“We understand…Continue to Stand for the Ideals”

I can’t believe this is the fourth and final post for the month of June – our last post to commemorate the Normandy Invasion of 1944.  Earlier this month, world leaders met on the Normandy shores to remember the events that took place there and speeches were made to honor the sacrifices.

Today, we’re going to look at some quotes from United States’ President Ronald Reagan’s address at the 40th commemoration of D-day.  Without further commentary, here are some excerpts from his speech:

“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead or on the next.  It was the deep knowledge – and pray God we have not lost it – that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.  You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause.  And you were right not to doubt.”

“You all know that some things are worth dying for.  One’s country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it’s the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man.  All of you loved liberty…”

“The Americans who fought here that morning knew word of the invasion was spreading through the darkness back home.  They…felt in their hearts, though they couldn’t know in fact, that in Georgia they were filling the churches at 4 a.m., in Kansas they were kneeling on their porches and praying, and in Philadelphia they were ringing the Liberty Bell.”

US troops during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944

US troops during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944

“Something else helped the men of D-day: their rock-hard belief that Providence would have a great hand in the events that would unfold here; that God was an ally in this great cause.  And so, the night before the invasion, when Colonel Wolverton asked his parachute troops to kneel with him in prayer, he told them, ‘Do not bow your heads, but look up so you can see God and ask His blessing in what we’re about to do.’  Also that night, General Matthew Ridgway on his cot, listening in the darkness for the promise God made to Joshua: ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.'”

“These are the things that impelled them; these are the things that shaped the unity of the Allies…”

“…let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for.  Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: ‘I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.’  Strengthened by their courage, heartened by their valor and borne by their memory, let us continue to stand for the ideals for which they lived and died.”

I believe that President Reagan’s speech is one of the most inspirational ever delivered at the Normandy commemorations.

I hope that the history we’ve discussed in the last few weeks and these inspiring words of honor will challenge you “to continue to stand for the ideals” of American patriotism.

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. We’ll have a new topic for the month of July.  Watch for the first July post on Thursday the 3rd.  (Yeah, it’ll be one day early since Friday is a holiday: 4th of July!)  I’ll give you one hint for next month’s topic: He’s one of the best known heroes of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Please leave a comment if you’ve enjoyed the Normandy Invasion posts or want to guess who will be featured in July!

Destroy a Bridge & Land a Glider: Stories from Normandy

There are many true stories about what happened during the Normandy Invasion. Veterans have shared their remembrances and family or historians have written down these primary sources. I suppose I could retell and paraphrase some of these stories, but today I’d like to share two stories you’ve probably never heard before.

You see, there were two men – one on each side of my family – who were involved in the fighting in Normandy. They have passed away and left no clear records of what they did; however, I interviewed my grandparents to see what they remembered and there are enough pieces to put together the stories.


My great-grandfather, Ray Herdman, was one of eight brothers who all served in the military during World War II. He was an electrician by trade and his skill became important in his military missions. My grandmother says her dad rarely talked about what he did, though he did mention wishing that he could take his wife to France to show her the coast and countryside.

What we know is that Ray Herdman was in the Normandy region during 1944 and that he was involved in destroying bridges held by the Germans and rebuilding bridges for the Allies. It is possible that he may have been behind enemy lines laying the electrical wires for the explosion of bridges. Whether this was before or during the D-day invasion or during the Normandy break-out, I’m not sure.

This bridge in Normandy may be similar to the ones that Ray Herdman destroyed

This bridge in Normandy may be similar to the ones that     Ray Herdman destroyed

The only other clear account that my grandmother overheard was Ray remembered going through a French village where the dead and wounded lay so close together it was impossible not to step on them. I understand why Ray Herdman didn’t want to talk about his war experience. It was too awful. War is always brutal and the results are heartbreaking. Still, I wish he had left a record of what he did in Normandy.

My great-grandfather passed away when I was very young – before I even knew what an army and invasion was – so I never had a chance to interview him. We have a military jacket that may have belonged to him and we have the family stories about how he destroyed bridges in Normandy. Perhaps someday I’ll be searching through boxes of papers and I’ll find documents that will answer all those questions. But for now…

In my mind’s eye, I can see him in uniform with a few of his comrades, sneaking toward a bridge. They lay the explosive charges; he connects the wires with expert skill. Later a loud explosion rocks the earth. Another bridge destroyed and thousands of Allied troops relieved to know that a vicious German counterattack has been delayed. And he moves on toward the next task…


On my mom’s side of the family we’re not directly related to the forgotten hero. His name was Meredith Howell and he was my grandmother’s older cousin. Similar to my great-grandfather, Meredith didn’t talk much about his experiences and when he did, no one wrote it down (at least to our knowledge). Yet enough facts remain to discover the tale.

