Rain-filled clouds similar to those that fell on D-Day morning greeted us Sept. 17, 2011. It was the 10th day of our six-country World War II Memorial Tour.
The day’s mission: fill a sandwich-sized Ziploc bag with sand from Omaha Beach for my neighbor Phyllis. Her brother, 2nd Lt. Leonard Anker, was in Company K of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division. Company K was in the second wave to land at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. When their LCVPs ramp dropped, Leonard and his platoon had to push away floating bodies from the first wave to reach Omaha Beach.
I stepped off the bus at the beach, removed a Ziploc bag from my pocket, got on my knees, filled the bag with sacred Omaha Beach sand, and sealed it.
After that, our bus driver drove to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, the final resting place for President Teddy Roosevelt’s sons Teddy Jr. and Quentin, as well as for 10,500 of our finest young men. Instead of walking down the bluffs to the beach, I walked in the cemetery, reading a couple of hundred grave markers. Some of the boys were killed in action. Their bodies floated in the red saltwater until grave-registration staffers identified and buried them in temporary graves. This was one of the biggest days in my life: I walked in the footsteps of the Americans who defeated the German army in 11 months.
The people of Normandy, France, have not forgotten their American liberators and the price paid for their liberty. Passing through small communities on our way to Pointe du Hoc, Sainte-Mère-Église, and Utah and Omaha beaches, I noticed a monument, a statue or square named after various fallen American liberators.
We received a 4:15 a.m. wake-up call Sept. 22 and arrived at the Frankfurt airport at 6:30. I entered Germany’s equivalent of our TSA screening. I placed my bag of sand in a plastic container for visual inspection. One of the screeners had a great sense of humor, asking me if its contents were a substance from Amsterdam. I told him, “That’s sand from Omaha Beach.” The thought entered my mind that his grandfather or great-grandfather could have been in a pill box, firing a MG 42 machine gun killing first-wave American troops from the 16th or 116th Infantry regiments, leaving them to float face-down in the bloody, cold waters of Omaha Beach.
Returning home, I gave Phyllis Bendure six containers of sand — one for her, one for each of Leonard’s four adult children, and one for their cousin, Cliff Young. In 11 months Leonard was wounded three times as the 29th Division helped liberate Europe. He passed away Sept. 22, 2008, with shrapnel in his body. We owe 16,000,000 men and women a big “thank you.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.