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  • Friday, June 06, 2014

    Legion Salutes D-Day Vets

    While world leaders and veterans — including national American Legion Commander Daniel Dellinger — gathered in Normandy, France to commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, American Legion Posts around New York State marked the occasion in a number of ways — from holding memorial services to saluting the World War II vets in their midst.

    Ken Governor

    Commander Ken Governor

    In a D-Day message, Department of New York Commander Kenneth Governor referred to the “indomitable spirit of American fighters” — both then and today.

    “Within five days,” Governor said, “326,547 men, 54,186 vehicles, and 104,428 tons of stores were brought ashore over the beaches of the Normandy coast during the worst June weather on the English Channel in 20 years. These bloodied beaches were bought and paid for at a terrible price…

    “We owe a great deal to the thousands who unselfishly gave up their lives so the world would be freed of oppression.”

    Like many posts, Utica Post 229 in Utica (Oneida County) took the opportunity to salute its WWII members at a dinner June 5, particularly D-Day veteran Phil Capraro.

    Phil Capraro

    Phil Capraro recounts D-Day experience for TV news reporter. (Photo by Bob Stronach)

    After landing at “Omaha Beach” in Normandy during a second wave, Capraro was wounded three times, Post 229 Commander Chris Urban noted. The first was a bullet to the right leg while he was still in the water on the beach. Medics bandaged his leg, but he refused to return to the boat. A few months later at the Siegfried Line, he was bayoneted in the shoulder in hand-to-hand combat. A medic sewed him up and again he refused to go home. The third time was at the Battle of the Bulge where he was literally blown out of his machine gun placement by artillery and tank rounds. He was left for dead. Soldiers readying a body bag put a mirror up to his nose and saw he was still breathing. Capraro woke up in a hospital in Paris, suffering memory loss. Eventually a medic friend from Utica recognized him. But he still refused to go home. Capraro received three purple hearts, and for helping his company capture 200 Germans, he was awarded two Bronze Stars.

    Urban presented Capraro with a plaque to commemorate his D-Day service.

    Capraro, who turns 90 on June 8, paid tribute to his wife of 66 years for being there for him as he dealt with pains and trauma of war that continued long after the world conflict had ended.

    National Commander Dan Dellinger

    American Legion National Commander Daniel M. Dellinger and American Legion Auxiliary National President Nancy Brown-Park presented a memorial wreath during ceremonies at the Normandy American Cemetery as part of the events commemorating the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion. (Photo by Jeff Stoffer)

    Urban went on to recount some D-Day facts and statistics:

    An invading army had not crossed the unpredictable, dangerous English Channel since 1688 — and once the massive force set out, there was no turning back.

    Nearly 5,000 transport vessels stretched as far as the eye could see, transporting over 150,000 men and nearly 30,000 vehicles across the channel to the French beaches.
    195,00 naval personnel manned 6,939 naval vessels, including 1,200 warships and 15 hospital ships.

    Six parachute regiments — over 13,000 men — were flown from nine British airfields in over 800 planes. More than 300 planes dropped 13,000 bombs over coastal Normandy immediately in advance of the invasion.

    Until the very last minute, the place of invasion — Normandy — was the most heavily guarded secret on the planet.

    Even the units conducting the initial assaults did not know the location of their landings.
    Surprise was crucial since Germany had 55 divisions in France. The Allies could transport no more than 8 divisions on D-Day morning.

    It is estimated that nearly 2 million soldiers, sailors and airmen were involved in D-Day’s Operation Overlord, including U.S., British and Canadians who were scheduled to fight after men on the ground secured a Normandy bridgehead.

    The United States shipped 7 million tons of supplies. Of those supplies, ammunition accounted for 448,000 tons.

    By nightfall on June 6, more than 9,000 Allied soldiers were dead or wounded, but more than 100,000 had made it ashore, securing French coastal villages. And within weeks, supplies were being unloaded at Utah and Omaha beachheads at the rate of over 20,000 tons per day.

    Captured Germans were sent to American prison of war camps at the rate of 30,000 a month from D-Day (June 6, 1944) until Christmas 1944. Thirty three detention facilities were in Texas alone.

    Five years before he died, General Dwight Eisenhower visited Normandy. It was the first, and only, time he made that journey after the war. Looking over Omaha Beach, he spoke from his heart:

    “…these men came here — British and our allies, and Americans — to storm these beaches for one purpose only, not to gain anything for ourselves, not to fulfill any ambitions that America had for conquest, but just to preserve freedom… Many thousands of men have died for such ideals as these… but these young boys…were cut off in their prime… I devoutly hope that we will never again have to see such scenes as these. I think and hope, and pray, that humanity will have learned…we must find some way…to gain an eternal peace for this world.”