The 75th anniversary of D-Day just passed. On June 6, 1944, the Allied Forces pulled off a military campaign that truly changed the outcome of World War II — the invasion of Normandy, France.
It was an enormous plan and undertaking to coordinate all 5,333 allied ships and landing craft, which embarked nearly 175,000 men. The British and Canadians put 75,215 troops ashore. Americans accounted for another 57,500. More than 4,400 were killed or missing just at Normandy.
The U.S. First Army, accounting for the first 24 hours in Normandy, tabulated 1,465 killed, 1,928 missing and 6,603 wounded.
After-action reports of U.S. VII Corps (ending on July 1, 1944) showed 22,119 casualties, including 2,811 killed, 5,665 missing, 79 taken prisoner and 13,564 wounded, including paratroopers.
In June of 2006, the Lewiston Tribune ran a press release from my former boss, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, who then was chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. Members of that committee were traveling to Europe and North Africa to attended Memorial Day events in Belgium, the Netherlands and France, before heading south to the ancient city of Tunis to check and make sure the American cemeteries there were being maintained properly. The American Battle Monuments Commission funds the maintenance of some 26 permanent American cemeteries and 30 federal memorials in 17 foreign countries.
A lady from Lewiston, Ethel Hohnstein, called the Lewiston office, and she told me how two of her brothers were soldiers who died in World War II and were buried overseas. No one in her family had ever been able to visit their graves. I made no promises because Craig had already left Washington, D.C., but I would see what I could do. She gave me their names and where they were buried.
I called the U.S. Army congressional liaison at the Pentagon and relayed the names and locations. I also contacted one of the Veterans Affairs staffers with the same information via her international Blackberry.
The staff and senators had left Holland and missed visiting the grave of her brother, John Henry Campbell, who died in 1945 and is buried at Luxemburg.
By the time they left Europe, the details were in Craig’s hands to see if he could visit the grave of George Campbell, Jr., who was a private first class in the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division and was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart. He was wounded in Sicily and was transferred to Tunisia, where he died on Sept. 7, 1943.
Once in North Africa, the tour visited the North African American Cemetery. The Veterans Affairs staff bought a bouquet of roses and a small American flag, placing both on PFC Campbell’s grave.
They took photos of the beautifully kept cemetery and of his beautiful headstone to bring back home to present to Hohnstein in a binder.
It was very rewarding for Craig, the Veterans Affairs staff and me to see the surprise on Hohnstein’s face when she was presented with the binder. It all came together to show her that people in North Africa, Muslim caretakers, were taking very good care of her brother’s final resting place and those of so many more Americans who gave the ultimate sacrifice to save the world.
Campbell is one of 2,841 American service members buried there. There is also a monument of some 3,724 American service members who went missing in action in North Africa and the Persian Gulf fighting the Nazi German military machine.
Many buried there were led by U.S. Gen. George Patton and faced off against battle-hardened German troops led by Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the “Desert Fox.” After some early losses, American and British forces cut off Rommel’s fuel supplies to his 21st Panzer Division and finally beat German troops in North Africa.
Many of us have fathers, uncles and brothers and family members who fought in World War II and many who gave their lives. They gave up their homes, left families and loved ones behind to join in the world war to save the world and America.
Many were teenagers. Men like the Campbell brothers and so many more who fought and died must never be forgotten for the ultimate sacrifice they made then.
We must keep in mind those men and women in uniform currently serving today and the sacrifices they are making today in many more battles around the globe.
Never forget them. Thank them whenever and wherever you see them. Send them care packages. Send them cards.
It’s freedom they fight for. Freedom for all.
Sayre of Lewiston served as regional director to former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.