Today is Wednesday, June 6. A hundred years ago, June 6, 1918, was a Thursday. The U.S. Marine Corps’ 5th and 6th regiments began the first large-scale American battle of the Great War, World War I. The battle of Belleau Wood was located about 35 miles northeast of Paris. The German troops began their spring offensive to capture Paris, a grand prize!
Until the battle of Belleau Wood, the Marine Corps hadn’t been “tested.” Traditionally, Marines had guarded U.S. foreign embassies. The German troops gave our Marines the name, “Devil Dogs.” Of course, the Marines embraced the name. The victory of Belleau Wood didn’t win the war. However, the 5th and 6th Marines prevented the Germans from winning the war.
Similar to Iwo Jima where “uncommon valor was common,” Admiral Nimitz 1945. At Belleau Wood, 1st Sgt. Dan Daly yelled to his men attacking the Germans, “Come on you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” Retreating French forces urged the Marines to retreat, too. USMC Capt. Lloyd Williams with the 5th Marines responded, “Retreat? Hell, we just got here.” Williams’ battalion commander, Major Frederic Wise, claimed he said those famous words.
The 5th Marines were “the Fighting Fifth” at Belleau Wood in France. It was the 5th Marines at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Saipan, Peleliu, and Okinawa in World War II. It was the 5th Marines at the Inchon, Battle for Seoul, Chosin Reservoir and the Nevada Cities Campaign in Korea. The “Fighting Fifth” spent five years in Vietnam, March 1966-April 1971.
Seventy-four years ago, June 6 was a Tuesday. Six thousand Allied ships were off the coast of Normandy, France. Thousand of Allied aircraft were zeroed in on their target and three airborne divisions, the 82nd, the 101st and the British 6th, jumped into the tracer-filled blackness to their drop zone.
The 4th Infantry Division landed at Utah Beach. The 16th Infantry Regiment of the Big Red One Division and the 116th Infantry “the Stonewall Jackson Regiment” of the 29th Division landed on Omaha Beach. The 29th’s motto was, “Let’s go!”
One of K Company’s platoon leader was a Lovelock native, 2nd Lt. Leonard Alton Anker. He rapidly chewed his gum as his landing craft was tossed in the rough waters toward the beach. K Company was part of the second wave. Lt. Anker was jolted to reality when their landing craft hit a sandbar. The front dropped down as Lt. Anker led his men into the cold Atlantic water littered with 18- and 19-year-old GIs floating facedown from the first wave. Their blood had turned the waters to red, “Bloody Omaha.”
Heavy seas in the English Channel had sunk 27 of the 29 Duplex Drive Sherman tanks assigned to the 116th Infantry Regiment. The tanks were supposed to take out the interlocking German pillboxes. Instead of tanks, it was the first of several USN destroyers! Lt. Commander James L. Semmes ordered his helmsman to bring DD-497, the USS Frankford, to within 1,000 yards of the Omaha Beach. Her four five-inch guns rapidly fired at Nazi pillboxes with extreme prejudice. The USS Frankford more than made up for the 27 lost tanks. By the afternoon, the USS Frankford returned to Plymouth, England, to resupply. The USS Frankford had four remaining five-inch shells, one shell in each of her guns. All the German pillboxes had been neutralized.
In 11 months Captain Anker was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, three Purple Hearts and three Bronze Star metals. He was honorably discharged in May 1946.
The next month he married his college sweetheart, Frances Helen Burke, on June 10, 1946. They settled in Minden and had four children, Claudia, Shirley, Alton and Beverly. Leonard retired from the USDA Soil Conservation Service and became a successful rancher and businessman while being an involved member of the Kiwanis Club of Carson Valley.
The actor/songwriter, Paul Anka was in the 1962 movie “The Longest Day.” Paul played the part of a U.S. Army Ranger at Pont du Hoc. He wrote the lyrics for the title song:
“Many men came here as soldiers
Many men will pass this way
Many men will count the hours
As they live the longest day
Many men are tired and weary
Many men are here to stay
Many men won’t see the sunset
When it ends the longest day.”
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was inspecting the 1,600 miles of “Fortress Europe” before the D-Day invasion. He stressed to his staff the importance to drive the Allied troops into the Atlantic Ocean. Rommel stated, “That will be the longest day!” Eighteen years later, he had named an epic movie.
June 6, 2019 will be the 75th anniversary of D-Day. If you would like to “mark the moment,” drop this newspaper, go online and book your tour now! Don’t be left in the cold with “the weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Ken Beaton of Carson City contributes periodically to the Nevada Appeal.