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WWII vet and Elton native, 103, honored in ceremony on D-Day’s 80th anniversary

Omaha Beach, Normandy, France (American Military News)

When Elton native Clyde W. Gindlesperger arrived at Omaha Beach on June 18, 1944, 12 days after D-Day, “a lot of the dead had been cleaned up,” he said Thursday.

About 2,000 men died on Omaha Beach during the U.S. Army’s initial invasion of Normandy in Nazi Germany-occupied France, and there was plenty of death remaining in the area.

“There were German soldiers laying dead in the ditches, and dead cows everywhere,” Gindlesperger, 103, said during a program Thursday at Arbutus Park Retirement Community in Richland Township to honor him and mark the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

D-Day anniversary haunted by dwindling number of veterans and shadowed by Europe’s new war

As young soldiers they waded ashore in Normandy through gunfire to fight the Nazis. A dwindling number of World War II veterans were joined by a new generation of leaders Thursday to honor the dead, the living and the fight for democracy in moving commemorations on and around those same beaches where they landed exactly 80 years ago on D-Day.

Medical teams were still treating the wounded, but Gindlesperger did not have time to dwell on it.

His infantry unit from Camp Edwards, Massachusetts, had trained to use anti-aircraft weapons and was there to get their guns off the boats and set them up to protect a makeshift airfield set up near what would become the first U.S outpost in Europe.

Remembering D-Day: Key facts and figures about the invasion that changed the course of World War II

The June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion of Nazi-occupied France was unprecedented in scale and audacity, using the largest-ever armada of ships, troops, planes and vehicles to punch a hole in Adolf Hitler’s defenses in western Europe and change the course of World War II.

As the Army moved through France, Gindlesperger’s unit was right behind, defending temporary landing strips to support the troops.

“We were 10 miles from the Battle of the Bulge,” he said, referring to a major turning point in World War II. The battle started with a surprise German attack in northern France on Dec. 16, 1944, and lasted a month.

D-Day’s 80th anniversary brings World War II veterans back to the beaches of Normandy

World War II veterans are joining heads of state and others on the beaches of Normandy to commemorate the 80th anniversary of D-Day. The Allied invasion, which began on June 6, 1944, led to the defeat of the Nazis and the end of the war. The assault began with Allied aircraft bombing German defenses in Normandy, followed by around 1,200 aircraft that carried airborne troops. As dawn broke, Allied forces started bombing German coastal defenses and shortly after that vessels began putting troops ashore on five codenamed beaches: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword. By the end of the day, nearly 160,000 Allied troops had landed in Normandy. There were thousands of casualties. Few witnesses to history’s biggest amphibious invasion remain alive today.

Gindlesperger’s unit continued protecting airfields from enemy fire in Belgium and Germany until the end of the war, when they were returned to Boston and had dinner at midnight. From there, they were taken to Fort Indiantown Gap near Harrisburg and officially discharged with a big party.

Former Cambria County Commissioner Douglas Lengenfelder spoke Thursday about the bravery of Gindlesperger, as well as the 157,000 troops who landed on D-Day.

“Troops like Clyde were willing to give up their lives to maintain the things that our country enjoys,” he said. “Can you imagine 157,000 men hitting that beach? But they did it, and they did a great job of it and the world changed.”

In France, D-Day evokes both the joys of liberation and the pain of Normandy’s 20,000 civilian dead

The 80th anniversary this week of the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion on D-Day that punched through Hitler’s western defenses and helped precipitate Nazi Germany’s surrender 11 months later brings mixed emotions for French survivors of the Battle of Normandy.

Gindlesperger was never injured in battle, but likes to point out that he was seriously injured after returning to Johnstown and getting a job at Bethlehem Steel Corp. A stack of steel bars fell on him, breaking both his legs. He was taken to the hospital for two weeks to recover.

Gindlesperger said he did not join the Army with thoughts of heroism or patriotism.

“I was drafted. I had to go,” he said. “The whole class from Forest Hills went to the army – all my buddies from high school.”

‘The first wave went through hell’ – how the 16th Infantry Regiment’s heroism helped bring victory on D-Day

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

When he returned home, he was proud of his service and continues to be, saying, “I was proud to fight for my country.”


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