BaalChatzaf

Remember and don't forget

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67 years ago  on this very day  the invasion of France at Normandy took place.  It was the beginning of the end for Hitler.  

The people of that time that made the invasion possible and successful has been referred to as Our Greatest Generation.  They were.  They were not bred as warriors but they did what had to be done.  I wonder if our current generation could do as well.

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On that day, my friend, Henry Romanek, was there. We interred his ashes at his wifes grave site at West Point cemetery on May 9, 2008.

This excerpt is taken from Lars Andersons’ book “The All Americans“. He writes for Sports Illustrated and included Col Romanek because of his storied football past and miltary background.

D-Day

The young man stood on the deck of the USS Garfield, looking across the English Channel into darkness. It was just after midnight on June 6, 1944, and the defining hour of Henry Romaneks life was at hand. The Garfield, a transport ship, had just left the coast of England and was motoring south across the channel, its destination the waters off northern France, about ten miles outside of a quiet, enchanting beach the Allies call Omaha.

As Romanek gazed onto the black horizon, a cold wind dusting his cheeks, beams of moonlight filtered through the clouds to reveal an armada of ships so vast that it took his breath away. Over 5 thousand vessels were plowing through the whitecaps, the column of ships stretching as far as Romaneks eyes could see the east and the west. The day of reckoning, D-day, had arrived. “Good God,” Romanek said softly to himself, “Lord have mercy on us.”

The 24 year old Romanek was a platoon leader in the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion. Like all the soldiers in his company, he was dressed for battle. ---On the ring finger of his left hand was his graduation ring from West Point, his dearest possession.

Romanek had received the ring a year earlier, and now as he looked down on it, the black onyx stone glittered in the moonlight. Romanek was in charge of a platoon of forty-five men, and they were constantly asking him to tell stories from his days at the military academy, especially what it was like to be an Army football player. Romanek had been a two -way standout at the Point in 1941 and ‘42, playing tackle on both offense and defense. The game he was most questioned about was the ‘41 Army-Navy contest, which was played before 98,942 screaming fans at Philadelphia’s Municipal Stadium. As Romanek drew closer to what he knew would be the bloodiest fight of his life, that game was still alive in his mind, its details burned into his memory.

Romanek looked at his watch. It read 6:30 a.m. Though his LCM was scheduled to land in a few minutes, they were still about six hundred yards from shore. Romanek eyed his men. Almost all of them were seasick, their faces as white as milk. They had been on the landing craft for about four hours and nearly everyone had vomited at least once.. Romanek and his men couldn’t wait to get to the beach. Anything, they figured, was better than this.

--Directly in front of Romanek, up on the cliffs, he saw a cherry red flicker of flame. A moment later there was a loud explosion on the beach, a black burst of smoke, then dozens of soldiers sprawled on the ground, all dead.

--The square faced ramp on the ECM came down. Everyone yelled Go, go ,go! But several German machine guns and artillery batteries were concentrating their fire on the ramp exit. Romanek and his men were still in the back of the LCM and now they could see their fellow soldiers being ripped apart by bullets. Blood and limbs and intestines flew through the air, the men falling forward in heaps.

--All the planning, all the months of training, all the miles they had traveled, it had all been done for this moment. But now? Now, even before Romanek had gotten off his LCM, more than half of his engineers and more than half of the infantrymen he’d been riding with were dead. Order was slipping away.

--Weighed down with forty pounds of equipment and gear, he jumped as fast and as far as he could into the five feet of water.

--The bullet pierced the left side of his chest even before he hit the water. It momentarily paralyzed him and robbed him of breath. IT was as if a burning rod had just been shove through his lungs. He couldn’t focus on time, place or purpose. His thoughts drifted through years of memories, with no order, like random dreams. He knew that today was June 6, 1944. If there hadn’t been a war- and if his course load hadn’t been cut from four years to three at West Point, it would have been his graduation day. It seemed so long ago when Romanek and Olds took on Navy and their star tailback Bill Busek. Romanek and Olds were the biggest sports stars in America, as most of the nation tuned their radios. Thinking about West Point caused Romanek to realize that he didn’t want to lose his class ring, not here, not in five feet of freezing-cold water off the coast of France. His ring was a important to him as oxygen. He looked at his left hand in the water, saw the gleam of the thick gold band around his finger, and clenched his fist. I can’t lose my ring, he thought to himself. I can’t lose it. And I don’t want to die here today.”

-- He tried to move his arms and legs and make his way to shore. But his strength left him. His body wouldn’t respond to what his brain was telling it to do.

--A navy corpsman spotted him.

--Dragged him 200 hundred yards to the shingle, a natural dune, out of harms way.

--Moments later, Romanek was silent. He went into full-blown shock. He was swallowing his tongue and shaking violently, --

The corpsman saved his life, Romanek went to Suffolk England for a 3 month recovery and was back on the battle field in Germany in 5 months fighting again. The corpsman didn’t see the end of the day.

 

 

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