From the Woolner Family
© Leslie Woolner Bardsley
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Frank Woolner
Journalist, Headquarters, 3rd Armored Division

Published in Worcester Sunday Telegram (Mass.) Magazine, June 6, 1948


Four years ago today, on June 6, 1944, the Allied Armies under Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower invaded the German-held continent of Europe in the greatest amphibious operation ever attempted by any nation or group of nations in the history of war.

On that day, thousands upon thousands of American and British soldiers swarmed ashore on a 100-mile front which stretched from Le Havre to Cherbourg in northwestern France.

They came in seemingly endless waves through the howling surf of the English channel, airplanes above them, naval guns in support. They ran, they crawled, they stumbled into the mined and fire swept beaches of Normandy, fought for their lives in the clinging sand and inched ahead with a relentless fury that would not be denied. They came shooting and they meant to stay. Eleven months later an amazed world saw the end of the war in the West.

The general public and GI Joe knew it as D-Day. It was "Operation Overlord" to the Supreme Commander and his staff. But to Americans everywhere, the 6th of June, 1944, marked the beginning of the greatest battle of all time.

Only then, with the guns hammering a drumfire of death and destruction on both sides, did we fully realize that our citizen army was challenging the most efficient and deadly war machine that the world had ever seen.

How shall we rank June 6 among the great days of American history? It was certainly one of the most dramatic and important of all World War II events. The great invasion sounded the knell of German hopes for ultimate victory for the western allies. And, four years after, what do we remember of D-Day?

The men who engaged in that bitter fight will never forget, for theirs was the mission to kill or be killed. They remember the day in terrible flashes of recollection in which the crash of artillery and the biting stench of cordite, the scenes of wild destruction and fear, and hand to hand combat are all fused together so that they have become one horrible nightmare.

There are those who will argue that the heaviest burden of all was borne by the mothers and the wives of fighting men upon that historic day. For, while a soldier may die but once, his mother or his wife suffers untold miseries of foreboding in her every waking moment. There is no glamor in all-out battle for line soldiers or the mothers and wives they leave behind.

D-Day may not be easily forgotten, even by those who were far from the flaming battlefront of Normandy. Here in Worcester, the Evening Gazette of June 6 reported that: Worcester, with 22,000 of its best in uniform, was taking Invasion Day soberly. It was eager for news, for word of progress of the Allied forces, for names of places, but there was "no cheering, no hoop-la anywhere."

It was a warm, sunny day, a typical June day in New England. There was no hint of war anywhere unless you looked in on the bustling manufacturers of the city, where, at 2 p.m., workers observed three minutes of silence.

The churches were suddenly crowded with folk who sought the solace of prayer. Everywhere there was a sense of suspended emotions, of sober reflection on the portent of that momentous news which kept crackling in from the other side of the Atlantic.

It was common knowledge that Worcester's sons were in Normandy. Ed Dulmaine, one-time Golden Gloves welterweight, was with the cocky paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division who jumped into the dark jaws of fortress Europe long before dawn on that historic day. As a matter of fact, Dulmaine bailed out over St. Martin, France, with the first stick of paratroopers dropped into Normandy. He was a pathfinder and his mission was to guide the others in by lights and radio.

Sport fans who remember Ed Dulmaine in the ring will agree that he must have been one of the roughest wildcats ever dropped on a surprised Jerry. Eddie was famed for his two-fisted attack in the ring, his murderous right hand and for a spirit which continually rallied to win against odds. He was a tough bird, and no mistake.

Yet, the other day, Ed told us about that jump in Normandy and he wasn't at all heroic. He told how they went across the Channel in three C-47's, low so that enemy radar might not pick them up so easily.

It was an eerily bright night, the patchwork of France gleaming beneath the big transport planes as they hedgehopped toward the release zone. Small-arms fire pattered through the wings and tracers cut the sky like hot knives.

The paratroopers, with soot-blackened faces, burdened with equipment, heavy with the tools of their trade, trench knives, grenades, land mines, still found time to make jokes about their chances of survival. They were all tough, nearly fearless men - no one was ever assigned to an airborne outfit unless he requested the duty - and yet the gnawing prescience of the combat soldier was plaguing them all. Was this the end? Was this the prelude to sudden death?

Behind the grim wisecrack and the laughing curse, they knew only a fraction would return from this mission. Hard men, brave men, and yet many, like Ed Dulmaine, probably found themselves murmuring the Lord's Prayer over and over again as the great planes droned on to the jump zone. A few moments later, Dulmaine went swinging down through the warm darkness to hit hard on a tarred road.

Back in Worcester, the populace went on living everyday lives, albeit sobered by the radio reports of fighting in France. While the greatest battle in history raged back and forth along a narrow strip of sand in Normandy, Pvt. and Mrs. Anthony D'Andrea exchanged wedding vows in Worcester. Pvt. D'Andrea was on furlough from the Marine Corps.

