You are receiving this Blog today because it is D-Day. This is the day that 150,000 Allied soldiers landed on the shores of Normandy. It was a massive force; 5,000 ships stretched as far as the eye could see. From British airfields, 800 planes carried over 13,000 men consisting of six parachute regiments. That was preceded by 13,000 bombs being dropped immediately ahead of the invasion. By nightfall 9,000 soldiers, many Americans, were either dead or wounded.
This past Friday, I drove to Springfield, Illinois to attend the funeral of one soldier who landed on D-Day. Stephen L. Gasparin was born July 5, 1921, in the mountains of south-east Oklahoma. He died May 28, 2013. Pam Crombie, his daughter, lives in Winthrop Harbor with her husband Jack. They are a Life Members of the Illinois Saint Andrew Society.
I don’t know the entire story about Stephen Gasparin, but he served with the 5th Infantry Division which came under the command of General George A. Patton. “He fought during the brutal winter in the Ardennes mountain range in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge. His division fought their way across Germany becoming the first to cross the Rhine on the night of March 22, 1945. They drove across Germany liberating concentration camps and stopping at the Czechoslovak border as the war ended. He left the army with five Bronze Stars for bravery in action.”
In 2012, Mr. Gasparin was recognized by France for his bravery by naming him a “knight (chevalier) in the National Order of the Legion of Honor.” It is the highest recognition given by the French government and it is a beautiful medal. When war broke out he tried to enlist but was deferred because he was a tool-and-die maker in Detroit. On his second attempt it was discovered that he was color-blind. The doctor said: “don’t you worry about that. We’ll put you right up front where you can see everything." And they did. Two of his strongest memories were: “praying on his unit’s departure for France for all the soldiers who’d never go home, and the reaction from French citizens as Allied soldiers pushed German forces out of their communities.”
Mr, Gasparin was buried with full military honors in the Camp Butler National Cemetery. As we made our way to the cemetery, I was impressed with the citizens of Springfield who stopped their cars as the procession moved by. Only one car passed the long line of mourners and we were on a boulevard at the time. It was as if they knew a hero was passing. I didn’t even mind the heavy rain in view of the suffering that soldiers endured during the Battle of the Bulge.
There are days about World War II that I will never forget. One is D-Day and the sacrifices made so the world would be free from oppression. The other is December 7 when Pearl Harbor was attacked. The next day sitting in the auditorium of a school, we listened to the distinctive voice of President Roosevelt and his “Day of Infamy” speech. I can still hear the voices of Roosevelt and Churchill today.
If you are a veteran of WW II and served in the military or the Merchants Marines, would you please contact me? I am compiling a list of veterans. You can contact me by email or call my home office at 630-629-4516.
Wayne Rethford, President Emeritus
Illinois Saint Andrew Society
P.S. We had a most enjoyable History Club meeting this past Saturday as we paid tribute to our veterans. John LeNoble lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance and then gave us an excellent summary of his trip to Washington and the WW II monument. We were also privileged to have Mike and Mary Jane Cole as speakers. They are heavily involved as volunteers with the Honor Flight Chicago program. It was a very good day.
The annual History Tour is scheduled for July 20. Our chartered bus will leave the Scottish Home at 10:30 a.m. First stop will be St. James church at the Sag Bridge where we will pay our respect to James Michie, president of our Society in 1847.
Second stop will be at the Wheatland Presbyterian Church, established in 1848 by Scottish immigrants. We will have our lunch at the church, visit the church cemetery and hear from direct descendants of those pioneer families. Our last stop will be at the Na-Au-Say cemetery, 12 miles west of Plainfield. In this country cemetery Thomas C. MacMillan, president in 1906 and 1907, is buried. There are always surprises along the way.
Cost $30.00 per person includes a box lunch. To register call 708-447-5092 or my home office at 630-629-4516.