Rive’s Salient: Chamberlain’s Leadership

Many people have read or heard of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain’s actions at Gettysburg. Glorified in the movie Gettysburg, the current myth about this legendary man is that he single-handedly saved the Union on Little Round Top. His leadership played a crucial role, but it is an exaggeration to claim that he alone saved the Union. Chamberlain wouldn’t have supported such a statement; in his writings he constantly gives credit to the men under his command or comrade regiments. (You can read this blog’s biography of Chamberlain here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).

His role at Gettysburg is well-known and some have acknowledged his courage in the final campaign and his graciousness at Appomattox. However, the Charge at Rive’s Salient on June 20, 1864, during the Battle of Petersburg is Chamberlain’s ultimate moment of leadership.  Here is the story of the fateful day:

This photo was taken in 2008 at Petersburg National Battlefield at Battery #5.  NOTE: This not Rive's Salient.  This picture is included simply to show Petersburg Battlefield as it appears today.

This photo was taken in 2008 at Petersburg National Battlefield at Battery #5. NOTE: This not Rive’s Salient. This picture is included simply to show Petersburg Battlefield as it appears today.

In front of his Union brigade lay an open field leading toward a well-fortified salient of earthworks and cannon held by Confederate troops. Orders came from General Grant’s headquarters to attack this position. Chamberlain was no stranger to frontal assaults. He had co-led one at Fredericksburg with disastrous results, he had fended them off at Gettysburg, and he had watched numerous charges in the last weeks of the Overland Campaign. He sent a letter back to headquarters, respectfully stating his opinion that this charge wasn’t going to work. The answer from Grant: do it anyway.

He could’ve made an excuse and stayed behind like other officers – he’d been ill in the spring, the campaign had been tiring . But Chamberlain’s leadership standard was “come on” – not “go on.” With full knowledge of looming failure and that he would be in constant danger, he prepared to lead the attack. Not only would he lead, he would ride into the deadly storm on a tall horse, which would make him a conspicuous target.

After some initial preparation and cannonade, the brigade moved to the attack. Chamberlain’s horse was shot; he continued on foot in front of his command. The flag faltered as the flag bearer was killed. Chamberlain seized the banner and marched on, sword drawn. The earth exploded around them. Men were falling. He knew this would be what would happen, but he marched forward.

This photo gives an idea of seeing trenches and cannon from an attacker's position.  (Photo taken by Miss Sarah at the 2013 Tom's Farm's Civil War Re-enactment)

This photo gives an idea of seeing trenches and cannon from an attacker’s position. (Photo taken by Miss Sarah at the 2013 Tom’s Farm’s Civil War Re-enactment)

As they neared the Confederate position, Chamberlain realized that they would be marching through a bog, which would slow the attacking speed. He halted, half-turned toward his men and motioned them to go on either side of the boggy ground. As he gave the directions that might secure more safety for his troops, Chamberlain was shot. The troops were still advancing and he determined that they would not see him fall. Handing off the flag, he used his sword as a prop, leaning on it, until the last soldier had gone past him. There was nothing more that he could do; the pain and loss of blood soon brought him to the ground where artillery shells tossed dirt on him as he listened to the disaster unfolding for his men. They were repulsed. His aides dragged him out of the danger zone, but left him on the field, unable to move him any farther.

Later, Chamberlain was carried from the field by four stretcher bearers, who deliberately disobeyed his orders to leave him alone and care for the other men. This insistence continued at the field hospital, but the surgeons did not listen. However, the soldiers who were near the operating table when Chamberlain was brought in never forgot his unselfish plea that they be attended before him. The wounded warrior was still exemplifying leadership in a situation where men of lesser character would have been crying for help or screaming for pain relief.

The first surgeon to examine Chamberlain’s wounds pronounced that they were mortal. Basically, a minie ball had entered at his lower right hip and tore upward toward the left hip, causing extensive internal damage, including broken bone and lacerated organs. The medical field was still in its “Dark Ages” during the Civil War and gut wounds were almost always fatal; by the medical standards there was nothing to be done and Chamberlain had no chance of survival.

Thomas Chamberlain, a younger brother, refused to accept a single opinion and found two skilled surgeons who re-examined the colonel and agreed to try surgery. Anesthetic, probably chloroform, was available, but at some point in the crude surgery, Chamberlain was in so much pain that the surgeons were afraid to continue; he insisted that they proceed and they eventually succeeded in somewhat repairing the internal damage.

