This is a memory of the D-Day Invasion, June 6, 1944, told to me by a soldier who was there, Elmer Erskin Marler. He now lives at Elmcroft of Lebanon, and we sat down to reminisce once again. It began with a song I heard on the radio long ago.
It is a pleasant drive from my house to the office. The scenery on Coles Ferry Pike from the Hartmann Drive intersection to Castle Heights Avenue North is filled with evergreens, stables, quaint cottages, a white house that resembles, “Grandmother’s,” and a landscape of rocks opposite the Lebanon Country Club where the terrain could have taken a child’s imagination anywhere he or she wanted to go.
I distinctly remember (and I’ll explain) an amazing spring morning in 2007. I paused as traffic headed to Castle Heights Elementary and Walter J. Baird Middle School; cars driven by moms applying a little lipstick to avoid totally embarrassing the children as they exited the car. The school year was ending and Memorial Day was looming as the next big holiday. We were experiencing warm weather, complimented by a panorama of buttercups, lilacs, and trees in new green clothes; it is symbolic of spring in Wilson County.
Tuned in to my favorite radio personality, Gerry House, we the audience, received a “song-surprise.” At least that’s what I call it because I had never heard it before that morning. Gerry gave his audience a chance to honor, admire, respect and credit the menof D-Day. He reached into the archives and played a song I will never forget: “Remember the Boys Who Went Ashore in 1944.”
World War II D-Day veteran and Lebanon resident, Elmer Marler, landed in Normandy, France on D + 2 in 1944, and he tracked his path to war for me, using a map given to him at the end of the war.
Mr. Marler’s story was published in The Wilson Post on July 4, 2007, and I was able to document his journey through Europe using the map that chronicled his trek from Normandy to Pilsen, Czechoslovakia.
It’s been seven years since I wrote the article with Mr. Marler’s help, and on May 10, 2014, he will celebrate his 99th birthday. He is such an amazing person that I visited him at Elmcroft and asked if we could print the article once more. He was happy to share his story as the 70th Anniversary of D-Day approaches.
During the Tennessee maneuvers, Marler eventually met his future wife in Nashville, a lovely young lady and a nurse at General Hospital. He married Dolly Kelly on Sept. 1, 1943, and she followed him to New York as he prepared to board The Queen Mary for England in November of 1943. She lived with her sister and worked at New York Presbyterian Hospital, writing letters every day.
Meanwhile, Mr. Marler survived the rough Atlantic, and the troops arrived in London around the end of November 1943. They quartered in Somerset and soon began preparation and training for the most epic assault in history.
On June 5, 1944, there was an atmosphere of anxiety, coupled with a miserable wind and rain. The date of June 6, 1944, found Technician 5th Grade Elmer Marler on a ship in the English Channel and he remembered glancing upward around 2 a.m. at a sight to behold, American C 47s flying over and he said to himself, “Paratroopers.” As dawn broke, an equally powerful scene lay before him; thousands of ships as far as the eye could see. Seven years ago as we talked, Mr. Marler, with his hand resting calmly on the map and his fingertips tracing a line inland, spoke of the D-Day invasion.
“Our landing craft made shore on Omaha Beach, it was D + 2. Engineers had cleared the way and as our jeep rolled onto the sand, we were waved forward by the beach master and headed for St. Lô. Carrying a full pack and radio, I was seated behind my lieutenant and his driver. Loaded down with equipment, weapons, ammunition and rations we moved out, our eyes scanning the devastation. Out-of-service tanks, trucks, jeeps and equipment covered the beach, yet that was nothing compared to the horrific sight of young lives lost. I could only look straight ahead as we moved out,” remarked this veteran.
After 70 years, one memory still has priority over the rest: Omaha Beach. The 186th Field Artillery Battalion moved forward and Mr. Marler has never, ever forgotten that day, “Our soldiers did all that was asked and more.”
For the duration of the war Technician Marler kept busy laying telephone wire, working as a forward observer, and calling in coordinates to Artillery Headquarters. From St. Lô to the celebrations in a newly liberated Paris, the Army advanced to Caumont and faced continuous battle against the German soldiers. As winter weather took a nasty turn in December 1944, the 186th made camp south of a town named Bastogne.
After a little coaxing, the veteran shared an incident that happened around Christmas 1944, which called for immediate attention. Mr. Marler, wearing the warmest clothes possible, retrieved his flashlight and disappeared into the frozen darkness. The telephone line had been cut by enemy fire so he crawled forward, found the break, proceeded a little farther to retrieve the other end of telephone wire and connected the two. The mission took about an hour and Marler, having opened communication lines for supporting artillery fire, returned safely to post.
Participating in five campaigns, Mr. Marler’s battalion had skirted across a continent from Omaha Beach to the Rhineland and celebrated Victory in Europe Day on May 9, 1945, in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia. Next, the U.S. Army liberated our Prisoners of War in Marseilles, France and carefully transported them to ships anchored in the Mediterranean bound for the United States.
Mr. Marler, approaching his 99th birthday, summed up his life during World War II this way: “I was just doing my job; that was my duty, my promise.”
Considering his birthday, he smiled and remarked, “I had not planned on living this long!” However, he emphasized he had the most wonderful wife and children and “The Map” is under lock and key waiting for his daughter, Becky, to pass down to her son. He wants his grandson to have this treasured piece of history and to understand that receiving the Bronze Star, 30 May 1945, General Orders: No. 66
“For heroic achievement in connection with military operations against an armed enemy,” simply means, “It was my promise,” Mr. Marler repeated.
I am truly honored to record this story and want to express my sincere thanks and also “Happy Birthday” to Mr. Marler for his service and devotion to his country, family and friends. He is a very unique person who participated in the most monumental event ever, code name: OVERLORD, D-Day Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
“Remember the Boys Who Went Ashore in 1944.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Beth Evins of Lebanon writes profiles of local veterans – and their families – for The Wilson Post.