Meredith was in his early or mid-twenties during the World War II era. He had grown up in a little Southern California orange grove town called Escondido (about 30 miles north of San Diego). The Howell family members were hard-workers, but there were times of fun too. Meredith and his younger brother Courtney somehow became interested in flying; maybe they went up with a barnstormer in an old World War I plane. Their interest in flight prompted them to start experimenting and they built a glider of their own – wood frame and cloth. The brothers took their creation to Palomar Mountain and from somewhere on the mountain they launched the glider, flew, and obviously survived the landing.

When America entered World War II, the Howell boys likely volunteered to serve – they were not the type of young men to wait to be drafted. Courtney Howell joined the navy. Meredith Howell joined the army and somehow ended up in the Army Air Corps. (There was no Air Force branch in those days). The Air Corps was desperate for pilots; maybe they asked if anyone had flight experience and Meredith half-raised his hand, remembering his glider flight.

We don’t know the details, except that he was in the Army Air Corps, learned to fly military gliders and flew a glider into Normandy during the invasion. Three facts are all that remain for what must have been an exciting story, but like we imagined my great-grandfather’s experiences, let’s think about what Meredith might have done – his story is a little easier to fill in because other glider pilots wrote records.

The invasion gliders were large; they could carry infantry reinforcements or a jeep. They would be towed into the air by heavy aircraft and released above their destination. In the pre-dawn morning of June 6, 1944, the destination was field in Normandy.  (Earlier, British gliders had landed and captured two bridges leading toward Utah beach; American gliders were bringing reinforcements and equipment).

Soldiers unload a jeep from a glider during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944

Soldiers unload a jeep from a glider during the Normandy Invasion, June 1944

The gliders were large, bulky, and awkward to fly. Think of a boxcar with wings trying to make a controlled crash landing and you’ve got a basic idea of the situation. They flew in during the dark morning hours. Meredith’s hands may have been sweaty on the controls as he peered into the darkness and prayed for a safe touch-down. The invasion gliders had rough landings, some broke windscreens and the pilots flew out, some tipped onto aircraft’s nose, others crashed into walls; they skidded, bounced, and crashed on the French soil. We don’t know how Meredith’s landing was – but we conclude that he got the glider on the ground. Whether he brought a jeep or reinforcements, he’d just landed vital support for the Allied troops fighting on the ground.  He may have seized a weapon and joined in the fighting.


A bridge exploded and reinforcements/supplies were landed. The details about some of the men involved in the invasion are very sketchy and leave us with many questions. But I shared these stories because I believe it’s important to record what is known and for us to consider what “average” American citizens – an electrician and a farm boy – did to serve their nation.

I hope their stories teach you two things: 1) It’s the individuals who have the courage to carry out missions that secure success – remember General Eisenhower’s command headquarters decision? (See last week’s post for more details). It would not have been successful without the individuals who actually went into France in the night darkness to accomplish the missions of destroying bridges and landing support. 2) Take the time to listen to stories that older folks are willing to tell. If you can, casually interview them about their experiences and write it down – that is history.

A tow plane takes this glider from the ground into the cloudy sky.  Where will the landing be?  What history is about to be made?

A tow plane takes this glider from the ground into the cloudy sky. Where will the landing be? What history will be made?

History is about individuals – their actions, words, inspiration, courage, loyalty, and patriotism. Abstract terms become reality in individual’s lives. Though we have only the most basic facts about Ray Herdman and Meredith Howell, I hope their stories will remind you of the simple courage and patriotism that has made America a great nation. May their stories inspire you to be a strong individual with a desire to serve your nation in peace or war.

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Do you have a relative who was involved in the Normandy Invasion? I’d like to hear their story. Please leave a reply.

No Second Guessing: A Lesson From Allied Headquarters, 1944

Have you ever had those moments of panic when you second guess yourself, sincerely hoping that you’ve prepared for a school test, worrying about the project you’re overseeing at work, or wondering if your kids are ready to face the challenges of life? I do. Just last week there was a half-day of intense panic, “I’m trying to write a book! What on earth do I think I’m doing? Where am I gonna find a publisher. I’m nervous…” Now that I’ve revealed a minor fear perhaps you can think of a few that you’re facing?

Well, I’ve got some great news for you this week. One of the best military leaders in the world faced a couple hours of second-guessing his plans. It’s time to learn a lesson about leadership and life directly from the planning headquarters of the June 6, 1944, Normandy Invasion.