Within the twenty-four hours after his wounding, Chamberlain scrawled a penciled note to his wife, which must have broken her heart when she received it. He admitted that he was probably mortally wounded but reiterated a statement of faith and the belief that he was going to heaven. He thanked her for her devotion and begged her not to grieve too much for him before closing with a whisper that he would always love her.

He was moved by stretcher and hospital ferry to a base hospital in Maryland. General Grant send a death-bed promotion and the newspapers started printing General Chamberlain’s obituary…too early. With care and motivation from his family, Chamberlain fought for life and eventually recovered. He would return to fight with his soldiers in the final campaign of the war, but for the rest of his life he would suffer complications from the shot at Petersburg.

Why Petersburg and Rive’s Salient as Chamberlain’s finest leadership moment? Because he knew what would happen. He exhibited proper care by asking for a higher military command to reassess the situation. He led the attack with the flare and appropriate charisma of a strong leader and he was so determined to be that example that he managed to stay upright after suffering a shocking wound until every soldier had rushed by him. Unselfishness is a large part of leadership and Chamberlain displayed this quality throughout the trauma and field hospital experience. Love for his family, and especially his wife, comes into the war scene as he grapples with the reality that he is likely dying and he searches for the right words to convey his faith, thanks, and love to the most important woman in his life.  Why Petersburg?  Because there, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain gave the ultimate example of leadership in the vanguard, in the field hospital, and in a scribbled note to his loved ones.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Just my thoughts here in this post.  So what do you think: Gettysburg or Rive’s Salient?  Or another battle?  Share your thoughts in a comment.

Chamberlain’s “Relaxing” Post-War Life

After the American Civil War concluded, General Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain returned to his family and home in Maine.  What would he accomplish next – or was it time to sit down and relax?

(If you’ve missed the first and second parts of the Chamberlain biography, I hope you’ll read them.  Next week will be the final Chamberlain post with a true story about leadership).

Relax?  What does that mean?  (I don’t think it was in General Chamberlain’s vocabulary…)  Chamberlain arrived home in the summer of 1865.  Physically battered by numerous wounds, Chamberlain tried to rest and reconnect with his family, but it wasn’t long before he found new positions of leadership and service.

1. Professor (Again)  Chamberlain taught oratory and rhetoric for the 1865-1866 school year at Bowdoin College.  He received several academic honors, but…  Teaching was boring compared to battlefields and the former general started looking something more challenging.

2. Governor of Maine (1867-1871)  Challenging, difficulty, and rewarding are three different ways of describing Chamberlain’s four terms in office.  (Each term was one year, so he was governor for a total of four years, 1867-1871).  As governor, he worked to improve education advancements, economic and transportation opportunities, the criminal justice system, the asylum hospitals, and encouraged European immigration to the state.  He opposed the impeachment charges against President Andrew Johnson and argued that the Maine temperance laws interfered with citizens’ Federal constitutional rights.  Overall, Chamberlain’s method of politics was innovative and for the good of the citizens and state.

Governor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Governor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

3. President of Bowdoin College (1817-1883) In 1871 Chamberlain accepted the position of college president and started a series of educational reforms within the school.  He introduced the idea of treating students like adults (not children, needing  constant control and oversight), expanded the school curriculum to include subjects useful outside of the academic realm, developed the college’s Master of Arts program, and instituted military drill as required training.  Not all the changes were well-received; many students hated the military drill exercises and it was eventually abandoned.  Chamberlain resigned in 1883 because of poor health, but he had brought Bowdoin College into the modern age of education.

4. Public Speaker  Starting in 1867 and continuing to the last years of his life, Chamberlain spoke at many public events.  The events were often patriotic and some of his most often quoted addresses are Dedication of the 20th Maine Monuments at Gettysburg (October 3, 1889), Address to the Veterans of the 16th Maine Volunteers, and Oration on the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Abraham Lincoln (February 12, 1909).

5. Peace Keeper January 5-17, 1880, was a time of intense political tension in the state of Maine.  Political factions produced division and nearly a statewide civil war.  Chamberlain and the militia, at the government’s request, stepped in and defended the standing governor.  Chamberlain was able to convince the mobs to avoid violence.  However, “The Twelve Days” (as this incident is commonly called) exposed Chamberlain to dislike on many political fronts.

6. World Traveler Sent to the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1878 as a representative of the United States, this trip started Chamberlain’s interest in world-wide travels.  (On the 1878 Paris trip, his family went with him).  During the winter of 1900-1901, he traveled to the Mediterranean region, and particularly enjoyed Italy and Egypt.

