Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day at 70

"Lone Star Historian 2" is a blog about the travels and activities of the State Historian of Texas during his second year. Bill O'Neal was appointed to a two-year term by Gov. Rick Perry on August 22, 2012, at an impressive ceremony in the State Capitol. Bill is headquartered at Panola College ( in Carthage, where he has taught since 1970. For more than 20 years Bill conducted the state's first Traveling Texas History class, a three-hour credit course which featured a 2,100-mile itinerary. In 2000 he was awarded a Piper Professorship, and in 2012 he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wild West Historical Association. Bill has published over 40 books, almost half about Texas history subjects, and in 2007 he was named Best Living Non-Fiction Writer by True West Magazine. In 2013 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree by his alma mater, Texas A&M University - Commerce.

With Jerry Hanszen
It has been a pleasure for me from time to time to present programs for the Lunch Box Lectures offered by the Panola College library to the student body and the public. A few months ago, while discussing future possibilities for the Lunch Box Lectures with librarians Cristie Ferguson and Sherri Baker, I mentioned that June 6, 2014, would be the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. This event was the largest amphibious invasion in history and the most important day of World War II. Dr. Gregory Powell, president of Panola College, offered to provide lunch for the event. As the event neared, publicity releases were carried in the Panola Watchman and other area newspapers, as well as on the Panola College home page.

The Lunch Box Lecture was scheduled for Thursday, June 5 (D-Day at Normandy originally was scheduled for June 5 but foul weather caused a postponement to June 6). The previous morning, on June 4, I was the subject of a 25-minute interview program over KGAS-Radio in Carthage. Owner-manager Jerry Hanszen is a skilled interviewer and with a county-wide – and beyond – listening audience, we used the program as part of our community’s commemoration of the 70th anniversary of this historic achievement.
Librarian Cristie Ferguson
At Panola College on June 5, a large crowd gathered to socialize and eat lunch. I had the pleasure of visiting with a number of people, including two women whose husband, in one case, and father, in another, were teenaged infantrymen at Omaha Beach. Librarian Cristie Ferguson gave me a gracious introduction. My wife Karon and I had prepared a power point presentation which enhanced the program, and I used a German Mauser rifle as part of a demonstration. I related the incredible buildup of men and materials in England. By the spring of 1944 two million soldiers were training in England, and an enormous stockpile of equipment, supplies, and munitions was assembled.

The Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, Texas-born General Dwight D. Eisenhower, ordered the invasion to begin on June 6. Almost 12,000 airplanes and 7,000 naval vessels, including landing craft, went into action. On D-Day 175,000 men, including airborne troops, landed on five beaches, which extended for 60 miles along the northern coast of Normandy. Invaders had to brave countless mines, beach obstacles, and a large force of defenders with pre-sighted artillery, mortars, and machine guns. The most difficult beach was Omaha, but two American infantry divisions established the beachhead, despite 3,000 casualties, the loss of all 32 tanks, and the loss or disability of 80 percent of their radios. Of major assistance was naval artillery support from the ten 14-inch guns of the battleship Texas, and from the 5-inch guns of destroyers which maneuvered through shallow waters to within point-blank range of German positions. The most spectacular military action was the scaling of 100-foot cliffs at Pointe du Hoc by Rangers commanded by Lt. Col. Earl Rudder, a graduate and future president of Texas A&M.

There were immediate reinforcements, and within three weeks there were one million Allied soldiers in Normandy. Within 100 days there were two and a half million soldiers, half a million vehicles, and four million tons of supplies and munitions. By late July Gen. George Patton led a breakout which swept German troops out of France. Operation Overlord, which began with the D-Day invasion of Normandy, was a resounding success.
Pointe du Hoc

I closed the program with color images of the National D-Day Memorial at Bedford, Virginia, and with a quote from the June 12, 1944, column of famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle: "In this column I want to tell you what the second front entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you."

For more imformation:
USS Texas

Karon at statute group of Rudder's
Rangers scaling Pointe du Hoc

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