Write Team: D-Day remembrances

Robert Cotner, Write Team

The recent 80th commemoration of the greatest military invasion in human history, the invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944, has brought significant personal remembrances that I would like to share with you.

The invasion of Normandy – D-Day – known in military jargon of the day as “overlord,” was commanded by Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Supreme Commander. The vast invasion included 5,000 ships (including 23 LST’s built in Seneca), 150,000 troops from eight nations (6,000 American casualties) landing on five beaches in Normandy, along the 50 mile stretch of the English Channel. My late friend, Bruce Howe, Winona Lake, Indiana, was there.

“I was on Omaha Beach and coming off the landing craft, I fell in the shallow water and held my gun above my head to keep it dry. I was scared to death!” he recalled. “I got up and advanced up the beach with my comrades to fight the Germans.”

Another late friend, Gordon Krueger, Michigan City, Indiana, was there. He was a paratrooper carried to his assignment by glider because they didn’t have enough powered aircraft.

“I landed in the middle of the German encampment – lucky not to have been shot as I dropped to the ground. I was taken captive by the Germans and five days later the Germans were our captives as the landing troops advanced.”

My late friend, Hayward Blake, Winnetka, came off a landing craft on Utah Beach, survived the heavy fire of German guns, and advanced with his comrades across France to Paris. In-route he met a beautiful French girl named Simone and promised her he would return after the war. He did – they were married and lived a long, happy life. An artist, and a member of the Caxton Club of Chicago, he joined me and a small group of Caxtonians in 1993 when I founded the “Caxtonian” and he designed both the masthead and the format for the monthly literary journal, now in its 31st year of publication. He and Simone joined Norma and me regularly at our annual Christmas parties and we became friends.

My late friend Del Schwab, Findlay, Ohio, a navigator on a B17 assigned to Jimmy Doolittle’s 8th Air Force in England helped prepare the way for the Normandy invasion by flying 25 missions from England to Berlin in advance of the invasion. On at least one mission, he and his 9 crewmen on the B17 flew as a part of a 1,000-plane attack force over Germany. (Can you imagine flying in a 1,000-plane formation; can you imagine watching such a formation of giant Flying Fortresses fly over you!). Del’s home at the time of his death was a veritable museum honoring his heroic service in WWII.

I hold these four men in a special class of friendship which I call noble for what they did for me as a child, 8-years-old at the time, for our country, and for the world. They became a special breed of human beings, which Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.”

Robert Cotner, his 25 years as an English teacher included serving as Fulbright Lecturer in English at the University of Liberia. He concluded his career as an executive at the Salvation Army and Shriners Hospitals for Children-Chicago. He now lives in Seneca.

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