JUNE 6, 1944: On that morning the initial assault fleet of nearly 6,000 ships put out from a dozen different English ports. Their targets were five beaches on the Normandy coast. These were given code names: From east to west, three beaches the target for the British: Sword, Juno and Gold; two for the Americans: Omaha and Utah. Among the initial invasion forces that first day were boys from Appanoose County and for five of them: Joe Coates, Bob McGuire, Richard Southern, James Lee Harrington and Ray Simmons — the unarmed 7th Day Adventist — were about to face what has come to be known as Bloody Omaha.
Waiting at an airfield in a Pathfinder C-47 Paratroop Transport Aircraft was radio operator John Koestner (Kris and Cindy’s father). Near midnight, 13,000 paratroopers, faces blackened, the equipment of each weighing 85-105 pounds were driven to the airfields to board the waiting Pathfinders. Among them, one of the 82nd, “All American” Airborne Division, was a paratrooper from Mystic: Harold Parris. John Koestner’s Pathfinder C-47, arrived over the French coast, greeted, he said, by what looked like a “Fourth of July celebration” of tracer shells and searchlights. In the 45-minute journey, John had been tensely listening to his radio, fearful that the invasion had been called off for a second time. The Germans were jamming the radio signals, and John was terrified at the thought of his three planes dropping U.S. paratroopers when there was no back-up. Nearing the target, he moved to a window to signal with a green flashing light that his and the two other C-47 aircraft were over the drop zone.
It was the return flight to England, that John Koestner would never forget. The clouds had cleared, and 8,500 feet beneath him lay the Allied invasion fleet. “They were so thick, it looked like you could step ship-to-ship back to England,” and between John’s aircraft and the ships were thousands of planes and troop gliders all flying towards France, looking, he said, “like a huge flock of geese.”