He was the supreme commander of the Allied Forces in the European Theater of World War II. He’d been a soldier all his life, from his first training at West Point, through training exercises, and military war games. He was a practical man, a kind man who loved his family, a man who knew how to think, a man with vision, a man with a warrior’s spirit. His name was Dwight D. Eisenhower.

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

General Dwight D. Eisenhower

For many long months Eisenhower and a team of brilliant commanders had been planning Operation Overlord, going over every detail to ensure the success of the attack to the best of their ability. Attacks from the air – paratroopers and gliders – would begin the assault with the purpose of capturing important bridges to prevent the Germans from bringing up reinforcements. The navies would bombard the German defenses, followed by the infantry land assault. Militarily, the plan was daring, but sound.

Then on May 30, 1944, while waiting to determine the day of attack, Eisenhower’s headquarters telephone rang. It was Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory, an expert in aviation warfare. He expressed his doubts about the success of the paratrooper and glider attacks, predicting heavy casualties without any benefit to the other attackers. Later, Eisenhower wrote about this moment: “It would be difficult to conceive a more soul-racking problem…” (Eisenhower, p. 246).

He asked Leigh-Mallory to put his concerns in writing and then “…went to my tent alone and sat down to think. Over and over I reviewed each step…thoroughly and exhaustively. …[There] was the possibility that if he were right the effect of the disaster would be far more than local: it would be likely to spread to the entire force” (Eisenhower, p. 246). After considering all information from every angle, Eisenhower decided that the airborne attacks must go on if the Utah beach landing was to be successful and that Utah was a crucial point that could not be cancelled.

“I telephoned him that the attack would go as planned…” (Eisenhower, p. 247). The decision was made. Eisenhower had made all the preparations that he could to ensure the success of the invasion, now, ultimately it depended on the men. Most of the high ranking Allied commanders visited the troops in the weeks leading up to the assault. On June 5 – after making the final decision to go ahead with the attack despite the questionable weather report – Eisenhower had one last duty to perform.

General Eisenhower meets with United States Troops before the Normandy Invasion

General Eisenhower meets with United States Troops before the Normandy Invasion

“I spent the time visiting the troops that would participate in the assault. A late evening trip on the fifth took me to the camp of the U.S. 101st Airborne Division [paratroopers], one of the units whose participation had been so severely questioned by the air commander [Leigh-Mallory]. I found the men in fine [spirits], many of them joshingly admonishing me that I had no cause for worry, since the 101st was on the job and everything would be taken care of in fine shape. I stayed with them until the last of them were in the air, somewhere about midnight. After a two-hour trip back to my own camp, I had only a short time to wait until the first news should come in…” (Eisenhower, p. 251-252).

Success. Paratroopers and glider crews seized the bridges and prevented German reinforcements from arriving quickly and Utah Beach was in Allied possession. And Leigh-Mallory – the good commander who felt it was his duty to express his concerns – was among the first to call Eisenhower to congratulate him on the positive outcome.


Now, it’s a good, true story…but what can we learn?

General Eisenhower was in the middle of a ginormous task and suddenly someone raised valid doubts, causing the monster called “second-guess” to reign for a few hours. What did Eisenhower do? Reviewed his preparations and then went forward with the action. Valuable lesson.

Okay, so most likely you’re not a five star general planning the liberation of Europe with the eyes of the world watching you. But remember that difficulty of yours – that “oh, my goodness what am I doing, I’m totally second guessing the wisdom of this” situation? Learn from one of the best leaders in history how to turn doubt into success.

#1. Stop. Take a deep breath.

#2. Preparation – review everything you know about the situation, every possible outcome. (If you can’t do this, you need more information). Next, weigh the cost and benefit, keeping in mind moral and ethical standards.

#3. Decide. If you’re sure you’re right, go ahead. But if you’ve considered the options and determined this is not a good plan, decide and be ready to stick to your conclusion.

#4. Action. Sometimes this falls on us, but sometimes it falls on others. If you’re the person to carry out the plan, do it! If you’re like the general, make sure your followers are prepared to do their best and encourage them along the way.

Well, I’m feeling better and more prepared for the challenges I’m facing after a little lesson at Allied headquarters. Remember that book I’m writing and the panic of publishing? I’ve taken a deep breath and discovered I don’t have enough information to make an informed decision. Library research books are on the way and hopefully in a few weeks or months, I’ll be able to finish #3 (Decide) and boldly move on to #4 (Action).

Thanks General Eisenhower for writing about your hard decisions and showing us how a successful leader combats doubts with preparation and action.

Plans are established by council; by wise council wage war.  Proverbs 20:18, NKJV

Your historian,

Miss Sarah


Eisenhower, D.D. (1948).  Crusade in Europe.  Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc.