Remembering D-Day — The 6th of June 1944
By Edita McQuary
On that day in 1944 more than 166,000 troops -73,000 American, 83,115 British and Canadian, as well as troops from Australia, Belgium, Free France, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Poland — landed on the five-mile stretch of beaches in Normandy, France. These were the Allied Forces and this was the beginning of the end for Germany’s Nazi regime.
Freedom is not free. “The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 allied soldiers were killed or wounded but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.”*
Retired Watsonville teacher Esther Jessee, daughter of Lt. Edward Johnson and his wife, Lei Johnson, was five years old living on Oahu during the attack on Pearl Harbor, welcomed veterans and guests. She and her older brother watched Japanese planes fly overhead during the attack.
Their father was a yeoman on the U.S.S. Indianapolis which fortunately was deployed out of Pearl Harbor that fateful day. She is the last of the local Pearl Harbor survivors and has been instrumental in keeping up the tradition of Pearl Harbor Survivors meeting on December 7th each year commemorating the day.
Frank Nigro, local businessman with a family naval history, called the meeting to order with the pledge of allegiance. Retired Pastor Glenn Johnson of Santa Cruz gave the invocation which was followed by introductions. Attendees included Gary Sorenson and his sister Ingrid Larsen, son and daughter of the late Erick Sorenson, founder of the local Pearl Harbor Veterans Commemoration, who passed away in 2010.
World War II veterans were retired local teacher Gene Johnson, who served in the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters and Ray Burgess, who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Europe. They have some interesting stories.
Retired Watsonville High School history teacher Jim Hagan commented how amazing it was that more than three times the current population of Watsonville stormed the beaches of Normandy that fateful day. Pastor Johnson related how in World War I his father’s ship was torpedoed and he and his fellow mates bailed for hours before they were rescued.
Vietnam War veteran, Wayne Fort, had uncles in the Pacific theater and his cousin was one of the first women in the Women’s Auxiliary Corps to teach pilots to fly during World War II.
A small group of people, but some very moving accounts of historical and personal events — a reminder of what America did for the world by winning the war in 1945.