Appropriately, the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion in World War II last Thursday, June 6, drew a lot of attention across the United States. Undoubtedly, it was one of the greatest and most meaningful military operations of all time and the Allies’ success led to the liberation of occupied Europe and the subsequent defeat of Nazi Germany.

However, the military victory came with a staggering human price as a total of 2,501 Americans died at Omaha Beach during that bloody drive onto the French beaches of Normandy, and their tragic sacrifice is symbolized by the rows of white crosses marking their graves not far from those beaches – a total of approximately 9,000 American graves.

Father Time has since claimed many of the surviving soldiers and those who are still with us are now well into their 90s. I’m proud to say that I personally know one of them – Jackson resident Clarence (Chuck) Bowman. I’ve written many stories in my time as a local journalist, but one of my favorite interviews came last year when Bowman talked about his experiences and feelings from being involved in D-Day.

Bowman was a member of Company B of the 147th Combat Engineers of the U.S. Army which was assigned to land at Omaha Beach, and as it turned out, was the most heavily defended beach.

Those hitting Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6, 1944, were greeted by a rain of artillery shelling, mine explosions and flame-throwing chemicals from the determined German defenders on the cliffs above the beaches. American landing craft were taken off course by strong currents, which resulted in minimized air support and most German positions intact. Other landing craft became stuck in sandbars short of their intended landing positions. Due to all these factors, casualties were around 2,000 on Omaha Beach, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.

Bowman, now 94 years old, is a friendly man, but he’s also humble and reticent and like many other combat veterans, it was very difficult for him to talk about his feelings regarding his experiences. He knows he could have been killed as well and retains a great sense of remorse for those who did not survive and he is reluctant to talk about his own exploits. He feels the real heroes are those who lost their lives, but he and others who survived faced the same great risks and should also be counted as true heroes.

Yet, in another way, Bowman saw fit to finally share his story publicly through The Telegram so that present-day Americans can understand and appreciate the great sacrifices which were made by all those many men who did not get to come home. And that’s also why he seldom misses a local Memorial Day ceremony in Jackson. It’s a small but tangible way for him to show his respect for the fallen and that he will never forget their sacrifice.

As for the rest of us who did not have to put our lives on the line on the Normandy beaches, we should not only respect and acknowledge these veterans, we should take the time to tell them how grateful we are for what they did. Bowman’s longtime neighbor, Tony Thorne, makes it a point each and every June 6 to visit Bowman and thank him for his service.

It’s never too late to do the same.

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Speaking of local World War II veterans, Wilkesville resident and former Jackson City Schools’ social studies teacher Wendell E. Chapman was recently awarded the Knight of the Legion of Honor medal.

The Legion of Honor is the highest French order of merit for military and civil merits. The French government has conferred this great honor to American soldiers who fought to liberate France in World War II. Chapman served with the U.S. 4th Infantry Division in France, Germany, Belgium, and Luxembourg.

Chapman currently resides in Wilkesville with his wife of 54 years, Joanne.

Many Jackson High School graduates from several decades ago, including myself, remember Chapman for his service as a social studies teacher. He was my Ohio History teacher in the 8th grade and I remember him as being both an outstanding teacher and a gentleman who knew his material and was effective in translating that knowledge to the wandering and distracted minds of young teenagers.

Now, I know I owe him my gratitude not only for what he did on the ground floor of the old Jackson High School (now Jackson Middle School), but also for what he did serving his country.

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