Thursday, June 6, 2013

A Personal D-Day History, plus.

            June 6, 1944 – My grandfather was part of the third wave going ashore at Omaha Beach with the 30th Infantry Division 117th Regiment. They were sent in to replace units of the 29th Infantry which had become lost during the initial attack. How they became lost is not quite clear. By D-Day plus four the remaining balance of the Division arrived on the beaches of Normandy. They were immediately thrust into heavy action against the Germans. The Nickname for the 30th was Old Hickory after Andrew Jackson. They were tough and gritty.

            The German High Command named the 30th Infantry “Roosevelt’s SS Troops” because of their vigor and the terrible pressure they bore on Hitler’s elite 1st SS Division. The 30th tore through the elite 1st SS Division at St. LO and again at Mortain allowing General Patton’s armored forces to race across France.

            Throughout the war there was struggles for the 30th, including accidentally getting bombed by the Air Corps and suffering a high casualty rate. They kept up the fight however and by September-October 1944 they had made their way to the Siegfried Line. The Siegfried line was a literal wall of German pillboxes, entrenchments, road blocks and various other obstacles designed to keep Allied forces out of Germany

            The 30th continued their push through Europe and again faced the 1st SS Division in the “Battle of the Bulge” during the Ardennes-Alsace Offensive near Malmedy Belgium in the winter of 1944-45. The 30th decimated the 1st SS Division and they never returned to the war.  January 13, 1945 they launched a counter offensive and drove 2 miles south of St. Vith and left the battle by January 26th. I can only imagine the hell that must have been in one of Europe’s most brutal winters.

            By February of 1945 the 30th crossed the Roer River as part of the Roer offensive. After a short rest and rehabilitation they were returned to action by March and made their crossing of the Rhine River. They continued their push, taking Hamelin, Braunschweig and Magdeburg by April 17, 1945. They met up with the Russians near Gruenwald on the Elbe River. There they began their occupation and were rotated out of Europe by August of 1945.

            The 30th was designated as the number one Infantry Division in the European Theater by General Eisenhower’s Chief Historian, Col. S.L.A. Marshall and the 117th Regiment was awarded 13 Meritorious Unit Citations, as well as numerous other citations for the whole Division.

            The trouble with a lot of the information on this distinguished unit is that in July of 1973 there was a fire and the 30th Division combat records were destroyed. However the Silver Star records are available and my Grandfather’s information is available.
Heffernan, Daniel J.      Rank:   S/Sgt.   Regiment: 117  - However, it appears the records are somewhat incomplete and I will have to contact the editor of the website with more information.

            Whenever D-Day comes around I get very nostalgic about the WWII years. Not for the sensationalized Hollywood versions of the War, but for the actual men that fought so bravely for a just and right cause. They were truly heroes and I hope we never forget what price they paid. A price paid not only in death but in the long term affects a war like that can have on men that returned home.

            Back then there was no treatment for Combat Fatigue, you were just Shell Shocked and told to suck it up and deal with it; which a lot of men did, with troubling consequences for their growing families. It doesn’t diminish their accomplishments however and I always feel a deep sense of pride whenever I think about what men like my Grandfather did. Both my Grandfather’s actually, since they both served in the same division without ever knowing each other.

            On this D-Day 2013 I ask that we remember those men who bore the mantle of freedom so heavily on their backs.

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