Remembering D-Day

Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!

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 to 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.

– Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

June 6, 1944

The above letter was sent to all Allied Commanders 65 years ago today, it was required that it be read to all soldiers, sailors and airmen.

This day holds a special place in my heart, for my grandfather, Sergeant Francis J. Lewis landed on the beaches of Normandy, and fought his way into France.  I unfortunately was denied the opportunity to meet him as he was killed in France in August of 1944; however the story does not end there…

On June 6, 2004, for the 60th anniversary of the Liberation, the Association of the Vetheuil and Vienne-en-Arthies Veterans had invited three Veterans of the 79th Infantry Division (the same division my grandfather served in) who had fought in and around the area in 1944.  They took part in demonstrations to honor their part in the liberation.  A plaque was placed at Vienne-en-Arthies “rue du Chesnay” in memory of a soldier killed in this place in 1944.  The inhabitants of Vienne recalled finding at the end of August 1944, behind a hedge, a soldier in a “deadly position.”  He was taken to the chapel of Vienne, where they kept watch over him., later he was buried in the village cemetery.  But no one knew who he was.  After several research inquiries, not having his name or his unit, it was decided that a generic plaque was to be used, with the words, “Au soldet american tombe ci en aout 1944”

That evening at dinner, with the members of the 79th present, Mrs. Alleau-Lafont, inhabitant of the village announced that, while moving she found papers belonging to her father with a small note referring to the American soldier killed in Vienne.  This note mentioned his name, Sergeant Francis J. Lewis, who was found near the Millonets wash house.

Finally, after 60 years, the American soldier killed in Vienne in 1944, had a name, a unit and a family…

In May of 2005, my grandmother, mother, and brother were invited to Vienne for a special ceremony in which the plaque was replaced with one that reads, “AU SERGEANT FRANCIS J. LEWIS TOMBE ICI LE 25 AOUT 1944” – The service was presided over by the Honorable Nelly Olin, the French Minister of Integration.  I have a video and a wonderful book commemorating the event.

So on this, the 65th anniversary of D-Day, I want to thank you Grandpa, for answering your country’s call, and for paying as Lincoln said, with the “last full measure of devotion.”

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James A. Restucci is the author of this blog. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 Internal License.

4 Responses to Remembering D-Day

  1. jimr says:

    Agreed TV, I can remember my step-father Tom, telling me how is borrowed his brother’s birth certificate (he was 1 of a family of 10-12, I forget) so he could go fight for his country in Korea, at the age of 16/17, again, I forget which.

  2. jimr says:

    Thanks for the comments Libby, when I get around to it, I will scan some of the pictures of the event, and maybe even post parts of the video. I agree with you that the speechs made by the heads of state were very moving, as someone who has participated in a number of military funeral details as well as missing man formations, I can tell you there is nothing more sobering.

  3. TVNews says:

    There was a time this nation had a sense of purpose and its citizens felt a duty to support and defend it.

  4. Libby says:

    Thanks so much Jimr for sharing your personal story with us. What a wonderful honor to have a grandfather who took part in and gave his life for that heroic endeavor!

    Alas, I have no relatives who were involved, but my husband had an uncle who was in the Rangers that landed on Omaha Beach. Thankfully, he made it through that and the rest of the war unscathed.

    For some reason this year I was particularly interested in the D-Day ceremonies, but I can’t say why exactly. I watched all the coverage of the events in Normandy and was moved to tears I’m not ashamed to admit. The speeches by all four heads-of-state were wonderful, I thought. The 21 gun salute and the playing of “Taps” and the fly-over…awesome,inspiring, and perfectly fitting are the adjectives that come to mind.

    I’d like to add my thanks to Hollywood also because if it were not for movies like “The Longest Day” and “Saving Private Ryan” I wouldn’t be able to appreciate the full significance of the event.