September 11, 2001

D-day veteran's observations of 9/11/01

 ... Memories of lost comrades in battle remain

by Irving Smolens

Editors note: The author served in B Battery, 29th Field Artillery, Fourth US Infantry Division. This article was written on the first anniversary of the Sept.11th '01 attacks. D-day in World War ll was 6th June 1944. The US Fourth Infantry Division landed on Utah Beach on the Normandy Coast southeast of Cherbourg at H-hour, 6:30 AM, on that day.

The guns are silent now. This photo of Irving Smolens was taken on May 7, 1945, just south of Munich, Germany and six miles from the Austrian border. Since the Germans had actually surrendered, the crew was able to leave the 105mm Howitzer unattended. The surrender documents were signed the next day; thus, May 8, 1945 officially became V-E Day.

I am a D-day veteran of the 4th Infantry Division who landed on Utah Beach and survived 11 months of combat as an artilleryman in 5 major campaigns in Western Europe. I will be attending a memorial service for the innocents who lost their lives in the tragic events of one year ago.

I must say though that having attended memorial services on the Veterans Day following September 11, I did not see any increase from previous years in the numbers attending those services. It seems much easier and more convenient to put flags on car antennas and paste flags on windows and put on bumper stickers that say "These Colors Don't Run." Also the gift that those of us gave to the country by our actions in WW II, the right to vote for our own leaders, is ignored by half the people to whom we provided that gift. It's just too inconvenient and not important enough.

Recently I and 11 other D-day veterans of my division were invited to Fort Hood by the commanding general of the division to commemorate the 58th Anniversary of D-day. As a parting gift we were all presented with a small pedestal clock with our division insignia on it. The general's aide, as he made the presentations, said that the clock was chosen because it represented all the additional hours of freedom we had given generations of Americans living and still to be born.

The picture of Edith and Irving with General Raymond Odierno was taken at the annual reunion of the National Fourth Infantry Division Association in Spokane, Washington at the end of September 2002. Irving had previously met the general when he was one of the general's invited guests at Fort Hood on June 6. That invitation had been extended to eleven D-day veterans so that they would be present at a 58th commemoration of D-day ceremony.

The reason for the above message is that I feel somewhat of a sense of guilt that the tragic loss of lives a year ago has not resonated with me as much as it has with others. I can only speculate that it is because upon reaching my battalion area toward evening of D-day I learned that the major component of my gun battery had been lost when the landing craft on which they were approaching the beach hit a mine and sunk almost immediately, killing 37 of the 60 battery members on board. The bodies of 23 of those men were never identified or recovered and their names are memorialized on the wall of the Garden of the Missing in the American Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach. That was my entire gun section, men with whom I had slept in the same barracks, ate meals with, went into town with, and drank with was gone.

Having experienced that loss of men whom I knew and cared for, I seem to have developed a fatalistic attitude; you play the cards you are dealt. And so I can empathize with those who have lost loved ones a year ago today, but I find it impossible to react to their loss in the deep-seated way that many of my countrymen and women do.

If we could rise from the devastation of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we can certainly recover from the attack of 9/11/01. If we do not resume normal activities, such as flying and dining out, we are succumbing to the threats of the terrorists. That, to me, does not represent the American spirit. We must not allow the terrorists to perceive that they have grievously wounded us economically and spiritually. That will only induce them to attempt more such attacks.

November 1, 2002

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