Monday, May 21, 2018
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Memories of fateful invasion still clear

Earl Geoffrion won't be parachuting into Normandy this year.

And Frank Kocinski won't be storming Omaha Beach.

Those days are over for the local men, now both in their 80s.

But the memories of what they did 60 years ago today remain as fresh as ever. On D-Day, they were the hands of liberation for the millions oppressed by Germany during World War II.

"General [Dwight D.] Eisenhower told us we were going to make history, but we never knew," said Mr. Geoffrion, 86, of Oregon. "We would never have dreamt that it would turn out like it did."

It may be hard to conceive now of a world in which D-Day had failed, but it wasn't back in 1944.

Even General Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied forces, had his worries. Before the June 6 invasion, he scribbled a message to be read in case the Normandy assault phase of "Operation Overlord," code-named "Neptune," failed. On the note he wrote: "The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone."

Germany knew that an invasion of northern France from England was coming, though not where. But they had time to strengthen fortifications on the coastline by constructing underwater obstacles, bombproof bunkers, and mine fields.

It took the largest invasion force ever seen in the history of man to breach the German hold on Europe - 156,000 troops, 1,200 fighting ships, 4,100 landing craft, 800 transport ships, and hundreds of amphibious and other special purpose tanks. When the sun rose on the dawn attack, the horizon was filled with the machinery of war.

The beaches chosen for the landing were in northwestern France, 100 miles from the English coast. They were code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. U.S. forces took the first two at low tide so they could see the underwater booby traps, while the British and Canadians took the others.

Mr. Geoffrion, a member of the 82nd Airborne Division who was one of the first Allied troops to parachute into Normandy, said soldiers knew what was at risk: freedom. "We knew what we were fighting for and proud to be able to do it," he said.

With the help of air superiority that caused havoc for the Germans and a little luck - the invasion was delayed a day by the worst English Channel weather in a quarter-century and forecasts for more bad weather made the Germans think an attack unlikely - the Allies secured a sizeable toehold. The landing helped reclaim France and the whole of Europe from the Nazis.

The cost was steep. Allied forces suffered 10,000 casualties and 4,000 dead, many of whom later filled local cemeteries under rows of white crosses and Stars of David.

"I never expected to survive it," said Mr. Kocinski, a Sylvania Township man whose job was to dismantle barricades and clear a path through mine fields on Omaha Beach. "But here I am. I'm 82 years old almost, and I'm very thankful that I'm here."

Contact Ryan E. Smith at: or 419-724-6074.

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