Tags Posts tagged with "WWII"


The Long Island State Veterans Home commemorated the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion with a special service and the presentation of Proclamations of Meritorious Achievement to two Normandy Invasion veterans on June 6.

New York State and Suffolk County awarded Proclamations of Meritorious Achievement to 100-year-old U.S. Army veteran Frank Agoglia and 102-year-old U.S. Army Air Corps veteran David Wolman, both residents of the Long Island State Veterans Home.

Agoglia, who landed his glider in Ste. Mere Eglise, France, behind German defenses, and Wolman, who worked 72 hours straight as an air traffic controller during the Normandy invasion, were recognized for their heroic service during D-Day and Operation Overlord.

A candle-lighting ceremony honored the 150,000 Allied troops who landed on the beaches of Normandy, all service members who served during World War II, the 41 million men and women who have worn the uniform in defense of freedom, the more than 600,000 members of the armed forces who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and the current 2 million members of the

“For over 33 years, the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University has had the honor and privilege to have cared for this special generation of veterans,” Executive Director Fred Sganga said. “We will never forget the service and selfless sacrifice of so many soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen. Today, we thank all of our World War II veterans for their fortitude and perseverance eighty years ago – for answering the call, in order to make the world a safer place. World War II veterans set high standards for bravery and courage and passed the baton to later generations of servicemen and servicewomen, who met the challenge by continuing to defend America and her allies around the world to this day.”

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

In his new book, World War II Long Island: The Homefront in Nassau and Suffolk (The History Press), author Christopher Verga presents a detailed but succinct look at the titular era. He has written a powerful and informative tome that represents the community in all its strengths and flaws. Wisely, he brings a keen twenty-first-century eye to address social inequality issues, giving the book a deep resonance. He demands that the reader reflects on what has and has not changed in the past eighty years.

Author Christopher Verga

The book opens with pre-World War II Long Island. Unlike many works that create a picture of idyllic and often pastoral life, he shows the attitude towards the outside world: 

“Similar to other small agricultural areas of the time, both counties had an isolationist mentality toward New York City, immigration, and foreign affairs …” He explains this as reflexive to the losses in World War I as well as the Spanish Flu pandemic. 

In this time, Long Island faced a recession and a labor glut. There was also an influx of Italian, Jewish, Eastern European immigrants, and myriad African-Americans fleeing the south, all looking for jobs. This increase in the non-native population created unrest and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan’s membership and power. Add to this the stock market crash of 1929 and the hurricane of 1938 (which did major property damage and destruction to the oyster beds). The result was a depressed and divided Long Island.

While the prologue offers a bleak introduction, the book proceeds to show the major transitions that allowed Long Island to flourish during World War II and beyond.

One of the uniting forces was the enemy from without. The potential for economic growth via wartime manufacturing enhanced the outlook. “Within a few short years, aircraft manufacturers had an exclusive customer with a blank check: the government.” Of course, the boon came with many problems, including poor background checks and security clearances. He shows the frightening ease of military infiltration by German and German-American spies: two major German spy rings infiltrated the system. 

He also gives one of the clearest explanations of the rise of the German-American Bund. Verga has unearthed exceptional photos of Camp Siegfried, with its Nazi banners and crowds of Nazi sympathizers, dressed in their para-military uniforms. Again, contemporary events live in the shadow of this organization’s white supremacist mentality and the KKK.

Much of the book covers the shift that came with the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The attack spurred civilian involvement along with unification behind the war effort. He documents the early failures and gradual shift to competency in air raid drills across the Island. This example also emphasizes the growing cooperation between the military and non-military populations. 

The war provided many small-town young men with an opportunity to embark on what they saw as an adventure. Leaving their lives of fishing, farming, and small-scale shops, they volunteered for service. And while there was the chance for new opportunities, most were fulfilling what they saw as their patriotic duty. The author has multiple accounts of families where all of the sons went off to war, and many did not return.

Amazingly, Verga covers an impressive quantity of material in this slim volume. There are anecdotes of famous generals along with first-hand accounts of soldiers who came from Long Island. He deals with anti-Italian biases before and throughout the war and writes of training in high schools and beyond. He includes the draft board scandals. He focuses not just on the manufacturing success but also the factories’ dangers to the workforce. The various military bases are explained in their use during the war and after. In his dissection of rationing and war bonds, he doesn’t just emphasize the nationalistic view but also discusses people circumventing the rules and the illegal gas stamp rings.

