D-Day Invasion Was Big Deal for 30,000 Wyoming Soldiers

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Bill Sniffin
Bill Sniffin

World War II was an extraordinary time in Wyoming with over 10 percent of the state’s population involved in fighting that war. Over 1,000 died.

The war cry, “Powder River, let’r buck” was heard from Europe to Asia as Wyoming’s finest young men and women risked their lives. This exclamation was first heard in 1898 when Wyoming reportedly exceeded every other state’s quotas for providing soldiers in the Spanish-American War.

All over our state you can find impressive memorials to these brave citizens who left the comfortable confines of the Cowboy State to go to the ends of the world to defend their country.

These thoughts are on my mind as we just celebrated Memorial Day and the 70th anniversary of D-Day is occurring on June 6.

So what is happening to all these old veterans? Across the USA, they are dying by the thousands. Not many of them left.

At one time, the state had reportedly 56,000 living veterans, just about one out of 10 citizens. This had to be one of the largest ratios in the country, if not the largest.

What triggered these notions is that my wife and I just toured the National World War II Museum in New Orleans and it was unique in its design and function in its presentations.

Not unlike the Buffalo Bill Center in Cody, this museum really requires days (almost weeks) to fully take it all in.

We spent four hours and it was not even close to enough time.

Perhaps the most impressive sight was on screen. It took five years to create what was called a “4D, Imax movie” that depicted World War II.

Besides the gigantic movie on the Imax screen, the show provided a multi-sensory experience that took you to the real-life experience of being in war. It included real airplanes, machine guns, and snipers in towers plus snow and smoke. The sound was loud (probably to help the World War II vets) and it sure took you to a realistic place.

The statistics surrounding World War II are beyond belief. More than 65 million people died, more than in any war in history. In Wyoming, perhaps no city or town made a bigger sacrifice than the tiny hometown of former Gov. Stan Hathaway. Ten men from little Huntley in Goshen County gave their last full measure in World War II. Amazing.

The D-Day invasion was the largest amphibian attack in history with over 5,000 vessels.

D-Day which was code-named Operation Overlord, according to a huge display at that New Orleans museum, involved 150,000 men in nine divisions landing on the beaches of Normandy over a 50-mile stretch.

The freedoms we take for granted today were earned on those beaches. It was interesting that General Dwight Eisenhower did not have a back-up plan. The attack had to work.

Fast-forward to today and we are seeing some terrible things happening to our vets.

Revelations of veterans having to wait unusually long times for medical appointments is an insult to these brave men and women.

This is unforgiveable. Let’s hope the Veterans Administration gets its act together.

All across Wyoming there are statues and memorials to the vets.

The biggest of these is War Memorial Stadium, the football field that hosts the University of Wyoming Cowboys. It was built in 1950 as a tribute to the brave men and women who fought in World War II and earlier wars. That gridiron has long been the highest elevated field in the country at 7,215 feet above sea level.

A couple of weeks ago, our family recalled the 14th anniversary of my father’s passing.

He was a World War II veteran and spent a lot of time in Louisiana. He was blessed when he broke his wrist in an accident and thus did not get shipped with his original unit, which was virtually slaughtered in Europe. He was later sent to Tehran, Iran where he coordinated huge truckloads of goods being hauled over “the hump,” some huge mountain passes. That effort helped defeat the Italians and Germans.

He ended up going around the world a couple of times and also was active in the American Legion for years after he got home from the war. He saw war up-close and became a lifelong pacifist as a result.

My dad was part of a group of men and women nicknamed “The Greatest Generation.” So far, 70 years of history hence still shows they deserve that designation.

 

Check out Bill Sniffin’s columns at www.billsniffin.com. He is a longtime Wyoming journalist from Lander who has written four books. His most recent book is “Wyoming’s 7 Greatest Natural Wonders” which is available at www.wyomingwonders.com.

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