her instantly!

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Standing outside “The Jennie Wade House”. Behind me is the front door. This is the first door that the bullet pierced on it’s path to Jennie’s heart.
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The bullet hole in the interior door, which was the second door penetrated by the bullet that killed Jennie

Georgia’s scream brought Union soldiers rushing into the home. They cautiously escorted the rest of the family through the hole created by the un-exploded artillery shell into the safety of the home’s cellar. The Union soldier carefully wrapped Jennie’s body in a blanket and took her to the safety of the cellar as well.

For approximately 29 hours, Jennie’s family and the McClain Family, who lived in the other half of the duplex home, stayed in the cellar with Jennie’s body away from the bullets of the Confederates and the Yankees.

Late in the afternoon of July 4th, the Union soldiers carried Jennie’s body out of the cellar and placed in a wooden coffin once meant for a Confederate officer. After a small funeral of Jennie’s family and 6-8 Union soldiers, Jennie was buried in the back yard of her sisters home. It would be the first of three resting places for Jennie. Her body was moved in January 1864 to the cemetery of a German Reformed Lutheran Church and then finally, she was reburied in Evergreen Cemetery where she remains to this day.

Jennie Wade holds the distinction of being the only civilian causality of the Battle of Gettysburg. And, truly, with all they fighting that went on within the town limits of Gettysburg that is amazing. But, more than that Jennie became to many, a hero. Because she refused to back down even in the face of enemy fire!