If you want to ever thank a veteran for their service in our biker community, you don’t have to look far. Today marks the 77th anniversary of D-Day and our history of fighting for freedom all over the world. For the month of June, Colorado Rider News will continue to feature stories of veterans, active military and their history as well as the organizations they ride with.
History of D-Day
In the United States, D-Day is celebrated in remembrance of the brave soldiers who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944. These American and Allied soldiers, some of which were killed in action, fought to liberate northwestern Europe from Nazi occupation, and bring an end to WWII in Europe.
Over 160,000 soldiers and paratroopers participated in the liberation of Normandy and this day is often seen as one of the main reasons why the Allies won the Western Front. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by the end of the day, the troops gained a food-hold in Normandy. Thousands of soldiers lost their lives, but thousands more trekked across Europe to end the war. The invasion is one of history’s most significant military attacks.
Native American’s Participation in D-Day
175 Native soldiers landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day; to date, the Department of Defense has identified 55. 44,000 Native Americans served throughout the U.S. military between 1941 and 1945. Nearly 800 Native American women served as well, Native women served as members of the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), WACS (Women Army Corps), and Army Nurse Corps.
The 44,000 Native American men who served represent more than ten percent of the American Indian population at that time. A third of Native men between the ages of 18 and 50 served. Some tribes had as high as 70 percent participation in the war effort.
After the successful use of the Choctaw language (to befuddle the Germans) in World War I in sending messages to field phones, the U.S. Marine Corps began recruiting Navajo Indians for the same purpose. They would become known as the Navajo Code Talkers. Their code allowed for faster transmitting and deciphering, and it was a code the Japanese were never able to break.
A U.S. Army medic from Indian Island, Maine, Private Shay was attached to one of the first regiments to land on Omaha Beach, the most heavily defended sector of the coast. Shay began treating the wounded as soon as he got his footing, dragging wounded soldiers out of the surf under constant fire. After the war, the U.S. Army awarded Shay a Silver Star for his actions, and the French government appointed him a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur, the highest honor given to noncitizens of France.
The people of Normandy dedicated the Charles Shay Memorial. The first French monument to honor American Indian soldiers who fought on D-Day, it is part of a growing movement to acknowledge Native Americans’ contributions during World War II. To Shay, the simple stone turtle that stands as the park’s monument represents all the “Indian soldiers who left Turtle Island to help liberate our allies.”
D-Day Customs & Traditions
In the United States, D-Day is an observance day – which means that it is not a federal holiday and federal holidays are not given this day off. It is also not a holiday that is given as a day off to workers in the private sector. However, many people do observe this holiday by visiting museums with D-Day displays. Also, there are often rides, memorials and ceremonies given all over the country on June 6.
If your bike trips and travel ever take you close to Washington, DC Bedford, Virginia is about 3 ½ hours south of DC. Be sure to stop at the National D-Day Memorial. This monument, which was dedicated in 2001, stands on an 88-acre memorial that features a 44-foot-tall granite arch, a reflecting pool, and English gardens. Encircling the monument are the names of over 4400 Allied soldiers who died during the invasion. It is one of the most complete lists of its kind that can be found anywhere in the world.
You can also virtually visit the memorial by going to www.dday.org