As troops from the United States and allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago, Appanoose County boys played their part.
Called to serve their country as young men, Centerville native John Koestner, who ran radio equipment in a plane overhead, gave the command for paratroopers to drop below. Koestner ordered paratroopers to drop towards land, amidst nervousness that the D-Day invasion would again be canceled.
It was canceled once, on June 5, 1944, due to weather. With communications jammed by the Germans and weather questionable, Koestner hoped the rescheduled invasion of June 6, 1944 — 75 years ago today — was still on.
Koestner and four other Appanoose County men took direct part in the invasion. Koestner was overheard, signaling other aircraft as they entered the drop zone. The others stormed the beaches below.
As he headed back to England, Koestner knew the invasion was certainly on. He flew over thousands of ships headed toward the beaches.
“They were so thick, it looked like you could step ship-to-ship back to England.” He likened planes and troop gliders on their way toward France below as a “huge flock of geese.”
Moulton native Richard Southern was among the first to enter the water and the first off his ship. He was to be second, but his lieutenant was killed as they were preparing to leave the ship on the invasion.
Southern transcended a rope into the water. They had department near a sandbar. The water began waist-deep but became chest-deep before he ultimately hit the shore. The whole time carrying equipment, including a 29-pound radio.
Among the first wave from Appanoose County were Cincinnati’s James Lee Harrington and Mystic’s Joe Coats. Soon after, Centerville’s Robert McGuire landed and fought across the beach inland.
As soldiers transcended inland, it was Coats who was in charge of guarding an ammunition barge overnight.
Udell’s Tom King responded to help soldiers invading at Utah beach. King was in the 634th Tank Division, and his assignment was the count the dead and wounded, according to an account in Enfys McMurry’s book “Centerville: A Mid-American Saga.”
Moulton’s Elvin Jay arrived by late afternoon; dead bodies lay all over the beach front.
“We just had to go through them, and do what we came for,” he said in an account written by McMurry.
Southern and McGuire moved south and west from Omaha, while King and Mystic’s Roy Davis moved toward the Cotentin Peninsula.
The S.S. William pepper, carrying ammunition, included Unionville brothers Donald and Bob Cross.
In a letter to his parents, Mystic’s Roy Davis, a first-class private, wrote that he “could see the Germans coming out of their foxholes all over the place with their hands up.”
Harrington died after being pulled underwater as he headed toward the Normandy beaches. It was six months later before his death was confirmed to his parents. He was the first Appanoose County soldier killed in Normandy.
In Centerville, the town waited in a gasp for news from Normandy, according to McMurry.
They hugged their radios and waited for the delivery of the Centerville Daily Iowegian to bring them the latest accounts from the D-Day invasion.
“INVASION HOLDS!” screamed a headline int he Centerville Daily Iowegian on Tuesday, June 6. Their staff had stayed up through the night to report the latest to their readership.
The next day, “TROOPS ADVANCING INLAND” took up space below the Iowegian masthead.
Thursday, June 8’s Iowegian declared the first phase of invasion successful but warned of a counterattack from the Germans. The paper continued to cover the troops’ journey inland.