OVH troops get the word from 'Ike'

PERKINS TWP. It was the beginning of the end. On this day in 1944, the greatest invas
Annie Zelm
May 24, 2010

 

PERKINS TWP.

It was the beginning of the end.

On this day in 1944, the greatest invasion of land, air and sea forces in history marked a turning point in World War II -- the first indication that the German Nazi regime was crumbling.

The operation, given the codename Overlord, delivered five naval assault divisions to the beaches of Normandy, France.

"It was the most top-secret endeavor ever encountered," historian Kenneth Neff Hammontree said as he stood in uniform, portraying Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on the evening before D-Day.

"Hitler knew we were coming ... but he did not know the day, or the time, or the place."

Hammontree addressed about 200 veterans and their guests Wednesday afternoon at the Ohio Veterans Home in a speech based upon the general's thoughts on the evening before the invasion.

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, leaving more than3,700 soldiers killed or wounded, U.S. military leaders had to make difficult decisions, he said.

They knew they could not take on two superpowers at once, and German forces were beginning to close in with the goal of world domination.

U.S. leaders chose to attack Germany because they had already killed thousands with their V-1 missile and were said to be at work on a V-2, a 500-pound flying bomb with even more destructive potential. They were also concerned as reports of abuses at Nazi concentration camps surfaced.

Gen. Eisenhower set the day of the planned attack for June 4, 5 or 6, depending on the weather, and planted false documents detailing his proposal on the body of a civilian to mislead Adolf Hitler.

"He took it hook, line and sinker," Hammontree said.

Eisenhower was faced with intelligence reports predicting that as many as 10,000 of his men could be dead within the first 24 hours of landing upon the beaches -- but he chose to proceed anyway.

Just hours before the operation, the general walked among the men of the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions, who had painted their faces black with shoe polish.

"We didn't talk about war," Hammontree said. "We talked about farming ... retiring ... raising cattle. I had to hold back tears, because no one wants to see a four-star general cry. But I saluted them, I shook their hands ... and when they entered their gliders and planes and took off, I turned ... and the tears were there."

The invading force included 7,000 ships and landing craft manned with more than 195,000 naval personnel from eight allied countries. A total of 1,285 men were killed during the initial landings, many of whom were not yet 20 years old and drowned while carrying 80 pounds of equipment on their backs.

Many who reached land were shot by 50-caliber machine guns. When it was all over, the Allied Forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties.

Hammontree said he travels to veterans' homes and schools throughout the world with Living History Productions, delivering presentations to remind the public of the price of freedom.

"We need to always keep in the forefront of our minds why we have what we have," the Ashland resident said. "We were very close to world domination, and a lot of people don't realize that."

World War II veteran Robert Primisch, 81, served in the Navy's 7th Fleet, 6th Squadron and, like many men, entered the war when he was only 17.

"They don't teach history today like they used to," he said. "Young people seem to have forgotten it today."

Carl Abele, 91, who served in the Air Force from 1941 to 1945, said the performance was a powerful reminder.

"It carried me back to World War II," he said. "I'm just thankful we made it through when others didn't."