As Americans remember the sacrifices of the brave soldiers who stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago this June 6, let us reflect on those who were lost, those who were wounded and those who survived the war to carry on. Their countless acts of courage turned the tide of the Nazi onslaught and stand unparalleled in world history.
This anniversary also prompts me to recall my own parents’ part in the war effort — my father, Douglas Franchot Jr., served as a pilot in the South Pacific and my late mother, Janet Kerr, worked as a Rosie the Riveter at the Sikorsky Aircraft factory in Connecticut. They and thousands of their generation were inspired by a call to duty, a desire to serve their country and their shared belief of right over might.
Operation Overlord — as the Allied attack was known — was the largest amphibious invasion in military history with more than 160,000 Allied troops, including our Canadian neighbors to the north and our British friends across the Atlantic. These courageous men fought their way onto the beaches of Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno and Omaha beaches, scared, wounded and killed in the chaotic landings. But they were determined to face the Nazis’ assault as land mines and mortars exploded, as snipers perched in bunkers high above rained down machine gun fire and as cunningly placed anti-boat obstacles on the beaches entangled men in wire, mesh and wood as they stormed the fortified French coast.
A few months ago, my father turned 97 years old. His service during World War II shaped his life and by extension, my own life. His sense of duty and service continues to resonate with me, my brothers and my own children. Over the years, Dad has shared a few stories of the missions he flew. He earned his wings to fly a B-24 bomber, also known as a Liberator, just after D-Day. By October, Dad and my mother married. He flew B-24s throughout 1944 and 1945 as a co-pilot in the U.S. Navy Reserve.
Dad said, “D-Day was a huge risk for the United States and even Churchill did not want to invade Normandy, but Roosevelt insisted. It was a tough battle from the beginning. We were so focused on training for what we thought would be the invasion of Japan that we had hardly a minute to think about the European Theater.
“On D-Day it was all for one and one for all. I was focused 24/7 on my own responsibilities. D-Day was a huge battle but we were training around the clock for what we thought would be a bigger battle.”
As a young pilot, dad and his buddies were eager to get into the action and to do their part for their country. The B-24s could carry a heavy bomb load, but it took a deft hand to control the lumbering aircraft at low speeds.
“Without hydraulics, it was like a barn with engines,” Dad said. “In early 1945, we got the PB4Y-2, (the Privateer), a much-improved, single-tailed version with hydraulic booster controls which made the plane much easier to fly on nine-hour anti-sub patrols. The original B-24 was very heavy on the controls, especially because of the high-wing loading of the long narrow Nordin wing. It was a real truck to fly.”
Dad was fortunate to return home after serving his country, where he went on to finish his education, start a family and enjoy a long and distinguished legal career. On days like this 75th anniversary, the bravery and the sacrifices made by countless Americans like him makes me realize how very lucky my brothers and I are that our father survived the war. It also makes us appreciate what other families suffered, lost and endured, especially on D-Day. Many families were never the same again.
The soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought for our country and for the freedom people around the globe truly have earned them their place as the Greatest Generation. The depth of their patriotism and their love for their country is humbling. Their lives stand as testimony to the enduring faith, determination and goodness of the American people. I thank my Dad and all those who served.
Peter Franchot is the 33rd Comptroller of Maryland.