Coast Guard played key role in D-Day invasion
By Kristi Langenbacher
Sunday, June 9, 2019
This week marked the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when more than 160,000 Allied troops landed on the heavily fortified beaches of Normandy, France to fight Nazi Germany. Throughout the week, military and civilians alike held ceremonies across the world to remember the heroes and the fallen.
The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Eagle crewmembers and cadets paused summer training this week to remember and pay tribute to those who answered the call on D-Day. The ceremony consisted of songs, salutes, history, D-Day letters and prayers as the majestic ship sailed near the beaches of Normandy.
The United States Coast Guard Historian’s Office web site provides details of the Coast Guard’s often-overlooked role during the invasion. When the Allied Forces landed on Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, the Coast Guard joined the other U.S. military branches and Allied Forces in the operation code-named Overlord.
Operation Neptune, the naval assault phase of Operation Overlord, was the largest single combat operation the Coast Guard has ever taken part in. Coast Guardsmen manned 99 warships and large landing vessels for Operation Neptune and dozens of smaller landing craft in the Normandy invasion.
Coast Guard-manned landing craft, the smallest sea-going amphibious craft involved in the invasion, carried troops to the beach. Sixty Coast Guard cutters formed Rescue Flotilla One, which saved more than 400 men on D-Day. The 83-foot cutters were chosen by the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Vice Adm. Russell R. Waesche, under orders from President Franklin D. Roosevelt just a few weeks prior to D-Day to provide a rescue flotilla. More Coast Guard vessels were lost or damaged that day than at any time in its history.
Coast Guard members also documented the invasion with photographs of that fateful day, and the days leading up to it. Eighteen Coast Guardsmen paid the ultimate price that day, while 38 more were seriously wounded. There were more casualties to come that summer from mines, torpedoes and attacks by the Luftwaffe as the ships sailed the English Channel carrying supplies and reinforcements and returning with prisoners of war and wounded GIs.
Twenty-five years ago, on the 50th anniversary of the invasion, the Coast Guard Combat Veterans Association dedicated a plaque in England to commemorate the sacrifices of Coast Guard members.
“Dedicated this 6th Day of June, 1994 to the members of the United States Coast Guard who participated in the initial invasion of Normandy on D-Day, especially to those who gave their lives here, and to all United States Coast Guard forces who served worldwide on land, sea and air during WWII,” the plaque reads. “The nations of the world shall long remember Normandy; the United States Armed Forces, their allies and the cost of freedom at this place...”
Kristi Langenbacher is a Coast Guard spouse and writes about military family life.