D-Day stories from an eyewitness - Press-Republican: Lifestyles

D-Day stories from an eyewitness

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Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014 3:26 am

Last week I had the pleasure of marching in a Memorial Day parade sponsored by the American Legion in Malone.

As regent of the Adirondack Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, it’s an honor to lay a wreath at the DAR-sponsored World War I memorial on Elm Street. Legion officer Dana Langdon orchestrates the marchers and makes it all look easy, but I know it’s not.

This Friday, June 6, marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day (1944), when Allied troops took to the beaches of France to free the country from German invaders, code name Operation Overlord. The German army thought the attack would be at Calais, France, the narrowest point in the English Channel, and dug in there; but Allied military chiefs, led by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, chose Normandy, far away from Calais.

After the invasion, story was that inflatable tanks, jeeps and soldiers were set up in the English countryside, opposite Calais, to trick the enemy into thinking that was the Allied’s plan.

According to Fast Facts on CNN World website, from 11 p.m. June 5 to 3 a.m. June 6, 13,000 Allied paratroopers and gliders, carrying heavy equipment, left England to stage the invasion. 

Overnight, a military armada of more than 156,000 brave troops crossed the English Channel, probably scared but certainly determined. Between midnight and 8 a.m. more than 11,000 Allied aircraft filled the skies.

Southwest of London, in New Malden, a certain 16-year-old young woman had lived with the threat of war since 1939; a backyard bomb shelter, rationed food, blackout curtains, wondering about tomorrow, were a way of life.

That young woman was my mother, Jean (Johnson) McGibbon Goddard.

It was about 11 p.m. June 5, 1944, when she and her sister, Phyllis, heard a rumbling, looked out their upstairs bedroom window and saw a solid sky of Allied and British aircraft.

The massive aircraft movement lasted for hours, row after row, just above the rooftops.

“This is it, I bet this is the invasion,” her father said to his family.

Days before, military equipment passed through the village. Soldiers with the equipment threw letters out to bystanders, asking them to mail the letters back home, probably because they were confined to barracks.

“We were more than happy to pick up the letters and mail them,” she said recently. “I have often wondered if any of those young boys made it back home safely.”

Mum has often said that Britain wouldn’t have made it through the bombings and invasions if the brave young men and women of America hadn’t come to their side.

The German V-1 (Vergeltungswaffen) flying bombs first hit London on June 13, 1944, and became a common sight.

Mum said they looked like airplanes, flew until they ran out of gas, went quiet and came down. Because you could see them, people stood a better chance of escaping harm.

One day she and my father, Artie McGibbon, saw a V-1 flying across the rooftops on her road. She said a Spitfire came out of nowhere. (They were renown for winning victories in the Battle of Britain, 1940.) The pilot very carefully tipped the V-1 with the aircraft wing and the bomb was detoured to Wimbledon Commons, away from a populated area.

Then the Germans added the V-2, more like a ballistic missile, first hitting London on Sept. 8, 1944. According to BBC History, 9,000 V-2s were fired against England, killing more than 2,500 Londoners in six months.

My father was in the U.S. Army, assigned to Gen. Eisenhower’s SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) at Hyde Park, near London. His unit shipped out to France in September 1944. He made it back to England to marry my mother in August 1945 and shipped back to the states in 1946.

This is just one eyewitness story of D-Day. There are thousands. They are slipping away.

I hope anyone who lived through such times will share their remembrances so generations to come will never forget the sacrifices demanded of common people in uncommon circumstances.

One last thought, as always, please be kind to each other. The world needs more kindness.

 

Susan Tobias lives in Plattsburgh with her husband, Toby. She has been a Press-Republican newsroom employee since 1977. The Tobiases have six children, 18 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They enjoy traveling to Maine and Colorado, and in her spare time, Susan loves to research local history and genealogy. Reach her by email at mcgibby57@charter.net.