Tag Archives: D-Day

“Hands, wits, and guts”

Stephen Ambrose’s 1994 book about D-Day bore this dramatic image.
Inset: Bert J. Borrone

June 6: the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the best- and worst-kept secret of World War II. 

It was 1944, and everyone knew this would be “the year of destiny,” when the Allies would launch a massive cross-channel invasion of Europe to mark the beginning of the end for Nazi Germany.  But until it happened, no one knew precisely when or where the assault would take place. 

Bowling Green’s Bert Borrone was deeply interested in the question.  Stationed with a signal service company in North Africa, the U.S. Army sergeant was responsible for radio broadcasts that would keep his military audience informed about the course of the war.  Late in May 1944, he prepared two 15-minute programs for the American Expeditionary Station News Bureau to ready his listeners for the invasion, “so that when the day does come. . . and General Eisenhower says ‘Tonight, we strike,’ we shall be able to follow the hourly news, be it good or bad, with understanding, with confidence.” 

Borrone’s first program painted a vivid picture of the invasion landscape: the English Channel, both a “ready-made highway for assault” and “an itinerary to death”; the minesweepers, those “unsung old ladies of the sea,” spearheading the fleet; the arc of invasion vessels stretching across the horizon; the bombers, fighters and paratroop transports.  Beaches were necessary to land troops, and ports to supply them, but “no one knows better than the Nazi what is potential invasion land,” Borrone warned.  The enemy would be ready with mines, landing-craft traps, anti-tank obstacles, machine-gun and mortar emplacements, pill-boxes, bunkers, fortified towns and “hundreds of thousands of the Wehrmacht’s finest, dug in for the showdown.”

Then would come the landings, as “battle-wagons, with their escorts of the sea and air, plunge toward the pre-assigned beaches,” and all the plans, rehearsals and calculations were put to the test.  Many had performed their duties in advance: if Nazi fighters or weapons failed to appear, or if the enemy’s reserves arrived too late, or if his mines failed to detonate, it was because a production facility had been bombed day and night, or an intelligence operative had directed just where to place an explosive, or an underground fighter—“a Hans or a Pierre or an Emil”—had carried out a successful sabotage.  Ultimately, however, the invasion would be “committed into the hands, and wits, and guts, of a few hundred thousand.”

Borrone’s second program was a tutorial on the tactics of a coastal invasion, the nuts-and-bolts calculations of everything from enemy firepower and types of forces needed to anticipated numbers of sea-sickness among the troops.  Tides, terrain, defenses, roads, availability of reserves, and the timing, makeup and objectives of each “wave” of the invasion—these and other innumerable considerations, Borrone explained, needed to be weighed “against the single most important factor in any military action . . . initial, tactical surprise.  Only then,” he declared, “can the supreme commander point his finger at one definitive spot along all the vast shore line and commit it irrevocably to the fates who weave human destiny.”

Bert Borrone’s radio broadcast scripts delivered in anticipation of D-Day are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections.  Click here for a finding aid.  For more collections on World War II and D-Day, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.   

75 years ago (@BeschlossDC)

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Kentuckians Remember D-Day

James A. Parrish, Sr., writes of D-Day

James A. Parrish, Sr., writes of D-Day

As another anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy passes, here are some memories of Kentuckians who fought on that historic day, and whose reminiscences are preserved at WKU’s Special Collections Library:

We were anchored 12 miles off shore . . . The sound was deafening.  It looked like a tornado from all the dust and smoke in the sky. — Ralph J. Glaser

I had land mines, supplies and men loaded on my truck . . . As I prepared to drive off the boat ramp, my truck stalled just before I got to shore and I had to be towed . . . I was deeply saddened as I looked upon the many American soldiers lying dead in shallow water on the beach . . . it was a shocking sight for a country farm boy who had grown up in the serene countryside of Daviess County. — Beverly Gilmore

It did not dawn on me until we were nearly on the sand that it was not raining.  What I had assumed to be rain hitting the water all around us was actually bullets fired from shore . . . Later I was taken along with the other wounded out to a hospital boat anchored off shore . . . they insisted upon putting me on a stretcher and strapping my arms to my sides.  They they . . . began to hoist me to the ship high above.  The rough seas caused the stretcher to swing out 10 to 15 feet from the ship’s sides.  I screamed awful things on the way up. — Bradley M. Green

We arrived at Utah Beach a little before dawn . . . Off shore with a rough sea running and in darkness, the assault waves climbed down landing nets into the bouncing landing crafts . . . Soon after hitting the beach, my foxhole buddy said, “Man, this is the real thing, isn’t it?” . . . He and I were approximately 20 yards apart at the time, and when I turned to respond, he was hit and killed by a large shell. — Russell C. Goddard

 

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