Last night I attended another program, The Big Red One on D-Day, at Pritzker Military Museum and Library. The program ran longer than most which was fantastic. There was so much incredible information shared by Joseph Balkoski, John McManus, Steven Zaloga, and Paul Herbert that to cut the program to one hour would not have done it justice.
These men described the training that took place for the 1st Division and 29th Division during the early part of 1944 in England. John focused on the 1st Division and Joe focused on the 29th. Steven spoke on the side of the German preparation and response to the D-Day attack. The weather for June 5 and 6th was a large part of the discussion as the men described the foggy, rainy conditions, high seas, and low clouds that created many obstacles for the men to overcome. The D-Day invasion was laid out for Omaha Beach by the three panelists from both the American and German perspectives. Steven Zaloga said we cannot fully understand the Omaha Beach component of the invasion unless we understood it from both sides, something histories tend to leave out.
One thing I really appreciated is the individual soldier was discussed. So many historians talk about statistics and the high-level view of battles and the war, but it is the individual soldier stories that I particularly appreciate. What did these men experience and feel and have to deal with the day of battle? They experienced superb training, were in excellent physical condition and ready to go until they climbed aboard the ships and LSTs loaded down with 70-80 pounds of gear, to make the 11 mile trek across the English Channel. They spent over three hours in the dark on these crafts as the waves tossed them about causing seasickness and fatigue. When they landed on the beach they had obstacles to navigate in the form of mines, barbed wire, sunken debris and then a large stretch of beach to run across while being fired upon by the Germans. They were exhausted, wet, loaded down, scared, and motivated to win the fight as they left the crafts to descend upon that beach.
Technician Fifth Class John Pinder of the 16th Infantry Regiment, was discussed, a radio man who made it to the beach without his radio. Three times he ran from relative safety to the surf to locate radio pieces so he could do his job. He was wounded three times and for some unknown reason, ran back one more time to find one last piece and was killed. He received the Medal of Honor.
This was one of the BEST programs I have ever attended at Pritzker Military Museum and Library. And to make the day even better, I had a chance to finally shake Joe Balkoski’s hand. We have been corresponding for almost four years after I asked him about my 29th Infantry Division soldier, Frank Winkler. Joe was able to assist in the research for Frank’s story which appears in my upcoming book, Stories of the Lost which will be released May 8.
If you have not visited Pritzker Library, take some time to do so. The staff is fantastic and incredibly helpful. The programs are top-notch and take place once or twice a month. You can learn more on their website.
© 2014, Jennifer Holik, Generations