A unique section focuses on the contrast of German POWs’ humane treatment in the States instead of American POWs’ brutal, destructive treatment in Germany. He also shares the local backlash with the German’s use as the labor force on farms and other businesses.

The author shows women in the workforce and the rise of the WAC (Women’s Army Corp) and its offshoots. He explains the stigma and false accusations surrounding women in service, an important point rarely taken up in the war’s history. He also chronicles women losing their place at the end of the war. 

Racial injustice receives the boldest accusations. From the segregated military units to the refusal to sell housing to Black veterans, Verga gives numerous examples of Long Island’s divide. Again, his use of history mirrors many current challenges.

In each chapter, Verga provides the larger national picture juxtaposed with events and facts specific to Long Island. His research is meticulous, with a complete command of dates and specific and enlightening statistics. There is a wealth of photos and documents that enhance the text. But he never loses sight of the humanity of the story he is relating. He consistently paints a portrait of men and women in action: a time of fear but of great patriotism. 

Verga presents a balanced picture of a complicated era. He suggests that negative actions were the exception, and most of Long Island reflected the overall country doing its civic duty.

Christopher Verga’s World War II Long Island is a rich, textured, and honest account. The book reports on a complex time with great depth, sensitivity, and originality. It makes for a rewarding read for both students of history and any inquiring mind.

Author Christopher Verga is an instructor of Long Island history and on the foundations of American history at Suffolk Community College, as well as a contributor to the online local news sites Greater Babylon, Greater Bay Shore and Greater Patchogue. His published works include Images of America: Civil Rights Movement on Long Island, Images of America: Bay Shore and Saving Fire Island from Robert Moses. Verga has his educational doctorate from St John’s University. His dissertation work included Long Island Native Americans and the impact of tribal recognition within their cultural identity. 

World War II Long Island is available at Book Revue in Huntington (www.bookrevue.com), at Barnes and Noble bookstores and on Amazon.

Carol Butler with her dad, Bernard Mauer. Photo from Butler

Carol Butler, 63, a retired teacher in Ohio, knows the coarse beaches of Rocky Point. She had come there often in her childhood, visiting her grandparents with her family. Though now, after a months-long project spanning dozens of letters and postcards of her father, a sailor during World War II, she has come to understand so much more about who that man was and his connection to history.

A postcard Mauer sent his family when the young man joined the marine services. Photo from Carol Butler

In a self-published book Butler titled “With Love and Affection, Your Sailor, Ben,” she goes through dozens of letters and postcards her father, Bernard Mauer, sent out during his early training as a sailor for the Merchant Marines, followed by long months in the South Pacific during WWII, to create the image of her father she had not seen before: That of a young man striking out into the world looking for adventure. 

Letters detail an impressionable 20-something who experienced some momentous times in the war, including the torpedoing of a boat he was on and his experience during the liberation of the Philippines. It’s the image of a man who created lasting friendships with families from Australia to Manila, who endeared himself to his comrades and also struck out more than once with the ladies. It’s a look at a man who eventually becomes homesick for the scenic landscapes of his summer home in Rocky Point. 

Mauer died in 1998 at the age of 77, having already retired as a forester in 1988. Butler, already known as the family historian, said she ended up with the slew of boxes and folders. Those papers sat aside for many years when life got in the way. After she retired in 2014 and once COVID hit, she returned to her father’s old artifacts to discover so much that gave her a new perspective on a man she always knew as so kind.

“All the qualities that I had just loved about my father were on display already in this 20- to 23-year-old kid,” she said.

Mauer grew up in the Bronx. His father, Fred Mauer, a worker in a paper bag factory, had like many working and middle-class families from New York City, purchased a small bungalow in Rocky Point as a vacation home, back when a piece of vacant property in such a location went for $89. They joined a rapidly expanding community of summer residents on an island so much unlike it is today. In one of his postcards, Mauer even talked of riding his bike from his home in the Bronx the approximately 70 miles to his bungalow on the North Shore.

Mauer was a young man when he saw advertisements for the U.S. Maritime Service and decided to join up. He heard about becoming a cadet for the Merchant Marines, and later became an ensign aboard a Navy ship. He would see historical events as just another boot on the deck, witnessing firsthand the impact of torpedoes on merchant ships and Japanese kamikaze fighters on neighboring vessels. In one of his letters, the writing pauses, then returns when Mauer informs his parents of learning about the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Bernard Mauer writes home upon learning of the attacks on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941. Photo from Mauer

“It’s history reliving itself,” she said.