7. Businessman  With political opportunities closed by the controversial “Twelve Days”, Chamberlain investigated a new venture: business.  Organized in 1885 Homosassa Company (a land development organization) was Chamberlain’s new project in the state of Florida.  In 1891 he helped to found the Ocala and Silver Springs Railroad which hopefully would bring people to the coastal community.  These businesses were not very successful.  During the 1890’s Chamberlain was the president of other executive companies – railroad, construction, power, banking, tourism, real estate, and bonds.  These companies wanted a well-known “war hero” to be leader and spokesperson for their corporations.

8. President (Again)  In the 1890’s Chamberlain promoted the Institute for Artists and Artisans, which was one of the best art schools in America.  As president of the institute, he encouraged education and art, which would increase the culture of America.

9. Requested Army Commission  When the Spanish-American War started in 1898, Chamberlain requested a field commission in the US Army.  The 70 year old patriot was politely rejected.

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in US uniform (Probably during the early 1900's)

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in US uniform (Probably during the early 1900’s)

10. Surveyor of the Port of Portland, Maine On March 20, 1900, US President McKinley appointed Chamberlain to this position.  The job included inspecting and handling anchorage, mooring, and docks for the ships of the harbor and had an annual salary of $4,500.00.  He would keep this position until his death.

11. Family Man It would be wrong to conclude this biography without acknowledging Chamberlain’s family, especially since they were so important to him.  Mrs. Fanny Chamberlain greatly disliked her husband’s role in politics, which, compounded with other factors, strained their marriage; they eventually forgave and forgot the disagreements and lived quite happily until Fanny’s death in 1905.  The two children who lived to adulthood were Grace and Harold.  Harold became a not very successful attorney/businessman. Grace married a businessman named Mr. Allen and had several children; the little ones enjoyed visiting their grandparents.

On January 20, 1914, General Chamberlain died at the age of 86.  Fifty years earlier, doctors in a field hospital told him that within days he would die of battle wounds, or if he survived he would be an invalid for life.  Chamberlain wasn’t a quitter; he recovered, and though plagued with pain and infection for the rest of his life, he found new and challenging ways to serve his community and nation.

I hope that this three part biography of Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain has (and will) inspire you to find ways to leave a positive impact in your world.  Patriotism and Self-less service are never “old-fashion”!

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Anything on Chamberlain’s list of “relaxing” accomplishments that inspires you?  Leave a comment and tell us!



“Bayonet! Forward” My Civil War Reminiscences by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain

Soul of the Lion: A Biography of General Joshua L. Chamberlain by Willard M. Wallace

In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The American Civil War by Alice Rains Trulock

Ooh, Fireworks…?

Happy 4th of July!

What are you celebrating today?  You’d really make my day if you’d leave a comment – one or two word answer to the question would be perfect!

There’s a historical movie that I occasionally like to watch and in one scene a British  supply ship is blown up by the Patriot guy.  On shore a clueless lady standing next to the British officer says “Ooh, Fireworks!” clapping her hands and imaging that this serious event is actually a display for her amusement.  (Can you name the movie?  Leave a comment…)

You know, there are a lot of clueless people today – especially in the younger generations – who are going to say “ooh, fireworks” and not give a single thought about what we’re actually commemorating.  They’re going to celebrate 4th of July with BBQs, surfing, and fireworks!  There’s nothing wrong with that, of course – I love a good hamburger and pretty fireworks…  But there’s a problem if you think that 4th of July is nothing more.

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress voted that the American Colonies should be free and independent states!  America was born – Huzzah!  And it’s been 238 years of defending and advancing that freedom through sacrifice and legislation. 

4th of July Gazette665 2014

Take a minute or two and remind your kids and/or friends why we celebrate 4th of July – the day of independence.

So, Happy 4th!  I hope you’ll enjoy your BBQ and the fireworks and remember why we’re celebrating.  Let’s defend our legacy of God-honoring freedom.  Don’t be naïve and think that today is only about fireworks, okay?

God Bless America!

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

A Professor Goes To War

A professor going to war?  Did you ever hear anything so extraordinary?  Today, higher education has entrenched itself with world peace, pacifism, and – dare I say it – selfishness.  (Broad statement, I know – I hope there are some patriotic professors out there to prove me wrong with noble actions!)  There was opposition in 1862 when the rhetoric teacher at Bowdoin College decided to enlist – but, wait – we need a little introduction…


150 years ago an American citizen with no formal military training – aside from two years of battlefield experience – was promoted to brigadier general.  When he received the promotion, he was lying in a hospital bed, expected to live only a few more days.  His name was Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain.

