Col. Larkin "Bill" Vance was serving in another part of the world at the time, but he recalls the Allied D-Day invasion in Europe on June 6, 1944.
“The casualties taking place on the U.S. side was horrific,” said the Hall County man, who walks in uniform in Gainesville’s annual Memorial Day parade. “We all understood that, and (Allied fighters) were willing to pay the price.”
He also recalled U.S. fighters in the Pacific Theater — where Vance was based — having the attitude of “OK, fine, the war is over, and we’ll go home.”
“It wasn’t (over),” Vance added.
D-Day was the beginning of the end for Hitler. The German military, which had overrun the continent, had put up stiff defenses on the beachheads at Normandy, France, in preparing for the Allied onslaught.
But the Allies gained a foothold and would go on to press inward and defeat Germany in the spring of 1945. And, as Vance noted, Japan, Germany’s ally in the war, would continue fighting in the Pacific, surrendering in September 1945.
Just how many from Hall County fought — and died — at Normandy, France, where the D-Day invasion took place along a 50-mile stretch of fortified coastline, is hard to determine, but there were several who have shared their stories over the years.
One of those was Cecil Boswell, who preceded Vance in walking every year in Gainesville’s annual Memorial Day parade wearing the same Army uniform he wore when he was discharged.
He was part of the second wave invading Normandy on D-Day. Boswell, who died in 2017, gave several interviews through the years and was especially patriotic, flying a U.S. flag from his front porch and displaying a glass case containing his Army medals on his living room wall.
“When I came into Normandy … there was still some boys laying around on the banks who had been killed,” Boswell said in an August 2015 interview. “When we hit the beach, we got organized and hit the frontlines … there were a lot of close calls.”
Another local war hero on D-Day was 1st Lt. James “Jim” DeLong of the U.S. Army Air Force.
Flying on his B-26 Marauder, a twin-engine medium bomber, he headed for the beaches of northern France early that morning.
“We were just ahead of the landings,” said the Gainesville native in a 2009 interview. “The ships were all in place. We could see them as we went over at various altitudes.”
He also could recall flying conditions.
“We just had daylight and could see the ground. ... We had to go through so much bad weather to reach our target,” said DeLong.
“But it was clearing down there. From the base, we took off in almost zero visibility and climbed to 9,000 feet. ... By the time we got there, to where we could see each other, there were planes everywhere and trying to get back into formations.”
Meanwhile, back on the homefront, life in Gainesville kept going in routine, ordinary ways. Main Street was about to get a coat of asphalt. Scout Camp was about to start.
And yet there was also fear and uncertainty mixed with patriotic fervor.
“Tuesday was a solemn day in Gainesville,” states an article in the Gainesville News on June 8 — the earliest the newspaper published after D-Day. “No one felt like doing business as usual. Their hearts, their minds and their prayers were with the soldiers invading Europe.”
The days leading up to the invasion were tense, especially for the military but also for loved ones back home.
“Everybody knew Europe was going to be invaded — that was the whole point of the war,” said Glen Kyle, managing director of the Northeast Georgia History Center in Gainesville, in a 2014 interview.
“Everyone on the home front who had a loved one in England (the invasion’s base) knew the odds were they were going to be a part of it,” he said. “And knowing that it was coming, they were all just waiting for that day when the announcement would come that the invasion had started.
“And they knew their sons, husbands, fathers, brothers would be in harm’s way.”