In his letters to his parents Marie and Fred, brother Arnie and sister-in-law Rosalyn, he would describe the white caps off the coast of St. Petersburg, Florida, to the seas of the Long Island Sound and the heat of a summer here. To him, the roads between Subic Bay and Manila in the Philippines were “like those on Rocky Point after a washout.” In his letters, he constantly references the vacation home in the small North Shore hamlet and how the life of his family revolved around it, whether it was for catching flounder or his family’s yearly trips to the North Shore hamlet.

“He could not walk across a beach without saying, such as in the Philippines, ‘Oh, this reminds me of Rocky Point,’” Butler said. “It was his point of reference in his mind … it was his lodestar.”

In his later letters from aboard ship back in ‘45 and ‘46, lacking a girlfriend, Butler said it seemed his greatest wish was to return to his family.

“He just has a sense of getting back to his family, and getting back home which dominates the last year and a half of his letters,” she said. 

Butler has already done a small print run of 100 copies for her family and other history buffs interested near her. For anybody also interested in the book, she is only asking for enough to pay for the printing and shipping costs. She said people can contact her at her email:
[email protected]. 

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General Montgomery, right, with generals George Patton, left and Omar Bradley (center). Public domain photo

By Rich Acritelli

Between the invasion of France and the fall of Paris in the summer of 1944, the Allies were not prepared for the vicious fighting that ensued directly after the D-Day landings in Normandy, France.  General Dwight D. Eisenhower and his planners prepared for every type of problem before Operation Overlord, but they were shocked at the brutality of the warfare that awaited their land forces against the well-hidden German military. As more men and materials were dispatched from England to this area that was known as the “Bocage,” Eisenhower and his key subordinate General Omar N. Bradley were dismayed over the extreme losses and puzzled over how to handle this costly opening offensive campaign in France. They did not fully know how to engage an enemy who was difficult to see and was eager to make the Allies pay for their successful landings.

At a time when Eisenhower looked to push his leaders like that of Bradley and Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery to gain military results against the enemy, progress was slow. The Germans dug in and they halted the advance of the Americans, British, and Canadians. Whereas General George S. Patton was a talented, but controversial leadership figure, he was absent from the Normandy landings.  Through the Slapping and Knutsford Incidents, Patton added to the immense pressures that was placed on Eisenhower. He was not dismissed from the service, but Eisenhower kept this feared tank commander in the dark as how he would be used within the future military campaign in France. It was not until well after D-Day that the Third Army became operational and Patton would be its commander.  He eventually directed this army that pushed the enemy across France and towards the Rhine River.  And through the historic Battle of the Bulge, Patton’s armor would eventually drive back this German surprise attack to the relief of Bastogne and the paratroopers that were surrounded by Hitler’s forces.

Before D-Day, General George C. Marshall, supported Eisenhower’s threat to send Patton home in disgrace, but he also informed this figure that nothing should be done to weaken his hand in fighting the difficult German military machine. Patton was not an easy general to guide and his mouth often put him in trouble, but he was the most talented armored leader that the United States had in its ranks. There were some points during the Normandy Campaign that Eisenhower openly stated that he wished that Patton’s unyielding presence was there to fight this difficult battle, but this was wishful thinking, as allied tanks played no pivotal role during this tenacious battle.  

With the huge amount of resources that Eisenhower had at his disposal in the hedgerows, the Germans extracted some 40,000 casualties against the Allies. Through a maze of vines, bushes, and trees that seemed to be connected, there was no telling if a German was hidden within the foliage of Normandy.  Several weeks after D-Day, Eisenhower and Bradley were frustrated at the lack of progress and the increase in casualties. As the Germans stymied the Allies, the Wehrmacht was unable to reinforce their own lines and they lost the immense leadership skills of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel who was seriously wounded by British fighter planes.

