A significant date to remember

  • Published
  • By Col. Tom Murphy
  • 47th Flying Training Wing commander
Certain dates conjure up memories for all of us. We usually remember holidays, birthdays and anniversaries. Many remember Dec. 7 as the anniversary of the attacks on Pearl Harbor and certainly Sept. 11 will forever be etched in every American's consciousness. One significant date, however, has faded with the passage of time, a date which left a legacy we Americans should not ignore. June 6, 1944, began the Allied invasion of Hitler's prized "Fortress Europe," commonly referred to as D-Day. President Ronald Reagan while in Normandy, France explained the day's significance.

In his speech commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day, he said, "Europe was enslaved, and the world prayed for its rescue. Here in Normandy, the rescue began. Here the Allies stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history. What inspired all the men of the armies that met here? It was faith and belief, it was loyalty and love. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it's the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man."

D-Day marked a turning point in World War II and the dawning of a new era. On that day, General Dwight D. Eisenhower led a joint Allied invasion armada of more than 5,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft, 50,000 vehicles and 175,000 troops in an attack on the German-occupied northern coast of France. This large scale operation was needed to penetrate the half-million obstacles, 6.5 million mines and thousands of concrete strong points that dotted the French coastline.

In the darkest hours of June 6, 1944, aircraft dropped paratroopers and towed gliders to drop zones behind German fortified positions. The Allied sea operation known as Operation Neptune would follow with battleships that pounded German positions and landing craft that unloaded Allied assault forces onto multiple beaches. I can remember as a young child my father making me memorize the names given to these beaches; Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. I did not know why, but I knew they were extremely important to him. These beaches quickly became bloodied due to heavy fire from a surprised, but well-entrenched and battle-hardened German Army. After days of treacherous fighting, the Allies established a much-needed beachhead, paving the way for men and equipment to make the long journey to Berlin. On that fateful day, the Allies sustained 10,000 casualties assaulting Normandy, 2,500 would end up paying the ultimate sacrifice. To this day, it remains the greatest military invasion in the history of warfare.

Not until years later did I realize the significance of the beaches my father made me memorize, and not until becoming the 47th Flying Training Wing commander did I realize the role Laughlin played on that fateful day. During World War II Laughlin Field trained B-26 pilots. These B-26s sat where today's T-6, T-1 and T-38 aircraft are parked. The B-26 was a popular medium bomber used throughout the war and it played a crucial role during the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion. Many of the pilots who flew the B-26 were trained here at Laughlin. Tracking down any of these pilots today is a task, but our wing historian and the Laughlin Historical Foundation Museum tracked down the names of more than 30 Airmen who trained here and flew during D-Day. These names include Maj. Frank L. Wood, Lt. Winfred W. Anderson and Lt. Moses J. Gatewood. They, along with thousands of fellow Airmen, bombed targets throughout France on June 6, 1944.

Wednesday marks the 68th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. Take a minute and reflect on its significance and the footsteps of those we now follow. Laughlin has a rich heritage and our connection to the past is far reaching. I assure you, it will remain this way long into the future.