Saturday, June 06, 2009

D-Day - June 6, 1944

65 years ago today my father's first cousin, PFC Gano H. "Sonny" Jewell stepped off a landing craft and moved ashore somewhere along Omaha beach on the coast of Normandy, France. If he ever had an opportunity to tell anyone in the family of his experiences by letter I will never know of it. Sonny died August 7, 1944 near Vire, France while attending to the wounded in the aid station for 2nd Battalion 116th Infantry.

I do not know the exact dates, but sometime in 1943 Sonny enlisted in the U.S. Army because he felt he was getting a free ride while a pre-med student at Cornell University. He felt he had to do his part. I suppose that he did. He was an only child and his parents felt his loss all the rest of their lives. But, they were not bitter. By the time I knew them I think they had learned to take some small joy from everyday things. And yet, even in those few hours I spent with them, Sonny was mentioned during each meeting. They did not forget.

Even after their passing, my father would mention Sonny. I think he thought of him often. I think, too, that Sonny's death was a big reason that Dad had enlisted just as soon as he was able to do so on VE Day. Dad served 3 years 2 months.

I was once visited by the NCOIC of the Regimental aid station at that time, Winston Morris, who showed me a photo of Sonny taken by Winston the day before Sonny was killed. I never got a copy of the photo, but I will remember him sitting on the edge of a foxhole for the rest of my life. We've since learned that Sonny was wounded the day before he was killed by the same means that later caused his death, that being artillery fire.

In 1994 I was honored to be chosen as a member of one of two honor platoons sent by the 116th Infantry to France for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Referred to, by the French, as the embarkation rather than invasion (one does not invade one's allies and France was our ally) we were feted and honored as were the veterans wherever we went. At one point we were approached by a young woman with her 8-year old son and asked for our autographs. In one city we marched down the street over a mile to the point where a ceremony was to be held. If you could call it a parade it wasn't much of one. There was a single military band, us and some veterans. The streets were lined with applauding crowds. They hung from windows and filled the sidewalks. The people of Normandy remember the sacrifice.

I hope that as you go through this day you will take a moment to remember young men of 65 years ago and their struggle through surf, sand, bullets and fear to destroy one of the most evil tyrants of our time. Mention them in your prayers. Pray too for their grandsons and granddaughters who defend us now.

- Witness to War

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