Column: Seventy years ago, a story that must not be forgotten
“Pray for me, as I will thee, that we may merrily meet in heaven.” Francis L. Sampson
WORTHINGTON — So we’ve come to the 70th anniversary. The 70th. Seventy years is a long time.
When yesterday morning dawned — did you climb out of bed or lift out of bed or leap out of bed?
When you got out of bed yesterday morning it was 70 years even to the very hours when heavy-laden American/Allied soldiers in floating steel boxes called landing craft stepped down their ramps into the waters of the English Channel off Normandy in France and began to wade ashore. There were German machine gunners high and low — especially high, on the cliffs above the beaches. German shells were exploding everywhere. The bombers had never been able to find or destroy all those German guns.
June 6. Seventy years ago. 1944. Oh, I remember that day.
I think it was the last time the Daily Globe produced a special edition, and my job was to deliver Daily Globes. It was a Tuesday, a morning as calm and blue and green and fair as ever a day in June can be. The Globe had the news; the invasion of Europe had begun. I think this is true: I think I never knew another news story that had the attention of every one. Every one. We carrier boys talked about it before we set out. Mrs. Eliza Brown was behind the counter at West End Grocery, about where the Post Office is today. I thought Mrs. Brown was 100 years old. I suppose she might have been 70. “I’ve been waiting for you,” Mrs. Brown said as I came in with the paper. Next street over, second house from the corner of East Ninth and 11th, Herman Rehberg was on his sidewalk, waiting. Herman was a retired farmer. He smoked a pipe and he held the pipe between his teeth, exactly at the center of his lips. “What have you heard?” he wondered as I handed him his paper.
I was sorry — reluctant — I had to cross the street and bring a paper to Mrs. Marie Janssen.
Mrs. Janssen’s son Paul was in the Air Corps, assigned to a B-17, not part of the D-Day invasion. Paul’s bomber was shot down over the North Sea and Mrs. Janssen received a telegram reporting Paul was MIA, Missing in Action. Marie talked to other Gold Star mothers. She saw their telegrams. Those telegrams said KIA, Killed in Action. Paul’s telegram said MIA. Missing. I was told Marie Janssen died believing Paul, only missing, would walk through the door one day with a big grin.
I think you know one of the great film stories of the D-Day invasion is, “Saving Private Ryan.” “Saving Private Ryan” is based, in part, on the experience and writings of Chaplain Francis Sampson.
Father Sampson later became U.S. Chief of Chaplains. I wonder if you remember Francis Sampson is buried in the cemetery at Luverne, in about the first row directly across from the Veterans’ Home. If you want to place a flower on a grave for the anniversary, his would be a likely grave.
I talked one day with Ralph Rienstra when “Saving Private Ryan” showed at Worthington. Ralph used to save our soles and heel our shoes in his shop under the Hotel Thompson. Ralph also was at Normandy. Ralph said the movie is accurate. The action seems real. But, “You had to be there…”
There is a D-Day book just out, “The Dead and Those About to Die.” John C. McManus. The title comes from the words Col. George Taylor told his regiment as they landed on that beach:. “Only two kinds of people are going to be on this beach: the dead and those who are going to die…” This is the thing Ralph said the “Private Ryan” film can’t make you feel. Nearly every man in every boat was praying with conviction and thinking, ‘Today I am going to die.’
The veterans are nearly all gone but I hope there is no one in the Daily Globe circulation area who is — well, 13/14 and more — who does not know the story of D-Day. There never was a battle to equal the invasion of Nazi Europe. Seventy years from now, I hope Americans still will know this story.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturday.