Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - by Dr. C. Wayne Shearer
(Editor’s Note: In connection with the 75th anniversary of D-Day, Wayne Shearer, 94, is running his memoir entries from June 6, 1944, and immediately afterward in this entry. The regular series will pick back up beginning with late December 1943 in the next installment).
On June 6, 1944, my aviation cadet pilot class was nearing the end of our 18-month training and we understood the importance of this long-awaited invasion of France. We knew that the success depended upon these brave ground Army troops, the Army Air Force in the sky and the Navy seaborne forces.
Here are some excerpts from my book, “Under This Arch,” with some newspaper headlines and diary entries that may be of interest.
Setting: Eagle Pass Army Air Field, Texas
The Cordele Dispatch in my hometown of Cordele, Georgia, announced on Tuesday, June 6, 1944: “INVASION STARTED!” Powerful Air and Naval Forces hit Western Europe’s Northern France commanded by General Montgomery, as announced this morning by General Eisenhower’s headquarters.
The Eagle Pass News Guide in Eagle Pass, Texas, also on Tuesday, June 6, 1944, stated: “INVASION SPREADS.” The Allies have forced the estuaries of two important rivers behind the German defenses on the coast of Normandy. President Roosevelt read a prayer in the House of Representatives today at the request of Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas.
June 6, 1944:
I’ve got a variety of newspapers to save telling about the successful but deadly landing of our forces on the beaches of Normandy, France, across the English Channel from England. America’s prayers are with those on the ground, on the water, and in the air above that battle area. This important phase in the war effort will not see any interruption of our training.
Now, back to flying practice, and I found my assigned AT-6 parked on the ramp. I did the usual walkaround inspection and climbed into the front cockpit with seat parachute after verifying shoulder harness and seat belt fastened in rear seat with rear canopy closed and locked. Last, I fastened my seat harness, checked the plane’s log book, plugged in earphones, started the 600-hp smooth-running engine, called the tower for take-off permission, and taxied out for the take-off.
I climbed to 9,000 feet in this big beautiful blue Texas sky with a scattering of small fluffy white clouds. I flew straight and level for a few minutes enjoying the view before starting work. After the usual clearing turns, I did a two-turn spin, then back up to altitude for another one. They seemed to be OK and are not my favorite things to do. I did a regular slow roll and two sloppy, eight-point rolls. My air work needs a lot of improvement. I was up for over an hour.
The New Orleans Item onTuesday, June 6, 1944, mentioned: “ALLIES CLINCH HOLD IN FRANCE.” Military circles at Allied headquarters reported this afternoon that beachheads had been secured in Normandy, France. No big enemy guns were fired against us. American British and Canadian airborne and seaborne forces landed, establishing these beachheads.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “ ‘THANK GOD, IT’S ON,’ INVASION REACTION HERE.” Many churches had prayers for victory.
“ ’WHAT A PLAN,’ SAYS CHURCHILL.”
June 7, 1944:
Today (Wednesday) I’ve got another late spring sore throat. I keep a large container of Morton salt in my barracks bag to gargle with hot water. I’m not about to go on sick call with this problem. I recall the drill sergeant’s words in basic training at Keesler were to stay off of sick call or you’re giving the authorities an additional reason to be “washed-out.” I can’t lose my flying status because then the washing machine cranks up! The only time I’ve ever been on sick call was when I had the mumps at Keesler A.A.F.
My instructor had me in the back seat under the hood for about an hour with him in the front seat. The Link trainer hours helped me to feel more confident flying without visual references. I’ll soon be practicing take-offs and landings under the hood. I must carefully watch these instruments – such as airspeed, directional gyro, artificial horizon, needle and ball, rate of climb and altimeter -- while adjusting the throttle and controlling the stick and rudder. There will be more time spent under the hood.
At the mess hall and in the barracks, rather than the usual flying conversations, we’re all excited about the Normandy, France, landings. We’re grabbing newspapers from everywhere and listening to all the radio news stations.
The Eagle Pass News Guide in Eagle Pass, Texas, on Wednesday, June 7, 1944, stated: “50-MILE GLIDER TRAIN LANDING FRESH TROOPS.” Three waves of U.S. Ninth Air Force gliders strung out in a 50-mile-long train across the channel brought “a steady stream of men, equipment and supplies” to troops already smashing inland from initial landing points in France, Supreme Headquarters announced. These fresh troops from a huge glider train seized key positions on Cherbourg peninsula early today.
Other headlines from that day’s paper: “BUST GENERAL WHO BLABBED.” General Eisenhower immediately ordered an unnamed Army Air Force major general reduced to his permanent Army rank of lieutenant colonel because at a London cocktail party, he said the invasion would take place before June 15.
The New Orleans Item, on Thursday, June 8, 1944, added: “ALLIES MOVE TO CHOKE OFF BIG PORT IN FRANCE.” Allied invasion troops constantly reinforced by air and sea struck south of fallen Bayeux in fierce fighting today, striving to chop off the Cherbourg peninsula, and Berlin reported a pincers threat to seize the tip of the jutting coast and the strategic port of Cherbourg. House to house fighting rages in Ste. Merle-Eglise, 20 miles southeast of the port.
Other news headlines from that day’s paper: “FIFTH ARMY ROLLS INTO BIG PORT.” An official spokesman says the Fifth Army has captured Civitavecchia, Rome’s principal port.
“DOUGHBOYS PRAY FOR VICTORY.” The Army announced from England that American members of the first assault troops before loading onto their assault craft received benediction from an Army chaplain.
“WAR CORRESPONDENT JUMPS INTO FRANCE, SEES SOLDIERS DIE.”
Dr. Shearer can be contacted at email@example.com.