Seventy-five years have passed since Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and began a historic march to defeat the Nazi regime. That hard-fought campaign restored freedom to the European continent and set the stage for the end of World War II, as Japan’s surrender followed in August.
“The eyes of the world are upon you,” Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied commander, told the troops beforehand. “The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. … I have full confidence in your courage and devotion to duty and skill in battle.”
The D-Day operation was a vast enterprise indeed — more than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft bringing more than 160,000 troops to Omaha Beach and the rest of a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified French coastline, with paratroopers landing behind the lines. The unimaginable ferocity that day left more than 9,000 Allied soldiers, including about 6,600 Americans, killed or wounded.
World-Herald correspondent Lawrence Youngman followed U.S. forces on the eastward march in Europe. In describing the Allied forces at D-Day, he wrote:
“By their indomitable courage, they avoided a defeat which probably would have set back the war schedule by months, and cost untold thousands of lives. If any piece of ground on this globe should be sacred to the American people (and freedom-loving people everywhere) that piece is Omaha Beach.”
The young soldiers, sailors and pilots who participated in D-Day, and in the follow-up transport of military personnel to Europe, are now in advanced years. Many of their colleagues who survived the war have passed on. Younger generations are right to pause today and recognize these remaining veterans, a living connection to one of mankind’s great victories for liberty.
On that fateful day, a 22-year-old pilot from Omaha had a bird’s-eye view of the enormous flotilla: Larry Gaughran was a P-47 fighter pilot scouting for German submarines.
“We knew that this was it,” he told The World-Herald in 2011. “We had all been anticipating it. It was a great relief, because something was happening to finally bring this thing to an end.”
The Allied landing craft on D-Day was the so-called Higgins boat, designed by Nebraska native Andrew Jackson Higgins of Columbus. Higgins boats were used in many major beach-landing campaigns, from North Africa to Iwo Jima.
Roger McCarthy, a 20-year-old Omahan with the 149th Combat Engineer unit, was among the many thousands on D-Day transport ships. As part of the first wave of troops, he experienced the unimaginable mayhem and destruction that erupted as Allied forces collided with the German defenses. “It was a shock to see the death” on that scale, he recalled in 2011.
Behind the German defensive lines, the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment’s Easy Company — the Band of Brothers unit — parachuted into position. Among the soldiers leaping from the C-47 aircraft was Ed Mauser, a native of Peru, Illinois, who would make his home in Omaha starting in 1960. The Easy Company soldiers spearheaded the Market Garden and Rhine offensives and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. They liberated a concentration camp and occupied Adolf Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest retreat in the Bavarian Alps.
Mauser, the oldest member of the Band of Brothers and recipient of two Purple Hearts, died in 2011 at age 94.
Twin brothers Julius and Ludwig Pieper of Creston, Nebraska, part of the U.S. Naval Reserve, were in the fleet carrying soldiers and supplies across the English channel on D-Day and thereafter. A mine near the Normandy coast sank their ship on June 19, 1944. Ludwig’s body was identified, but Julius’ wasn’t recovered until 1961 and was classified as unknown.
The Defense POW/MIA Agency Lab at Offutt Air Force Base identified his remains in 2017, after remarkable work done in a History Day research project by 16-year-old Vanessa Taylor of Ainsworth, supported by her teacher, Nichole Flynn.
The Pieper brothers were among the thousands of Allied forces who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of freedom. That sacrifice, and the Allies’ ultimate achievement of liberty, are to be remembered and honored on this 75th anniversary of the D-Day landing.