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67 years afterward, D-Day still holds a deep meaning
Residents took part in pivotal battle
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Blood-stained beaches on a French coastline told a story in 1944. Nazi oppression of Europe had to end.

What does D-Day tell us today, or perhaps more profoundly, will it hold the same meaning when all those who fought in those horrific battles have passed into history themselves?

Some area ex-military personnel and historians say they believe such days pinned to World War II, history's bloodiest global conflict, won't fade so easily.

D-Day "was America's moment, really," said Glen Kyle, managing director of the Northeast Georgia History Center at Brenau University. "Even though we had been involved in the war for two years, that was the moment that defined our participation in that war."

Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily fortified Normandy coastline on June 6, 1944. More than 9,000 soldiers were killed or wounded, but the Allies gained a foothold and pressed forward to defeat Germany the following year.

"Aside from the patriotic aspects of it, D-Day is a great story," Kyle said.

Some area residents participated in the great military event, including James "Jim" DeLong, a Gainesville man who soared above Normandy in his B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine medium bomber.

In the Memorial Day parade in Gainesville last week, Art Lueptow of Oakwood was one of several World War II veterans who rode in cars along the route, with his vehicle featuring a sign that bore his name and just simply, "Normandy to Berlin."

Cecil Boswell, a Jackson County native who moved to Gainesville in 1925, was part of the second wave invading Normandy as part of D-Day operations.

"It had quieted down a whole lot, but there was stuff still going on," Boswell recalled in a May 2010 interview.

The 93-year-old has forged a Memorial Day parade tradition of walking the route in the U.S. Army uniform he wore when he was discharged after World War II.

"It would be a shame if all that goes to the wayside," said parade organizer Cheryl Vandiver.

She believes those ties to the past can be preserved through people who are actively interested, such as parade organizers and the history center.

"We're losing the veterans, but we're going to have their children around for some time," Kyle said. "And their children are going to help keep that alive, as well.

"I think that when that generation starts to pass
on, you're going to start to see somewhat of a lessening of observing those days ... and, God help us, bigger things start to loom in the present."

The Spanish-American War in 1898 was a huge event when it happened, Kyle said.

"It was the biggest thing in America since the Civil War," he said. "Now, when you mention it people, they say, ‘What? The Maine was sunk. We lost, right?'"

Actually, the U.S. won the brief war, which revolved around Cuban independence.

Gettysburg is an example of a battle that is sustained in people's memories, receiving new treatment in the national media as America observes the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War.

Fought in and around a small Pennsylvania village, it became the war's bloodiest battle, as the South tried — and failed — to bring an abrupt end to the North-South conflict.

"That particular event was a watershed mark for the Army ... and was really what turned the tide in the war for the North," said Scott Ballard, a Gainesville man who retired from the U.S. Marines after 25 years and serves now as a History Center volunteer.

"I think where D-Day is different than any other battle ... is that it was the first time that the U.S. really appeared on the world stage and became a world leader," he said.

Dave Dellinger, a Vietnam War veteran who has helped with the Memorial Day parade and in other patriotic efforts, said he believes those key World War II dates, which include Pearl Harbor and V-J Day, are as important as they ever were.

"People forget, especially as they get older," he said. "I think they have to be continuously reminded."

 

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