D-Day’s 70th anniversary evokes memories

They were Central Iowa blacksmiths, farmers, factory and quarry workers, nurses, recent high school graduates and an immigrant’s son – all ordinary men and women who, when their country called during World War II, were transformed almost overnight into warriors.

And America called on many to perform heroically before, during and after D-Day, June 6, 1944.

From 1941 to 1944 America and its allies pursued the goal of defeating “Germany first,” according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

And tantamount to defeating Germany was the invasion of northwest Europe. A 60-mile strip of beach in Normandy, France, was selected as the invasion site in 1943.

Marshalltown veterans Charlotte Appelgate, Robert Bowman, Les Graham, Fred Lindsey and Dean Prough, despite the passage of 70 years, still vividly recall the historic event.

Others, like deceased veterans Bobby Burns, Ed Halvorson, John Mohr and Toney Sirianni, had passed down some of their memories to friends and relatives who spoke on their behalf.

Charlotte Appelgate

“It was a time when everyone wanted to do something,” the retired nurse from Marshalltown of her World War II experiences.

Appelgate tended to “all kinds of injuries” during her time in the early 1940s and recalled treating frozen feet the most.

“I think we were all sympathetic,” Appelgate said. “We knew they would be there so long and may be sent back to the front line.”

Appelgate said her hospital unit was formed in Clinton as part of D-Day preparations. She arrived in Wales, March 1, 1944, and later moved to a Oxford, England hospital, where she served until the war ended.

Robert Bowman

Bowman, 90, lives at Grandview Heights. He is a U.S. Navy veteran, and during D-Day, worked on one of the many amphibious boats as a Signalman First Class.

Their critical job were to deliver troops and supplies to the beach quickly and efficiently.

His wife, Shirley of Marshalltown, said that her husband was proud of his D-Day role, especially for transporting members of the famed Big Red 1, an Army unit.

Les Graham

Graham, 89, a Burt native, emphasized that he was part of “D-Day plus 10” – a contingent of troops which landed on the beach 10 days after the invasion.

But Graham saw extensive combat in the European theater and suffered a leg wound from machine gun fire.

He was sent to a hospital in England and was released for combat prior to the Battle of the Bulge, where his unit took an active role.

After the war, Graham said proudly that he used the G.I. Bill to attend the University of Northern Iowa, where he earned a bachelor and master’s degree in education.

He taught math for 37 years – with 33 years at Marshalltown High School. Graham lives at the Iowa Veterans Home in Marshalltown.

Fred Lindsey

Lindsey, 92, a Des Moines native, worked in a grocery warehouse in Sioux City when he was drafted in August 1942.

He became a member of the 1st Engineer Special Brigade and was assigned to land on Utah Beach in the early morning darkness of June 5 – the day before the invasion – his job was to remove underwater obstacles and bombs along the path that the Allied forces would take the next day.

Lindsey and his comrades accomplished their mission, but came under intense German fire, and were eventually rescued by an Allied submarine.

He returned to fight the next day at Utah Beach.

Lindsey saw combat and slept in foxholes for five months following D-Day.

“I never saw anything like it,” Lindsey said of his experiences. “I never thought I’d get to 92 years old. Every day (in combat) I thought would be my last day. I hope and pray that someday we can find a way to keep the peace once and for all,” he said. “God bless the United States, and God bless the soldier.”

He returned to Iowa in December 1945 and began a career as an artist and illustrator. He lives at IVH.

Dean Prough

The Ottumwa native, 92, was in the 5th Armored Division which landed on D-Day and saw extensive action on the beach and throughout Europe.

Prough was in charge of ammunition, guns and other supplies.

Once on the beach, Prough said he and comrades worked to move forward immediately.

“We banged away at embankments,” he said. “They had tanks equipped like bulldozers which would blade away the dirt and stuff we had blasted.”

Once inland, the division fought and moved aggressively.

In Germany, the mission was specific: Destroy the country’s infrastructure.

“We shot at everything that moved,” he said. “We went in blazing with all guns.”

Prough said he had compassion for the Army’s infantryman, who saw intense combat. “They had the blunt of the whole deal.”

He lives at IVH.

Bobby Burns

“He was the first soldier from Tama to die in World War II,” said George LeMasters of Marshalltown. “He was killed trying to reach the (Normandy) beach.”

LeMasters said he played right guard on the Tama football team and Burns played quarterback.

During the war, LeMasters served in the U.S. Army-Air Force.

Ed Halvorson

Barb Halvorson of Marshalltown, Ed Halvorson’s daughter, still has photos of her late father in uniform, newspaper clippings and letters he wrote while overseas, among many other historic items.

He passed away in 2011.

“We were all proud of dad,” she said. “He and his two late brothers, Lawrence and Paul, served during World War II. My dad was in the first wave of tanks and was in all eight major battles of World War II, serving under Gen. Patton.”

Ed Halvorson saw his first combat experience during the Sicilian campaign, after landing in Africa in 1943.

At the close of that campaign, his unit was shipped to England.

John Mohr

While living south of Marshalltown, he was known as John “Dinty” Mohr to family and friends.

The rural Marshalltown man was 23 years old when he joined the service, said his daughter, Karen Eggert of Ames.

Mohr was a member of the elite 101st Airborne division, which parachuted behind enemy lines in France before the invasion.

He had arrived in England in 1943, and spent the next nine months in training.

At midnight, June 6, 1944, Mohr boarded a C-47 plane bound for Normandy.

Mohr’s comrades were scattered all over, but the jump was a success.

Mohr later fought, and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge.

He carried shrapnel in his body the remainder of his life.

“My father is buried in Timber Creek Cemetery, just north of the family farm,” Eggert said. “On his tombstone is a screaming eagle – the 101st Airborne symbol.”

Toney Sirianni

Sirianni was born in Italy, and his family immigrated to the United States, and later to Marshalltown, before World War II, said Diane Upah of Marshalltown, Sirianni’s niece.

“He was a radio operator and was in the fifth wave that hit the beach,” she said. “He told us the water was red from blood, just as depicted in “Saving Private Ryan.” He also said the first two waves suffered extremely heavy casualties.

Sirianni was later wounded in France and received a Purple Heart. After the war, he returned to Marshalltown, where he gained a reputation as being an extremely skilled worker at the Marshalltown Sheet Metal Co., then located north of The Appliance Doctor. He died in 1996.