Somewhere on the coast of the English Channel, 73 years ago today, was my father, Garland Crook, a 19-year-old from the piney hills of Mississippi.
He joined the U.S. Army at 17, not long after the attack on Pearl Harbor. His mother had to sign a document to allow him to join up at so young an age. Eventually, he was sent to England, and on the night of June 5, 1944, was boarding a ship as a soldier in the largest coastal invasion in history, Operation Overlord. He was one of those you see in the films, on Omaha Beach the next day, June 6. He survived.
This photo was taken later in France, made into a postcard and sent to his Ma and Papa Crook (Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Asberry Crook, known to all in Attalla County (Miss.) and environs as Miss Sally and Mr. “Berry”). I have that postcard and the back of the postcard reads: “To Ma + Papa, Love Garland, Somewhere in France, 160 pounds.” This was, of course, all that he could tell them. He was the eldest of nine children, and my aunts and uncles have told me they remember when that postcard arrived at their home in Mississippi, likely the first word they had that he was alive.
About a month after he survived Omaha Beach, he and a buddy were in a convoy of supply trucks, and knowing that a passing German plane had spotted them, they ran for cover before the German plane dropped a bomb. But they didn’t get very far. More or less, no trace of his buddy could be found.
Daddy recovered and was then assigned to drive the car of General John C. H. Lee (lieutenant general in charge of Theater Service Forces, European Theater), and thus Daddy was witness to much more history from that day until the German surrender.
With the general, he had Christmas dinner with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor somewhere in France. And with the general, he attended the funeral of Gen. George Patton, who died in Germany in a car accident.
Then, World War II was over, and he went home to Mississippi, returning to the Army shortly thereafter for a career, which included service in Korea — twice, once for the conflict and once in the late 1960s — and Okinawa during the Vietnam War — where he was allowed to bring his young family for a great adventure.
We occasionally talked about going back to France with him, but careers, houses, children and well, just life, you know, got in the way. We never have stopped honoring him, and when attending parades and the like, we always stand up when the color guard comes by, saddened by those around us who cannot be bothered to do so or have not been taught. I am old enough that I remember honoring the veterans of World War I in the color guard, the “war to end all wars.”
During the 50th anniversary events of D-Day, much as so many of that generation did, my father finally started to tell me these stories, as I, the history geek, began to find time to read books like “D-Day, June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II” by Stephen Ambrose. So it was that Daddy’s oral history of this time is in my files.
He lives in my town and we are blessed to have had him so very long in our lives.
This is my homage — to all who were there that day, to all who were home doing everything they could to support them, to my Mom and her North Dakota Victory garden, to rationing, to doing completely without and to all the lost souls of the wars.
This is for the generations after, so they know these stories. If you are interested in learning more about D-Day, this is an excellent website by the U.S. Army.