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Mail call: Family collecting letters for veteran on D-Day anniversary

A letter received in the mail. (MaxPixel/Released)

Garland Crook was at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, eight hours after the first wave of men attacked.

He saw the 50-mile stretch along France’s coastline littered with bodies, and told the Tribune in 2016 he knew then how important the battle had been.

When asked today about that fateful day, the 94-year-old says he feels “very blessed to have survived.”

“No movie or photograph can capture what D-Day was really like,” he said.

Garland Crook is one of a shrinking number of American World War II veterans. According to U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs figures collected by the National WWII Museum, 496,777 of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were alive in 2018. On average, 348 die each day.

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To commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day next week, Garland Crook’s family is planning an event and is soliciting letters for him. He entered a Mandan nursing home in November due to his ailing health.

“The 75th anniversary is a big deal. It’ll be the last big anniversary for any of the survivors, and I just think it’s such a pivotal event,” said Garland Crook’s daughter, Lillian Crook.

Though the number of WWII veterans is dwindling, his story and many others’ are memorialized in the Veterans History Project of the Library of Congress. Garland Crook conducted many of his own interviews with other veterans as part of the project, according to Lillian Crook.

“He thought it was very important. He put a lot of time into interviewing people himself,” she said.

Garland Crook joined the U.S. Army at 17, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was so young his mother had to fill out the paperwork.

After training on anti-aircraft guns, he was sent to England on the Queen Elizabeth. He served at an airbase there before he was ordered to the beaches of Normandy.

Days after he stormed Omaha Beach, Garland Crook was injured after a German fighter plane dropped a bomb on a vehicle he was in. The driver was killed and he was hospitalized for three days.

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Garland Crook went on to serve in the Korea and Vietnam wars. Like many other veterans, Lillian Crook said it took a while for her father to share his war experiences with his family.

“For a long, long time many veterans didn’t talk about their experiences. They came home and they were, in his case, still serving and had new conflicts come up and were involved in those,” she said. “I didn’t really hear him talk about it, either.”

It was around the 50th anniversary of D-Day, as well as the release of “Saving Private Ryan, when he started to open up, she said.

To recognize her father and other WWII veterans, Lillian Crook has decided to host an event at her father’s nursing home, Miller Pointe, at 6:30 p.m. on June 6.

She said she hopes to have the event’s speaker, Kevin Carvell, commander of the Mott American Legion, read a few of the letters sent to her father and then there will be WWII-related music played.

Letters for Garland Crook can be sent to Miller Pointe at 3500 21st St. S.E. in Mandan, ND 58554

The Bismarck AMVETS are also holding an event on June 6 for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. Adjutant Lyle Schuchart said it’s open to all WWII veterans and their families, and the event also aims to offer a special recognition to them.

The AMVETS event is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the Bismarck AMVETS Club, 2402 Railroad Ave. For more information, contact Schuchart at 701-391-9267.

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© 2019 The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, N.D.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.