By Dr. Allen Dale Olson, Museum of the American Military Family
Seventy years ago I was a student approaching draft age. I felt pride knowing that soon I would be able to help defend our country – but I admit I was also scared about the prospects of going into combat. I also admit to feeling great relief when I heard about the invasion, because I knew the war would probably be over before my number came up.
When my number did come, I was drafted into the Occupation of Germany with the First Infantry Division in Wurzburg and was surprised at how well the Germans received us soldiers. While assigned there I was privileged to be part of an Honor Guard sent to Arnhem as part of an anniversary observance of the liberation of Holland. Dutch people lined the streets, threw flowers at us, and often jumped right into our formation to hug us.
As a civilian civil servant, DoD assigned me to an air base in Normandy where I had a lot of time to see what had really happened on June 6, 1944. Much of the wreckage was still there, and no matter where my wife and I went, the villagers treated us with respect and friendship, even affection.
Our daughter was born in Normandy, not far from the beaches. Some of you know her – Dr. Circe Olson Woessner, founder of the Museum of the American Military Family. She is a frequent speaker at military memorial services as a voice for those who have also served in our nation’s wars – the mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, spouses, and other family members affected by one of their own wearing a uniform. Please come see the exhibit in the National Nuclear Museum.
As a senior education advisor to the U.S. Army Commander in Europe, I planned leadership training programs in and around the D-Day landing beaches and battle sites. I watched the area re-build itself and create impressive museums dedicated to the soldiers who liberated France and subsequently all of Europe. Over the more than 30 years I have visited Omaha and Utah and Sword and Juno and Gold and Pegasus Bridge and St-Marie-Eglise and St-Lo, I never encountered an unfriendly person. I became a charter member of the Battle of Normandy Museum in Caen and I still follow observance events.
A very good friend is there now, part of an official observance delegation, and sends me daily photographs and brief impressions of the events.
My last visit was in 2003 – and while there are now many hotels, museums, monuments, and suburbs, the residents, even the very young, are friendly. As I see Veterans who were actually in the invasion, I can tell them that the people of France and Belgium and Holland – and as demonstrated here today – the United States — have not forgotten you and still appreciate what you accomplished. And I am extremely proud to be associated with you.
Remarks to the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasions, Veterans Memorial Park, Rio Rancho, New Mexico, June 7, 2014.
These photos were taken at the 70th Anniversary Ceremonies in Normandy, France
4 WWII Veterans–two sisters, both nurses, gentleman in the middle landed at Utah Beach, gentleman standing is from the 82nd. All Normandy photos courtesy of Ed and Janet.