Perhaps you’ve seen the movie Gods and Generals or read the novel Killer Angels – so maybe you’ve heard of Chamberlain before.  But do you know what he did before or after his hour at Gettysburg which has captured the cinematic world?  (I know there’s a lot of hype about Chamberlain in the Civil War historian’s realm, but here we’re exploring the man behind the legend and his leadership skills; we’ll talk about some lesser known historical figures another time, so stay with us…)  In the first three posts for the month of July, we’ll briefly examine Chamberlain’s biography.  I’ll share my favorite leadership moment from Chamberlain’s war experiences in the fourth post.  Now that you know the basic plan for this month, I’ll quit chatting and let’s get to the history!


In the summer of 1862 Professor Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain of Bowdoin College in Maine enlisted to fight with the Union Army.  At the time, the American Civil War had been raging for over a year and would last for three more years.  After requesting a leave of absence to supposedly tour Europe for educational purposes, Chamberlain voluntarily enlisted, to the surprise of his colleagues and family.  What skills did he possess and what prompted him to step forward in answer to his country’s call?

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Union Military Uniform

Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain in Union Military Uniform

There are five principles in Chamberlain’s early life that were the foundation for his 1862 decision:

1. Principle   Joshua L. Chamberlain (called Lawrence by his family) grew up on a New England farm in the state of Maine.  Born on September 8, 1828, Lawrence was the eldest child in the family.  His parents taught him to value hard work and athletic recreation.  The strong principles of honor, duty, morality, faith, and hard work were the bed-rock of his character.

2. The Ability to Learn  In his teen years, Lawrence decided to attend college, but found that his foreign language skills – especially Greek – were severely lacking.  He devised a self-regulated study program for himself: about eight hours a day were spent alone in the attic to study, there was time for chores, and recreation of friendly dueling with broadswords with his father or brothers.  In months Chamberlain had completed and mastered the language skills that most students took years to decipher.  He started his college studies in 1848 and graduated in 1852.  These years of intensive study built Lawrence’s confidence that he could learn new skills quickly.  As he prepared to enlist in 1862, he wrote: “I have always been interested in military matters, and what I do not know in that line, I know how to learn” (Trulock, page 8).

3. Family  In 1852 Lawrence Chamberlain asked Miss Frances (Fanny) Caroline Adams to marry him; she said yes.  However, the marriage between the college graduate and the minister’s adopted daughter was delayed until December 1855, as the graduate looked for steady work, eventually accepting a position of rhetoric teacher at Bowdoin College.  Lawrence and Fanny Chamberlain had five children, but only two – Grace and Harold – would survive to adulthood.  In 1862Grace and Harold were six and four.  Lawrence regretted leaving his little family to join the military, and he frequently wrote to them while he was away.  He was fighting for the America his children would inherit.

The Chamberlain House in Brunswick, Maine

The Chamberlain House in Brunswick, Maine

4. Future  While he regretted leaving his family when he enlisted, Chamberlain firmly believed that the future of America was at stake in the conflict.  Could there be two separate and independent nations carved out of the United States because of Southern secession?  Could America tolerate slavery any longer?  Chamberlain’s answer was: No.  He went to war to defend and shape the future of America.

5. Patriotism  After arranging a “leave of absence” from his teaching post, Chamberlain wrote to the governor of Maine to request a position with a field regiment: “…but, I fear, this war so costly of blood and treasure will not cease until the men of the North are willing to leave good positions, and sacrifice the dearest personal interests, to rescue our Country from desolation…every man ought to come forward and ask to be placed at his proper post.” (Trulock, page 8)

Events and life circumstances prepared Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain for the leadership role that he would step into as he marched to war with the 20th Maine Regiment.  In the later years of his life, Chamberlain would acknowledge the importance of preparation and foundational principles:  “We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much.  But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and such ideals, and dreams such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes that calls to noble actions…no man becomes suddenly different from his habit and cherished thought.” (Trulock, page 62)

The hour for noble actions was ahead.  As the Professor went to war in 1862, he had no idea that two years later on July 3, 1864, he would be fighting for his life and for a chance to command in his new position as brigadier general…

Your historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. My brother informs me that “biographies are boring” so I’m trying to innovate with this list of foundational facts…  If you like this format, please leave me a comment; thanks!


In the Hands of Providence: Joshua L. Chamberlain & The American Civil War by Alica Rains Trulock

Soul of the Lion: A Biography of General Joshua L. Chamberlain by Willard M. Wallace

“Bayonet Forward!” My Civil War Reminiscences by Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain




“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.