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Craddock: Floods forgotten with Allied invasion

Memorial Day is Monday. Originally called Decoration Day, it’s a day to remember those who have died in service of our country. The day was first widely observed in May 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers.

On June 6, 1944, Longview was under water thanks to a five-inch deluge. Businesses and streets had flooded. Cars were floating in the Mobberly Avenue underpass.

But the weather was all but forgotten because of the front page banner headline in the June 6 Longview Daily News:

Initial Success Scored in Invasion of Europe by Allied Nations Force

Finally, the long-awaited Allied invasion had begun as some 150,000 troops, ships and aircraft surprised the German forces on the northern coast of France.

According to The Associated Press, Allied troops “by evening had smashed their way inland on a broad front, making good a gigantic air and sea invasion against unexpectedly slight German opposition … Allied losses in every branch were declared to be far less than had been counted upon in advance.”

Churches open

The Daily News reported that as soon as news of the invasion reached Longview, “Men, women and children went to places of worship to pray for their loved ones and the other gallant men who are fighting for freedom’s cause.”

Col. G.V. Emerson, commanding officer of Longview’s U.S. Army Harmon General Hospital, said he believed American losses would be high. “This monumental task will be costly in men and materiel,” Emerson said, “but I have every confidence that adequate provision has been made … for the early defeat of Hitler and his satellites.”

It was a month before the first casualty reports began to arrive. On July 6, the Daily News ran a photo of Staff Sgt. Neal R. Stone, “son of Clara Stone on Culver Avenue, Longview,” who had been identified as “one of 857 U.S. soldiers killed in action in the European area.”

A week later, locals learned of the death of Tech Sgt. Oliver Z. Rogers, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cole Rogers of Gum Springs, who was “killed in action in France.” Rogers was a 1941 graduate of Hallsville High, where he played football and was senior class president.

Reports of other area casualties from Normandy followed. In all, some 10,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded in the invasion.

Bond drive

On June 5, 1944, John Harrison, age 10, and other Cub Scouts had braved the local floods to attend a war-bond meeting at the Gregg County Courthouse. The Rev. G. Kearnie Keegan, pastor of First Baptist Church and local chair of the Fifth War Loan Drive, challenged the Scouts “to search their hearts and see if they could go out to play the next day without first having done all they could to secure applications for war bonds.”

Keegan told the Daily News a week later: “Little did I dream then that the next day would be D-Day.”

Scout Harrison “caught the spirit, and early the next day he started out contacting people. Some refused him, but when the day had come to a close, John, physically exhausted but supremely happy, had sold a total of $1,200 in war bonds.”

Harrison was a young man of commitment and a true public servant. The 1952 Longview High graduate served as a Longview ISD trustee for 43 years (1971-2014). He held a perfect attendance record of 51 years in the Rotary Club of Longview. John Harrison died in April 2018 at age 83.

War-weary residents had been buoyed by early reports of the Allies’ D-Day success. “This is the beginning of the end,” Gregg County Judge Merritt H. Gibson said in June 1944. The judge was correct, although the fighting would continue for another year.

Let us never forget the sacrifices of those who gave their lives for our great nation.

— Van “V for Victory” Craddock’s latest book is “East Texas Tales, Book 2,” available at Barron’s and the Gregg County Historical Museum. His column appears Sunday. Email vancraddock@sbcglobal.net .

Today's Bible verse

“We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Ephesians 2:10

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