On the top shelf of my bookcase sits a small fruit jar. It is half full of tan colored, fine sand, almost powdery. It doesn’t look like much, but, 73 years ago, this sand lay in the center of the universe and was about to witness the most important event in the 20th century.
From the Waxahachie Daily Light May 4, 1944, “Alarms Here to Herald Invasion; First word in Waxahachie of the invasion of Europe will set off a noisy alarm that will notify the public in a loud way. This announcement was made today by the President and Secretary of the Waxahachie Chamber of Commerce after completing the arrangements for the alarm. It was known from expressions of many citizens that this service would be much desired, as wire reports indicate that the invasion might come almost any day now, and people are eager to learn of it the moment it takes place. They said that fine cooperation had been extended. The fire alarm is to be rung and whistles of various industrial plants located here are to be sounded.”
The country had been building towards this day for over two years. There was much anticipation and anxiousness in the hearts and minds of everyone. Hundreds of young Ellis County servicemen and women had been preparing in England for many months. The future of Western Civilization depended on them, and the time was almost at hand.
Many would man the 11,000 warplanes flying on that morning. Others stationed onboard the 1,200 combat ships that would sail into battle on that day. Still, others were aboard the more than 800 merchant ships that would sail into harm’s way on that stormy morning. Other young men from Ellis County would parachute into the dark skies above Nazi-occupied Normandy, while many others would ride on the thousands of landing craft headed for Utah and Omaha beach.
Young men from Forreston, Boyce, Ovilla and across Ellis County, hundreds of them, were about to cross the English Channel and into the pages of history.
There was an unyielding possibility that many of them would perish in the attempt. General Eisenhower had even written a statement to be read in case of their failure. The thoughts and prayers of all of Waxahachie and all of Ellis County were with them. This indeed was going to be a day of days.
The morning of the invasion, this statement was delivered, “Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Forces: You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world…
Your task will not be an easy one. Your enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle-hardened. He will fight savagely.
I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We will accept nothing less than full victory!
Good Luck! And let us all beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower
In Waxahachie, shortly before 4 a.m., the community was awakened by the fire alarm and factory sirens. It brought lights into the windows of a great number of homes across the city. Although the public had been expecting this and was somewhat in readiness for the signal, people are never quite prepared for such a momentous occurrence.
From the Daily Light Tuesday, June 6th, “With prayers in their hearts for the victory and for the welfare of the American boys and allies, Waxahachians today went about their workaday tasks preoccupied and many of them, after they had gone to the churches of their choice and offered up supplication to Almighty God for the liberation of the coerced and for the safety of those who are fighting for freedom…
Many Waxahachie and Ellis County boys, of course, were in the great throng of armed forces that for a long while have been poised in England for the second front. Naturally, the friends and relatives of the servicemen and servicewomen in the British Isles were the most deeply and grippingly concerned by the news of the invasion, although for that matter it was electrifying to everyone.”
Buddy Wilson was a young sergeant from Mt. Peak. He served in the Army Air Corps as the radio operator on board a B-24 bomber. His squadron was on its way that morning to bomb the enemy lines in support of the men landing on the beaches.
Jessie Cleveland was a young Corporal from Ennis. He served with the Army Engineers and was with the first waves to land on Omaha beach. His assignment was to blow the beach obstacles and help to clear a path for the soldiers that would follow him.
Neither Buddy nor Jessie survived that day to ever know whether the invasion had succeeded. Sgt. Wilson’s plane went down in the channel after colliding with another plane in the early morning darkness. Cpl. Cleveland perished in the blood stained red surf of Omaha Beach — the scene of unspeakable carnage and sacrifice.
Many others followed them. Thousands more followed, all of them afraid, but they overcame their fears and did what had to be done.
By the end of the day, 73,000 Americans had fought their way across the bloody beaches or parachuted in behind enemy lines. Their bravery and determination were nothing short of awe-inspiring.
Their mission was enormous.
The bold attack was a tremendous risk, and the outcome hung in the balance for several hours. Ultimately, it succeeded because of individual soldiers' bravery in combat and, by the middle of the afternoon, Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was broken. D-Day was a triumph of intelligence, coordination, secrecy, and planning. But more than anything else, courage and initiative came to the fore.
Valor had never witnessed a finer hour.
By sundown of June 6, over 3,000 young Americans had given their lives in the battle. Many thousands more were wounded. All in all, it was somewhat of a miracle that Ellis County lost only these two young men on that day, the longest day.
Maybe it was good luck, maybe it was good planning, or maybe something else helped to decide the outcome that day. Maybe it was the flood of prayers from Waxahachie, Ellis County, and all across the country.
That day President Roosevelt addressed the nation on the radio.
“My Fellow Americans," the President began. "Last night, when I spoke with you about the fall of Rome, I knew at that moment that troops of the United States and our Allies were crossing the Channel in another and greater operation. It has come to pass with success thus far.
"And so, in this poignant hour, I ask you to join with me in prayer: Almighty God: Our sons, pride of our nation, this day have set upon a mighty endeavor, a struggle to preserve our Republic, our religion, and our civilization, and to set free a suffering humanity.
"Lead them straight and true; give strength to their arms, stoutness to their hearts, steadfastness in their faith.
"They will need Thy blessings. Their road will be long and hard. For the enemy is strong. He may hurl back our forces. Success may not come with rushing speed, but we shall return again and again; and we know that by Thy grace, and by the righteousness of our cause, our sons will triumph.
"They will be sore tried, by night and by day, without rest — until the victory is won. The darkness will be rent by noise and flame. Men's souls will be shaken with the violence’s of war.
"For these men are lately drawn from the ways of peace. They fight not for the lust of conquest. They fight to end conquest. They fight to liberate. They fight to let justice arise, and tolerance and goodwill among all Thy people. They yearn but for the end of battle, for their return to the haven of home.
"Some will never return. Embrace these Father, and receive them, Thy heroic servants, into Thy kingdom…With Thy blessing, we shall prevail over the unholy forces of our enemy... Lead us to the saving of our country... Thy will be done, Almighty God. Amen.”
Seventy-three years ago, a remarkable generation of Americans joined together as never before — or since — to fight the largest war in our history. For four years they rolled up their sleeves and committed themselves, entirely, to the cause as if nothing else mattered.
They were our parents, our grandparents, and our neighbors, and, if they hadn’t won, you would not enjoy the freedom to live the way you do today. I am reminded of them every time I look up at that small jar of tan colored sand from the day of days.
Sand from Omaha Beach.
Remember them on this sixth of June. They saved your world.