America’s heroes who fell during the D-day invasion 50 years ago received special recognition at Memorial Day ceremonies at El Toro Memorial Park, where about 200 people gathered to honor the nation’s war dead.
Held under a warm, muggy sky, the hourlong ceremony honored all veterans who died fighting in the nation’s wars.
However, the living and deceased veterans of World War II--described as “Our sons, pride of our nation” by wartime President Franklin D. Roosevelt--were singled out for praise and thanks as the nation commemorates the 50th anniversary of D-day.
Several dozen aging warriors, many wearing caps from local Veterans of Foreign Wars posts, honored their fallen comrades, whose young faces have never faded from memory. The bonding between the living and the dead remains as strong today as half a century ago, when they went into harm’s way.
This year’s ceremony had a special significance for Norbert Blaskowski, 73, of Lake Forest. Blaskowski, a Pennsylvania native and D-day survivor, said this was the first Memorial Day ceremony he has attended.
“It was something I had to do. My younger brother was killed in Bavaria in 1945, five days before the war ended,” he said.
Blaskowski, who was 23 at the time, went ashore unscathed at Normandy with the 4th Infantry Division. The division landed at Utah Beach, where German resistance, while stiff, was not as fierce as that faced by the 1st Infantry Division at Omaha Beach.
But Blaskowski’s luck ran out on July 27, 1944, when U.S. troops who had battled inland from the beaches broke through at the French town of St. Lo and begin chasing the retreating Germans across Europe. On that day, Blaskowski was seriously wounded in a mine explosion.
Ten months later, Blaskowski said, while he was in England recovering from his wounds, he received a telegram telling him that his younger brother had been killed in action while fighting with the 3rd Infantry Division. Less than a week later, Germany surrendered.
“My brother is buried in Europe, and I can’t be there. But today is special, and I feel like I am honoring him. It’s a good feeling knowing that some people still appreciate what we did 50 years ago,” Blaskowski said.
Several people in attendance shed quiet tears during the ceremony as speakers offered words of praise for the servicemen and women who died while in uniform. One elderly woman stood alone at the back, tears streaming down her cheeks, when one speaker mentioned those who died in the Vietnam War.
At least two Gold Star mothers in attendance lost sons in Vietnam.
Betty Horner’s son, Carl Nicholas M. Horner, was a paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division. He died Sept. 7, 1968, about a month before his 21st birthday.
Janet Franks, who helped arrange the Memorial Day ceremony, lost her son, Barry Richard Franks, on Jan. 17, 1969. Franks, a Marine, was 22 when he died in Quang Tri Province. Janet Franks said her son, who volunteered for duty in Vietnam, was in his final day there when the helicopter he was in crashed while flying him and other Marines to Danang.
“I go through a few tears and sadness,” said Janet Franks. “But I also have a great deal of pride. In one of his last letters, Barry talked about how proud he was doing what he believed in. That’s a good feeling for a mother to have.”
Janet Franks opened Monday’s ceremony by telling the audience that when a soldier falls in battle, a part of his mother’s soul also dies with him. “When a soldier dies, he does not die alone,” she said.