D-Day + 68 Years

Sonnie Kirtley of the Coalition of Greater Scottsdale sent out this reminder today:

Good Morning, Special thank you to everyone who remembers the significance of June 6th, 1944—68 yrs ago. It was the British-American-Canadian invasion of Normandy, France that if failed would have changed our 2012 world that we know today. Need a refresher?—Open this link:          http://memory.loc.gov/ammem/today/jun06.html

Lt George Pillmore

Lt. Col. Mike Kelly (USMC Retired) told me about a special presentation today at the Mustang Library by Scottsdale’s own George Pillmore. Lt. Pillmore was the XO (executive officer) aboard US Navy LCT 614. “LCT” is Navy-talk for “Landing Craft, Tank,” the function of which is evident from the name. George’s daughter, Kerry Fiske, is a librarian at Mustang.

George, his skipper, and their crew were in the second wave of the assault on Omaha Beach. In 2004 he was one of 100 vets honored as guests of the French government for ceremonies in Paris and on the Normandy coast commemorating the invasion.

One of the most telling of George’s comments was the fact that his first time in command of a ship was pushing away from the dock at the south of England for the cross-channel transit to Normandy. The skipper wanted to sleep so he’d be rested for the next morning’s action!

Another standout moment of the presentation was George’s schoolboy memory of a visit to his grammar school by a Civil War veteran. George put this in perspective by reminding us that as much time elapsed between the Civil War and that moment, as from D-Day to today.

One of the most personally rewarding things I’ve ever done is interviewing Scottsdale’s Charles Poston and his compatriots of the 1st Air Commando Group for the upcoming documentary, “Project 9, To Hell with the Paperwork.”

In addition to the vital work the Air Commandos did in helping to push the Japanese back out of Burma, they also pioneered many tactics that continue to influence the employment of air power today. One of their accomplishments was the first-ever invasion of enemy territory solely from the air…mostly with gliders. Unit commanders Phil Cochran and John Allison were subsequently called to Southern England to help with preparations for the D-Day glider landings.

George, Charles and too few others represent our last direct connection to the events of the greatest conflict in our history. Days like the anniversary of the D-Day invasion give us an opportunity to connect with that watershed moment.

Please, look for the ball cap insignias or lapel pins that are proudly-but-quietly worn by our veterans, and ask them to tell you about their service. You won’t regret it…unless you don’t ask.

Also in the Republic this week was a poignant story about the recent recovery of remains of a local Air Force  pilot shot down in Vietnam, and the return to his family.

Chuck Walling was born in Phoenix, graduated from Camelback High School, and played baseball for Arizona State University. He was shot down in 1966 and rescuers were unable to get to the crash site at that time.

My friend Bob Jones at Quality Transmission in Tempe was an F-4 pilot in the sister unit to Walling’s at the same base, and today played for me the audio tape of a rescue in which he participated a few years later. Fortunately, his squadron mate and back-seater were successfully recovered. It’s spooky to listen to those old tapes.

Chuck Walling’s remains will be interred by sons Jeff and Mike at Arlington National Cemetery next week.

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