Less than two weeks ago, we printed a special section which honored members of the military from Southern Maryland who lost their lives in battle fighting for our freedom.
We still keep those people in mind as we move into June. Tomorrow is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the massive Allied invasion of Normandy, in occupied France, on June 6, 1944, that led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and eventually the end of World War II.
Planning for D-Day, the largest amphibious invasion in human history, began more than a year earlier, and included deceptive strikes meant to mislead the Germans about when and where the Allied forces might attack. A bombing campaign and an aerial assault preceded the landings, which included more than 5,000 vessels and 160,000 troops.
Overall casualties on June 6 included at least 12,000, with more than 4,440 dead for the Allies and about 1,000 for the Germans.
Losses were heaviest at Omaha Beach, where troops from the 29th Division went ashore. Among those soldiers were men from Maryland in the 115th Infantry.
Another hero in that landing who later made Southern Maryland his home was Clancy Lyall. He grew up in a small Pennsylvania town and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1942 at 16. He became an airborne school instructor before he was assigned to the Second Battalion, 506th Regiment of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division, and jumped into a village in occupied France as part of the D-Day invasion.
If you saw the Stephen Spielberg blockbuster of 20 years ago starring Tom Hanks and Matt Damon, “Saving Private Ryan,” you saw what Lyall and his buddies were up against. It was formidable.
Once he was in combat, Lyall realized why the Army paid paratroopers more than other solders, he recalled in an interview with our newspapers a decade ago. As almost all of their energy was focused on close-range combat during active engagements, they were prime targets for the enemy. “Every jump,” he said, “you lose from 60 to 70 percent of your paratroopers.” Of the 150 men originally assigned to Lyall’s company, only six survived the war. Dropped right on or just behind the enemy’s line, he said, “At that close, you would use your trench knife, your teeth … anything you’ve got. They told us that the average life of a paratrooper in combat is only 28 minutes.”
Years after the war, when he had adopted Southern Maryland as his home, Lyall organized the annual Veterans Day parade in Leonardtown, encouraging military units and officials from elsewhere to come and participate. Lyall worked tirelessly to instill in younger generations an appreciation for the service and sacrifice of veterans before his death in 2012 at age 86. He is buried at Evergreen Memorial Gardens in Great Mills.
D-Day was a major turning point in the war. The successful invasion opened a western front against the Germans and allowed the Allies to establish a beachhead in France, from which thousands of defending British and French troops had been evacuated from Dunkirk four years earlier.
As the years have passed, fewer and fewer of those men and women described by Tom Brokaw as “The Greatest Generation,” who lived through the Great Depression and fought abroad or contributed at home during World War II, remain with us. Even fewer are those who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day.
Tomorrow, we honor those who fell in battle in Normandy 75 years ago, as well as those who survived that day — like Clancy Lyall — and returned to create a stronger, better America.