RIMERSBURG – While many people bring back seashells or jars of sand from their beach vacations, several containers filled with sand are instead a poignant reminder of one of the major events in world history.
Thursday, June 6, is the 75th anniversary of the Allied force’s invasion of mainland Europe, known as D-Day.
Planning for the operation began months earlier in 1943; however, the morning of June 6, 1944 was the day chosen for the Normany landings in France.
An airborne assault preceded the amphibious landings, with more than 24,000 U.S., British and Canadian airborne troops moving in just after midnight. The ground assault began around 6:30 a.m. along a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast, particularly on five beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.
Fierce fighting followed, with estimated Allied casualties of at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead. German casualties were estimated at between 4,000 and 9,000 men.
Years later, Frank Phillips Jr., a Vietnam-era veteran who grew up in the Rimersburg area and who now live-in the state of Indiana, visited Normandy and brought back jars of sand from the Omaha and Utah beaches for the museum to showcase.
The jars of sand are now on display at the Donald Lobaugh Military Museum along Main Street in Rimersburg. The exhibit notes that, “Over this sand trod many who never returned home.”
The museum display also notes that the invasion eventually led the Allies through Nazi-occupied France and eventually into Hitler’s Germany. “Today you and I enjoy the freedoms and are grateful to those who stormed those beaches. Let us never forget.”
The Rimersburg museum also houses two D-Day related items donated by Paul C. Scott, Lt. Col., U.S. Army (retired). The collection includes a letter that “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force” received prior to the invasion from General Dwight Eisenhower.
The letter, dated June 6, 1944, reads: “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.
“Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
“But this is the year 1944! Much has happened since the Nazi triumphs of 1940-41. The United Nations have inflicted upon the Germans great defeats, in open battle, man-to-man. Our air offensive has seriously reduced their strength in the air and their capacity to wage war on the ground. Our Home Fronts have given us an overwhelming superiority in weapons and munitions of war, and placed at our disposal great reserves of trained fighting men. The tide has turned! The free men of the world are marching together in Victory!
“I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full Victory!
“Good luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.”
The letter is accompanied by a 2 Franc note that was issued to each D-Day invader in case they needed money while in France.