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Many county soldiers took part in D-Day

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By The Staff

Nearly 3 million men were involved in the Normandy invasion June 6, 1944. Later known as D-Day, the simultaneous landings on beachheads code-named Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword by United States, British and Canadian forces was considered the single-most decisive event in the 20th century.

Planning the invasion took more than a year, with 5,000 large ships, 4,000 small landing craft and more than 11,000 aircraft involved. It was actually scheduled for June 5, but bad weather delayed the offensive.

In the month leading up to the invasion, bombers had pounded the Normandy coast to prevent the Germans from building up their military strength.

Paratroopers, such as Fayette County native Duane Tedrick and Pfc. Miles Filer, went in an hour ahead of the invasion forces to cut railroad lines, blow up bridges and seize landing fields. Charles J. Davis of St. Elmo piloted one of the gliders that took in Jeeps, light artillery and small tanks.

Their stories are told in the book, "Fayette County Illinois War Stories." Parachuting into German territory in France on D-Day with other members of Co. D, 506th parachute Regiment, 101st Airborne, Tedrick landed in the Douve River in the darkness of early morning.

Duane said he felt helpless, because he was caught on a toppled tree. “I clung to that tree with nothing but a wet hand grenade and a switch blade. I stayed in the water all night and the next day. I didn’t see any live Americans until three days after D-Day.”

After his discharge in 1945, Duane re-enlisted for 30 years and served in Viet Nam with the 101st Airborne, retiring from the Army in May 1974.

Pfc. Miles Filer, a paratrooper with the 508th Parachute Regiment, 82nd Airborne, was dropped behind the German fortification in the hope of cutting off the German supply line to the front. Miles recalled, “My chute got caught in a tree and I was hanging there with my face in a pine tree and my toes barely touching the ground. I feared I would get stabbed in the back before I could free myself from the harness.”

The next day, Pfc. Filer was captured by the Germans and became a prisoner of war, held the first two months in France and the next nine months in Czechoslovakia. In May 1945, as the war came to an end, Miles, with 125 Americans and 375 Allied prisoners, was liberated by the 90th Infantry Division.

Pfc. Everett Pummill, Mrs. Lucile Smith’s brother, was scheduled to go ashore with that first wave at 6:30 a.m., but at the last minute, was put in the fifth wave. To prepare for the invasion, his unit, Co. I, 115th Infantry, 29th Division, trained in England on rugged terrain similar to the Normandy beaches.

When it came time for the fifth wave, Everett waded ashore with his platoon through the blood and over the bodies of his “military buddies.” The fighting was still intense. All in his platoon were wiped out, with the exception of him and four other severely wounded soldiers. Everett was wounded in his hand by shrapnel during the fighting.

The late Charles Mills, who edited the 2001 book, "Fayette County Illinois War Stories" under the auspices of the Crawford-Hale Foundation, included the first-hand accounts of many Fayette County veterans. Using this book as my reference, I searched for mention of local men who took part in this strategic offensive that lasted until June 17.

First Sgt. Don F. Darnell, with Headquarters Co., 19th Armored Infantry Battalion, Fourth Armored Divison, landed on Omaha Beach on July 16. As an officer, he was required to wear a necktie until under fire.

The first action his unit saw was in the hedgerows of France. Fields and roads were lined with brush growing on top of a 1- to 2-foot ridge. As a tank started up over the ridge, it exposed its thin underbelly to fire.

Someone – Don heard it was a Fayette County man – fashioned a saw-toothed blade for the front of a tank, so they could push through the ridges on level with guns ready to fire.

Fayette County men lost in the Normandy landing were Pvt. Eldon McEndollar, St. James, who died of wounds on July 11 in France; Sgt. Neal Muma, who went ashore and was reported missing on June 15; Elza Sharp, Patoka, who was killed after landing; and Pfc. Benny Schwarm, Sefton, an army tank driver, who was fatally wounded in action June 13.

Other veterans who took part in the Normandy invasion were paratrooper Robert Austin, Pfc. Junior Berry, MM 1/C Robert R. Carter, Pfc. Hugh Cheshier, Pfc Lloyd Chrisman, Sgt. James Haslett, Cpl. John Hatfield, S/Sgt. Merville Ledbetter, Cpl. Don Meador, MMM 3/C Harold Miller, 1/C Donald P. Oglesby, S/Sgt. Cleo Pennington, MM 1/C Harold Portz, Pvt. Jack Sachan, and Sgt. Howard Thompson.

As D-Day is memorialized in Europe and here at home, let us pause to remember our Fayette County war veterans who were part of the largest air, land and sea assault ever assembled.

One more Fayette County connection to D-Day is through Kay Holliday, (Mrs. Walter "Hap" Holliday) of Ramsey. Kay worked in General Eisenhower’s office and, according to her grandchildren, was given the task of sending the Morse code message to start the invasion of Normandy.