June 5, 1944 as men were loading gear into their packs, strapping on parachutes, and signing their federal insurance policies for their families, they were each given a piece of paper beginning with these words-
Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force!
You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you.
Most likely very few that day would understand the gravity of the mission they were given. All they were doing was following orders. Very few knew the destination until this night, but even so they were ready.
The overarching plan for D-Day was called “Operation Overlord”. This plan included the air, paratroop, sea, and land invasion by the Allied forces on June 6; however, as each individual unit had to play its part (land, air, and sea), these forces had individual code names for their own operations.
One such codename was “Operation Neptune”.
“Operation Neptune” was the codename for the naval invasion of the Normandy coast. This included all branches of Allied Navy including the U.S. Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard was critical to the proper execution of the “Operation Neptune” and consequently the success of “Operation Overlord” as a whole.
One of the key jobs on D-Day was manning the vessels which would deliver the infantry troops on the beaches. These Coast Guardsman would be placed at the head of the LCVP (Higgin’s Boat) driving them a few hundred feet out from the coast and dropping the door so the men could run out onto the beaches.
Sadly, because the sandbars confused the distance and the men were overloaded with packs, as they were running from the Higgins boats to the shoreline, they sunk in the deeper water.
A lot of the casualties occurred due to this miscalculation, however, it would have been even more if it were not for the Coast Guard patrol.
The Coast Guard not only drove the Higgin’s boats, but they also manned the cutters. Cutters were 83 ft long boats that would act as patrol craft to rescue these drowning soldiers from the English Channel.
One such Coast Guardsman was William Duncan. Duncan signed up for the Coast Guard shortly
after America entered World War Two. He was assigned to the East Coast initially. He was then sent to England to prepare for the D-Day invasion. The night of June 5, he was in his cutter traveling across the English Channel to the Normandy beaches. It was his job, his mission, to rescue the men who were struggling between the Higgin’s boat and the beaches.
Countless men were saved by Duncan as he patrolled along Omaha Beach. He was on the Channel from midnight on June 5 to around 5:00 in the evening on June 6.
When he got home, he never talked about the war or all the men he saved. But soldiers on Omaha are alive because of his service.
So today, on this “Day of Days”, remember the men like William Duncan who put away their dreams of tomorrow to give us our dreams of today.