The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois on June 5, 2004 · Page 12
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The Pantagraph from Bloomington, Illinois · Page 12

Bloomington, Illinois
Issue Date:
Saturday, June 5, 2004
Page 12
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A12 The Pantagraph Saturday, June 5, 2004 Precise D-Day death toll still elusive By John Leicester ASSOCIATED PRESS VIERVILLE-SUR-MER, France The exploits of D-Day have long been legend: the storming of the beaches, parachute drops into enemy territory. But 60 years later, the number of dead is still unclear. The chaos of battle and the vast scale of the assault thwarted attempts then and now to tally how many thousands were killed in the June 6, 1944, landings that sped Nazi Germany's defeat. Bodies disintegrated under bombs and shells. Soldiers drowned and disappeared. Company clerks who tallied casualties were killed. Records were lost. "Landing crafts were hit," said Ivy Agee, an 81-year-old from Gor-donsville, Tenn., who fought on Omaha Beach. "Bodies were flying everywhere. There was blood on the edge of the water, the beach was just running with pure blood." Historians say a definitive death toll will likely never be known. Even now, the Normandy soil for which soldiers fought so bitterly offers up new bodies. "Now and then, construction work unearths bones and skeletons from soldiers. This happens fairly often," said Fritz Kirchmeier, a spokesman for the German organization that tends the 80,000 graves for German soldiers in Normandy. Casualty estimates for Allied forces vary, but range from 2,500 to more than 5,000 dead on D-Day Adding to the confusion is that D-Day books and histo- "If you forget what , happened here then you're never going to improve things." Donald Null U.S. veteran ries often count wounded, missing and troops taken prisoner. On its Web site, the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, England, says an estimated 2,500 Allied troops died. The U.S. Army Center of Military History in Washington, D.C., numbers 6,036 American casualties, including wounded and missing. The Heritage Foundation in Washington estimates 4,900 dead. "It's very difficult to get accurate figures. People get buried. Bodies disintegrate. Evidence of the deaths disappeared. People drowned," said John Keegan, author of "Six Armies in Normandy: From D-Day to the Liberation of Paris." He estimates 2,500 Americans and 3,000 other Allied troops died on D-Day. More than 19,000 civilians in Normandy also died in Allied bombing before and after D-Day to soften up German defenses. And Allied air forces lost nearly 12,000 men in April and May 1944 in operations ahead of the invasion, the D-Day Museum says. Even as the ranks of veterans who t . -it - l " v:u ! ?' AP file photo British troops moved on the Normandy shore from their landing craft in this June 6, 1944, file photo during the D-Day invasion of German-occupied France. survived the assault and the push into Germany thin with time, work on tallying the dead continues. Carol Tuckwiller, director of research at the National D-Day Memorial Foundation in Bedford, Va., has spent four years combing through government, military and cemetery records for names of Allied dead on D-Day. She hopes to have a figure by next year. "We feel like we're probably going to end up with a total of about 4,500 fatalities for both the Americans and Allied countries. Right now, we have about 4,200 names confirmed," she said. "Of course we realize we may never be 100 percent complete." In all, some 160,000 men invaded Nazi-occupied France in the first wave, in three paratroop and six infantry divisions, tank and commando units. The invasion fleet was the biggest ar mada in history, with more than 5,000 ships and landing craft. That more troops were not killed is testimony lo the planning, training and overwhelming firepower of the Allies. - Sir Winston Churchill, Britain's wartime prime minister, "said to his wife before going to bed that he was afraid that when they woke up, more than 20,000 people would have been killed," said Andrew Whitmarsh, the D-Day Museum's military historian. "The low casualty rates show the success of the Allied plan of attack.". , Calculating German casualties is even harder. The D-Day Museum says the number is not known but is estimated at 4,000-9,000. Kirchmeier at the German graves commission said many records were destroyed in the Allied bombing of Berlin. D-Day marked only the start of the battle of Normandy, which claimed many more lives as troops fought in the region's hedgerows over the next three months. More than 425,000 Allied and German troops were killed, wounded or went missing, the D-Day Museum says. The American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach holds the remains of 9,383 servicemen and four women, their white gravestones a permanent reminder of war's terrible costs. '. "If you forget what happened here then you're never going to improve things. It's never going to get any better," Donald Null, an 80-year-old veteran from Frederick, Md., said as he visited the American Cemetery. "You must keep it alive." U.S. vets in Paris to receive French honor By Beth Gardiner ASSOCIATED PRESS PARIS With armfuls of gifts, France on Friday welcomed back American veterans who helped free Europe from Nazi occupation when they landed on Normandy's beaches 60 years ago. One hundred former World War II fighters saluted and waved as they climbed off a chartered Air France plane that brought them from Washington, D.C., to receive France's highest honor at D-Day anniversary commemorations this weekend. Several leaned on canes as they walked down a red carpet on the tarmac at Charles De Gaulle Airport outside Paris. Many wore military caps and medals on their chests, some toted video cameras and all placed . hands over their hearts when a French military band played "The Star-Spangled Banner." They sang along, too, to "La Marseillaise," the French national anthem, whose words they had practiced on the flight. "I'm really humbled by the whole thing," said Rocco Moret-to, 79, of the New York City borough of Queens. "The buddies that we left behind were the real heroes. I often think of them." French Veterans Minister Hamjaoui Mekachera promised the Americans they'd find a warm, grateful welcome here. "For the French people of 2004, just like for the French people of 1944 ... you are true heroes," he said. "We are fully aware of what we owe you, we have not forgotten the immense sacrifices that you have made for the liberation of our country." 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