Remembering D-Day here at home

Hamilton County will join the nation in pausing for a moment of quiet reflection Thursday, the 75th anniversary of World War II’s infamous D-Day and the Battle of Normandy on the northern coast of France.
Though no surviving local WWII veterans were part of the D-Day landings, many remember that date in history very well. On that day, 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing in a battle that had a dramatic impact on world history.
“Gip was on the USS Geneva on his way to Japan,” recalled Shirley Barnell of Aurora, whose late husband Gip Barnell was a Signalman First Class in the Navy. “He was docked on an island in the Pacific when the war ended and his shipmates all went wild with excitement at the announcement.”
Shirley was in college in 1944 and didn’t actually connect with Gip until later. She always knew, however, that the events of WWII had a lasting impact on her husband, who died in 2017. The Barnells attended several military reunions over the years, including one event in Branson, Mo., and two in New Orleans.
“He didn’t talk a lot about it unless he was with one of his military buddies,” she said. “Going to those events was a good experience and he really enjoyed it.”
Bud Pence of Aurora was an Army Air Force pilot with the 34th Squadron of the 315th Troop Carrier Group back in 1944. He was stationed in England not long after the D-Day attack and moved to a recaptured German air base in France in the spring of 1945.
Pence doesn’t talk a lot about his war memories these days, but he did share a letter he has saved for nearly three quarters of a century. The letter was sent to Pence and thousands of other veterans on May 8, 1945, the day President Dwight D Eisenhower declared “Victory Order of the Day.”
“The crusade on which we embarked in the early summer of 1944 has reached its glorious conclusion. It is my especial privilege, in the name of all Nations represented in this Theatre of War, to commend each of you for valiant performance of duty.
Though these words are feeble they come from the bottom of a heart overflowing with pride in your loyal service and admiration for you as warriors.
Your accomplishments at sea, in the air, on the ground and in the field of supply, have astonished the world. Even before the final week of the conflict, you had put 5,000,000 of the enemy permanently out of the war.
You have taken in stride military tasks so difficult as to be classed by many doubters as impossible. You have confused, defeated and destroyed your savagely fighting foe.
On the road to victory you have endured every discomfort and privation and have surmounted every obstacle, ingenuity and desperation could throw in your path. You did not pause until our front was firmly joined up with the great Red Army coming from the East, and other Allied Forces, coming from the South.
Full victory in Europe has been attained. Working and fighting together in a single indestructible partnership you have achieved a perfection in unification of air, ground and naval power that will stand as a model in our time.
The route you have travelled through hundred of miles is marked by the graves of former comrades. From them have been exacted the ultimate sacrifices; blood of many nations -- American, British, Canadian, French, Polish and others -- has helped to gain the victory.
Each of the fallen died as a member of the team to which you belong, bound together by a common love of liberty and a refusal to submit to enslavement. No monument of stone, no memorial of whatever magnitude could so well express our respect and veneration for their sacrifice as would perpetuation of the spirit of comradeship in which they died.
As we celebrate Victory in Europe, let us remind ourselves that our common problems of the immediate and distant future can be best solved in the same conceptions of cooperation and devotion to the cause of human freedom as have made this Expeditionary Force such a mighty engine of righteous destruction.
Let us have no part in the profitless quarrels in which other men will inevitable engage as to what country, what service, won the European war. Every man, every woman, of every nation hero represented, has served according to his or her ability, and the efforts of each have contributed to the outcome.
This we shall remember -- and in doing so we shall be revering each honored grave, and be sending comfort to the loved ones of comrades who could not live to see this day.”
-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, May 8, 1945

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