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Archive for Saturday, June 7, 2008

Veterans gather at WWII museum to remember D-Day

June 7, 2008

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First wave beach battalion Ducks lay low under the fire of Nazi guns on the beach of Normandy, France, on D-Day  during World War II in the this June 6, 1944, file photo. Friday was the 64th anniversary of the invasion.

First wave beach battalion Ducks lay low under the fire of Nazi guns on the beach of Normandy, France, on D-Day during World War II in the this June 6, 1944, file photo. Friday was the 64th anniversary of the invasion.

Remembering D-Day

D-Day memories is the focus of a special episode of River City Weekly that is airing through Tuesday. The show can be seen on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 at 9 a.m. Saturday; at 9:30 p.m. Sunday; at 9:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. Monday; and at 10 a.m. Tuesday. It also can be viewed at 2 a.m. Sunday on KTKA, which is Channel 12 on Sunflower Broadband.

— Guy Gunter couldn't forget June 6, 1944 if he had to.

At 1 a.m. that day, Gunter was piloting a glider carrying 15 soldiers in the Normandy invasion, which turned the tide of World War II in Europe and eventually forced the surrender of Germany less than a year later.

Now 90 and the owner of an appliance company in Atlanta, Gunter's glider was towed in by airplane and released over the German lines where it came to earth inside France.

"It was the most important day for everybody who was alive that day," Gunter said during an observance of the 64th anniversary of D-Day Friday at the National World War II Museum. "They knew we were coming, but they didn't know when and where."

Former service personnel, history buffs and the public gathered at the museum to remember the day in which more than 160,000 Allied troops and 30,000 vehicles landed along a 50-mile stretch of fortified French coastline and begin fighting on the beach in an attempt to regain France from Nazi control.

J.J. Whitmeyer, 87, who lives in the New Orleans suburb of Harahan, was an infantry soldier who landed on Utah Beach aboard a New Orleans-built Higgins landing craft, featuring a front ramp that dropped, allowing the troops to pile out.

On this day, they were greeted by German fire.

"When the ramp went down, you were going through the gates of hell," Whitmeyer said. "You didn't know how deep the water was, where the beach was and they were firing at you."

Whitmeyer escaped injury that day, but later was wounded twice. He won a battlefield commission as a captain, served as an acting military governor in Dortmund, Germany, and as commandant of two camps for displaced war victims in Czechoslovakia.

William Moore, a 91-year-old Army veteran from Metairie, was an Army platoon sergeant who also got his first taste of France when landing craft ramp came down.

"That opened the gates of Europe," said Moore, who also served in the Korean War.

All three remembered the prelude to D-Day: A lot of waiting in Great Britain. The invasion was intended for June 5, but foul weather forced a 24-hour delay.

"It was sheer boredom to excitement in about two minutes," Gunter said of official word that the invasion was on.

Two of the vital fighting machines of World War II - the Jeep and the Sherman tank, both fully restored - were displayed outside of the museum.

With civilian vehicle production shut down by the war, 55,000 Shermans were assembled by major auto manufacturers.

The Sherman wasn't fancy compared to its precisely engineered German counterparts - but quantity turned out to be a deciding factor over quality, said Tom Czekanski, the museum's director of collections and exhibits.

"Although it wasn't the best tank made, they could be turned out quickly," Czekanski said.

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