On June 5, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops prepared to embark on a great crusade. Their task was not an easy one, and the eyes of the world were upon them. At dawn, more than 5,000 ships landed on the shores of Normandy, France and 13,000 aircraft covered its skies. By the end of the day, the invasion succeeded and gained the Allies a much-needed foothold in Europe against Nazi Germany. The cost was high, as many did not return home from that day, and today we salute those brave soldiers for accepting nothing less than full victory against the formidable enemy to ensure liberty for the free people of the world.
Below are some exclusive stories of Cincinnatians who participated in the D-Day invasion.
Ed Burke is a survivor of World War II’s greatest invasion. Watch as he recounts his experience of the battlefront on D-Day.
The Pathfinder Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division
On June 5, 1944, As D-Day approached, the Pathfinder Paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division took this photo shortly before they took off for Normandy; the massive Allied invasion would begin at dawn. These pathfinders had an extremely dangerous assignment by being among the first troops to land behind German lines. The pathfinders, as their name would imply, were to mark the drop zones with lights and radar beacons for the thousands of paratroopers that were to follow. As you can see, their faces were painted dark for concealment from the enemy in the night.
Gene Wilger of Cincinnati was the pilot of the C-47 of the 316 Troop Carrier, 37 Squadron (Pathfinder, 82nd Airborne Division). Wilger is standing in the back row, second from left, with the camera around his neck. The photograph was taken in England at around 10:30 p.m. on June 5, shortly before take-off. Several of the men in the photograph were killed within hours of landing in Normandy. Following the war, Wilger returned to Cincinnati and became President of the Ibold Tobacco Company. He later shared his story and this photo with David Conzett, curator of history collections for Cincinnati Museum Center.
The 50th Anniversary of D-Day
On June 6, 1994, the 50th anniversary of the largest Allied operation in World War II, Museum Center held an event honoring veterans from our region who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day. Each of these men all bravely fought and served in different roles on that day and they were fortunate to return home after the immense and pivotal battle. These men are no longer with us, but we will never forget their bravery that day and every day they served to ensure freedom reigned in this world.
From left to right:
1. Harry Waechter: U.S. Army Medic, 4th Medical Battalion, 4th Infantry Division, Utah Beach.
2. Lt. Eugene Wilger: C-47 Troop Carrier Pilot, 316 Troop Carrier, 37 Sqd. Pathfinder. Lt. Gene Wilger dropped 82nd Airborne paratrooper pathfinders near St. Mere Eglise, France in the early hours of D-Day. Wilger trained with the 82nd Airborne Pathfinders at a secret and secluded base in England during the six months prior to the invasion.
3. French Government Representative: All of the veterans were decorated by the French Government for their courage on D-Day. Medals were presented on stage in Reakirt Auditorium at Cincinnati Museum Center.
4. Ralph Burress (seated in Jeep): Company F, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, Paratrooper Pathfinder. Burress jumped into Normandy with the 82nd Airborne Division in the early hours of D-Day. His unit defended a strategic crossroads at Hill 30 for six days with little food or ammunition against many times their number of German troops. Burress was wounded twice in Normandy but stayed with his unit until evacuated. He was later wounded again in Holland in September 1944.
5. Lt. Edward Henz (wearing helmet): 8th Infantry Regt., 4th Infantry Division, Company Commander, Utah Beach, D-Day. Henz was seriously wounded in Normandy while under attack from a German Tiger tank, and later wounded by a land mine in the Huertgen Forest in November 1944. He was shot by a German sniper during the Battle of the Bulge in December and evacuated to a hospital.
6. Q.J. Gindele (at wheel of Jeep): 190 Field Artillery, 1st Infantry Division, Omaha Beach. Gindele, an artillery surveyor, directed 155 mm artillery on German positions. Gindele’s unit fired artillery shells equipped with Top Secret radio fuses that were made by the Crosley Radio Corporation of Cincinnati.
7. James Blake (behind Q.J. with cap): 116 Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, Omaha Beach. The 29th was in the first wave of troops on D-Day. Blake was later captured near St. Lo, France and spent the remainder of the war as a German POW.
8. Norbert Peters: Company C., 16th Infantry Regt., 1st Infantry Division (Big Red 1), Omaha Beach. The 16th was in the first wave on D-Day. Peters, having seen combat in North Africa and Sicily, was one of the few men in his unit to survive the D-Day invasion.
9. Lt. Russell E. Schuster, U.S.N., U.S. Navy Torpedo Boat Squadron #34 (Ron 34), PT Boats 509 & PT-503. Schuster took U.S. Army Rangers into Omaha Beach, Normandy in the weeks prior to D-Day to survey beach obstacles and defenses. His PT Boat squadron guided and protected the invasion boats at Omaha Beach on D-Day. Shortly after Schuster left the PT-509 for a new command on PT-503, the PT-509 was attacked and destroyed by a German cruiser in the English Channel.
See D-Day: Normandy 1944 on this momentous anniversary to learn more about why and how the Normandy region became the most important location in the world. Discover from a new perspective in breathtaking OMNIMAX® how this landing changed the world. Explore history, military strategy, science, technology and human values as you behold this historic day on our five-story domed screen.
Also explore our Treasures of Our Military Past exhibit to learn more stories of men and women who valiantly served their country. Learn the depth of Cincinnati’s contributions to military action from the late 18th century to the modern era. Through uniforms, weaponry, medical instruments, supplies, photographs and documents, the exhibit honors the courage and sacrifice of men and women who served during military campaigns. Such military efforts include Fort Washington, the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, Civil War, both World Wars and post-World War II military action in Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War and more recent conflicts.