Wednesday, June 25, 2014 1:00 AM
Seventy years ago, during the opening days of June 1944, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight David Eisenhower made his momentous decision to begin Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944, a day that the world would remember forever simply as D-Day.
Minutes after midnight, Eisenhower ordered 20,000 men of the United States 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions and the British 6th Airborne Division to 22 airfields in England to board 1,200 air transports and 700 gliders to participate in the largest airborne attack in history.
In the wee hours of the morning, the paratroopers jumped into the cool, crisp skies over the Normandy Peninsula, many landing far from their intended zones.
Two such jumpers were Neshobans, Private First Class Francis W. Davis, 320th Glider Field Artillery Battalion, and Chaplain Tildon S. McGee, a Neshoba minister, chaplain of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, both serving as part of the 82nd Airborne Division. During the drop, McGee narrowly missed striking a church steeple before landing in Angeville, France.
Once on the ground, the parachutists quickly made for their objective, one of the four causeways that crossed over a long, mile-long lagoon located behind Utah Beach. Nearing the bridge, the air soldiers fought a nasty little skirmish with a small force of German soldiers.
Because of casualties, the chaplain assumed both the role of religious counselor and as a medic. The Neshoba clergyman selected a nearby farmhouse to serve as a receiving station.
Within minutes the field hospital was almost surrounded by Germans. On two occasions, aircraft tried to drop provisions and medical supplies to the endangered airborne boys.
The wise chaplain dispatched an assistant to butcher a nearby cow, solving the food problem. From a crimson blanket and two white pillowcases, Chaplain McGee fashioned a red cross, displayed the emblem, successfully keeping the Germans at bay.
Hours later, the flying infantrymen achieved their objective and returned to retrieve their Florence Nightingale. Some of the troops later noted that our men will get help "from above" in one form or another, if it's left to men like Chaplain Tildon McGee.
Later, the War Department awarded to the Neshoba minister the Distinguished Service Cross, a medal given for bravery and valor, second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Throughout the early morning, while the scattered parachute troops scrambled to meet their objectives, thousands of Allied ships neared areas of the French coasts of Normandy, with beaches code-named Sword, Juno, Gold, Omaha and Utah. At precisely 6:31 a.m., landing crafts lowered their ramps, and thousands of men of the Fourth Infantry "Iron Horse" Division waded 100 yards to Utah Beach.
Nine of the soldiers were from Neshoba County: Corporal W.H. Akins, Military Police Platoon; Private First Class Alfred J. Browning, Private Carlie C. Majure and Staff Sergeant James B. Russell, 22nd Regimental Combat Team; Private First Class Outha C. Roberson, 12th Regimental Combat Team; Captain Robert B Latimer, company commander of an unknown unit; Corporal Louis O. Majure, 81st Chemical Mortar Battalion; Technician Fourth Class Windell H. Moore, Fourth Reconnaissance (Mechanized) Battalion; and Staff Sergeant Brooks O. Watkins, Fourth Medical Battalion.
With many of the German defenders near Utah Beach dazed by the aerial and sea bombardments, resistance was light and by 9:00 a.m. infantrymen and tanks has broken through the Atlantic Wall and established a two-mile beachhead.
Three hours later the Iron Horse Division captured the important roads and checkpoints and opened all the exits from Utah Beach. Casualties were 197 killed in action, with 60 missing and presumed drowned.
Corporal Louis Majure was among the uncounted wounded. To the southwest, on a four-mile stretch of beach, the bloodiest battle of the D-Day invasion was underway.
The fight on Omaha Beach would place that name in the annals of military history along with Gettysburg, San Juan Hill, and the Argonne Forest.
The battle plans called for two regimental combat teams, the 16th of the First Infantry "Big Red One" Division and the 116th of the Twenty-Ninth Infantry "Blue and Gray" Division to establish a foothold, with the other elements of the two divisions of the Fifth Army Corps to storm ashore in the second assault.
Two of the combatants of the Big Red One were Private John W. Shackelford, Jr. and Herbert Springs native, 19-year-old Sergeant Norwood Driskell, serving with the 91st Mortar Battalion.
Three other Neshoba men fought on bloody Omaha that day: Private First Class Homer W. Dunn, Private Francis W. McMillan, and Staff Sergeant Marvin E. Taylor, all with the Blue Gray Division.
The American attack on Omaha cost the two divisions over 3,000 casualties, fortunately, the five Neshoba boys were not among those numbers. Technician Fifth Class Sam Viverrete, a Spring Hill native, served with the 490th and 494th Portage Battalions, and recalled his memories of the bloody beaches of Normandy, "Absolutely," Viverette remembered, "I saw them boys piled up on barges (the dead) just off the beach."
Civil War Veterans
McDonald, Andrew Jackson - Private; enlisted March 1, 1862, at Philadelphia, Mississippi, in Company D, 11th Mississippi Infantry Regiment; nick-named "Jack;" Muster Roll, May-June 1862: "Sick at Richmond;" Muster Roll, November 1862; "Teamster;" wounded at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863; captured at Gettysburg, July 5, 1863; hospitalized at the U.S.A. General Hospital at Chester, Pennsylvania; transferred with a gunshot wound and fracture of the right leg to the U.S.A. Hammond General Hospital at Point Lookout, Maryland, October 4, 1863; received at General Hospital #9 at Richmond, Virginia, March 5, 1864; returned to duty, March 6, 1864; received $110.00 (May 1, 1863 to February 29, 1864) for back pay and furloughed at Richmond, March 10, 1864; Muster Rolls, June-December 1864; "Present;" captured at Hatcher's Run, April 2, 1865; imprisoned at Point Lookout; released from Point Lookout, June 29, 1865; transportation furnished to Shuqualak, Mississippi; described as five feet eleven inches tall, dark complexion, dark brown hair and blue-grey eyes.
World War II Veterans
McLain, John Francis - Apprentice Seaman to Fireman First Class; enlisted October 23, 1943, at Jackson, Mississippi, in the United States Navy; age eighteen; farmer; served and trained in the American Theatre of Operations with the Naval Training Centers at Great Lakes, Illinois, Jacksonville, Florida, July 1944, and Terminal Island, San Bruno, California; served also in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations; participated in the campaigns in the Philippine Islands; awarded the America Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the Philippine Islands Liberation Medal; discharged at New Orleans, January 26, 1946, demobilization.
Philadelphia-Neshoba County Historical Museum
Steven H. Stubbs, Curator
303 Water Avenue South Philadelphia, Mississippi 39350
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.;
Tuesday thru Friday