The invasion meant so much to so many people all over the world. Peter Kenzior, now of Shrewsbury, was with the Royal Canadian Air Force at Brantford, Ontario, on June 6. It was bright and sunny there too, when a mess sergeant named Greene heard the first reports and broadcast them to squadron mates.

Later, there was a formation at which Brantford's commanding officer verified the existence of a second front and immediately launched into a pep talk. Chaplains held services for all religious groups, as they did everywhere in the United Kingdom and the United States.

Kenzior, an armament instructor, recalls feeling that the invasion was what everyone had been waiting for, and that he was anxious to get overseas as quickly as possible. Four months later he had his wish.

When Ed Dulmaine was cutting himself out of his chute in Normandy, slashing at the shroud lines and trying at the same time to locate those machine gunners who were peppering his arms with hot steel, another Worcester County man was peering into the pre-dawn darkness as his LCI lumbered in toward "Utah" Beach. He was Dick Stone, of Northboro, a pharmacist's mate who got into the second wave of the big show carrying infantrymen of the 4th Division.

Dick says that he'll never forget those GI's of the 4th. With the Channel choppier than it had ever been in his memory, with sea sickness claiming many, and the certain conclusion of an all-out battle at the end of the run, those D-Day soldiers wise-cracked and sang their way across the water barrier to fortress Europe.

The LCI got ashore without a casualty although it was strafed by a Jerry fighter plane and spattered by shrapnel from shore batteries. There was plenty of fireworks that morning, beautiful, if you didn't know that they were deadly.

It was a windy dawn, rough, with scud and low mist hanging over the coast before the sun came up. Stone's boat put 209 men ashore, then completed its mission by waiting to remove casualties.

This was first blood in Normandy. Famous names - Utah, and Omaha Beach where the Big Red One, the 1st U.S. Infantry, went ashore and found the German 352nd Division waiting for them. The Jerries happened to be on maneuvers in that area and, for a terrible moment in history, threatened to throw our troops back into the sea from whence they came.

And, back in Worcester, though radios were blaring the news and teletype messages came clattering in from the raging battle area, the change was something less than revolutionary.

People went right on about their business. A 1940 automobile was offered for sale at $785, less than it would bring four years later. There was rationing and some discomfort, but no one complained.

In Worcester hospitals and private homes, on June 6, sons were born to Mr. and Mrs. Robert H. Service, Mr. and Mrs. William Hollis, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Griswold, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Huchowski, and to Mr. and Mrs. Jesse Leone.

On the same day, daughters were born to Mr. and Mrs. John O'Malley, Mr. and Mrs. Frank Ekengren, Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Clay, Mr. and Mrs. William Thompson, Mr. and Mrs. George Thebeault, Mr. and Mrs. Roland Birtz, and to Mr. and Mrs. Arthur Peterson. Theirs were the D-Day babies.

To German defenders of the Atlantic wall, the area chosen for invasion proved to be a complete surprise. Unfortunately, for us, Hitler's army had one complete infantry division maneuvering close to the spot where our 1st Infantry went ashore.

Their enemy troops inflicted heavy casualties on invasion forces before they were finally beaten back into the interior. German propagandists made the most of this and, for several days, Europe was misinformed on the course of the battle by Hitler's radio and press.

At Stalag Luft II, which was located in eastern Germany, an American prisoner of war, Leo Turgeon, of Westboro, a B-17 pilot who had been shot down over Holland nearly a year before, doubted the official German announcement that the Allies had landed in northern France but had been thrown back into the sea. Casualties, the Germans reported, had been extremely high on the American and British side, but low on theirs.

Turgeon and his buddies felt that if the Allies had indeed landed, they'd stick. Therefore, they were elated when Jerry continued to report mopping up operations for several days following June 6, and then finally admitted that the invaders had secured a beach-head.

Although the majority of Stalag Luft II prison guards believed the garbled official report, Turgeon said, a few were frankly pessimistic, especially the older men who were not confirmed Nazis.

Leo will never forget that day because it meant that the end of his long incarceration as a prisoner of war was in sight. Today he's a co-owner of the Westboro auto racing stadium and, in the relatively peaceful atmosphere of hurtling midgets, the outrages of war have faded into a rather confused, but very bad dream.

And that's the way most Americans look back on the great invasion on June 6, 1944. It was a highly successful operation, but it was a gamble just as all massive attacks are gambles. The alternatives were complete victory or miserable defeat.

The plan was as near perfect as such plans may be, barring the inevitable vagaries of weather. Our forces went ashore in a wild hail of shells, bombs and small arms fire. The situation was often confused but there is a reason to believe that Hitler's legions were outguessed from the very beginning.

This was undoubtedly the key battle of the western conflict insofar as America was concerned. Indeed, June 6 has come to be the most famous date of the war in the West. That was the day. That was the beginning of the end for Hitler.

And, for the GI's who fought across France and Belgium, into the very heart of Germany, it was the epitome of heroism and sacrifice. They'll never forget the day called "D."

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