This was a hard time for the Allies as Montgomery was known for moving too cautiously and he lived up to this negative reputation when he failed to take the French city of Caen. Bradley lost his patience and he fired several generals through their inability to overrun the Germans. On July 4, 1944, as American soldiers celebrated Independence Day, an intense artillery barrage of fire hit the well covered Germans.  It was a strenuous campaign that tested Allied officers and soldiers to push the Germans out of their strategic defensive positions. Although the Allies were less than a year from winning the war, there were always strains on the military relationship between the Americans and British. Marshall believed that Montgomery received far too much credit for being an army commander that had to be prodded to move. The Army Chief of Staff wanted stability within the alliance, but not at the demise of American prestige. With our nation providing the bulk of men and materials on the Western Front and taking the recognizable direction against the Germans, Marshall was concerned that Eisenhower favored the British a little too much and he ordered him to leave England and set up his command in Normandy, where he would take over the direction of this intense fight.

At same time when some senior German military figures tried to assassinate Hitler in East Prussia on July 20, 1944, Patton arrived in France. He was told by Bradley that a massive carpet-bombing assault was to target the stubborn German positions and break open their lines to be exploited. It was the expectation that “Operation Cobra” would create a large enough corridor to allow American armored forces to penetrate deeply within the open lands east of Normandy. After 3,400 tons of bombs were dropped, this campaign successfully developed when four American armored divisions pushed through this opening in the lines.  This allowed the Americans operate south westward and take the French port of Cherbourg and to drive in a different direction to liberate the major prize of Paris.  

Once Patton’s tanks were employed, the German Higher Command in France never stood a chance in defeating the sheer pressure from air and land that Eisenhower, Bradley and Patton had at their disposal.  The summer of 1944 was a dangerous year for the Germans, as the immense amount of force that the Americans delivered against Hitler’s beleaguered armies.  And while Eisenhower had a difficult relationship with Patton, keeping him in command paid large dividends towards victory in Western Europe against the Nazi Regime.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Patton. Public domain photo

By Rich Acritelli

“The question is just how long can you keep this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there.” 

These were the words of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in the hours before the June 6 D-Day amphibious and air drop landings. While Eisenhower was surrounded in this meeting by noted leaders like General Omar N. Bradley and Field Marshall Bernard L. Montgomery, the immense strain of making this momentous decision was on the shoulders of this native of Abilene, Kansas. Through the poor weather conditions that almost derailed the landings, Eisenhower was concerned that if this massive forces waited any longer, it was possible that the Germans would have learned of the true landings were to be at Normandy and not Calais, France. Judging the factors that were against his naval, air and land forces, Eisenhower simply stated, “Ok, we’ll go.”

U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Public domain photo

As Eisenhower feared the heavy losses that were expected to penetrate the “Atlantic Wall,” he was confident of the Allied plans to achieve victory against the Germans. While German leader Adolf Hitler made numerous military miscalculations, one of his worst was the full belief that Americans that lived under capitalism and democracy which could not defeat the German soldiers that were indoctrinated within Nazism. Eisenhower was representative of the average soldier from the heartland, small towns and cities of this nation that wanted to fulfill their duty, save the world from tyranny, and return home to their families.  

As a young man, Eisenhower grew up in a poor, rural, and religious family. While he was a talented baseball and football player, the young man did not stand out amongst his peers as being the best.  There was the belief that he had lied about his age to show that he was younger to be originally accepted into the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland, but he was turned down by this school. But Eisenhower gained a congressional appointment for an army education and he was ordered by the War Department to head to West Point in June 1911. Due to the two years of work at a creamery, Eisenhower was a bit older and experienced and the hazing that he took as a freshman was not challenging for the 21-year-old during his first semester. This Class of 1915 was one of the most highly promoted groups to graduate from West Point with over sixty officers attaining the rank of general during World War II.

Eisenhower had two main interests that stayed with him for most of his life. He was an avid card player that supplemented his low army pay with winning numerous hands against his fellow officers and like that of Ulysses S. Grant, he was highly addicted to nicotine. There are many parallels between the lives of Eisenhower and Grant, as both officers were from the mid-west, they were not from wealthy families, and as Eisenhower was a strong football player, Grant was one of the finest horseback riders in the army. Both men graduated in the middle of their classes at West Point, though much of this was due to a lack of interest that they demonstrated with some of their studies. The other key attribute was that they were extremely likable men that were easy to approach, they used common sense to make difficult decisions and they were not swayed under highly stressed war time situations.

Athletic promise and some mischievous was seen when Eisenhower played minor league baseball under an assumed name during the summer months when he returned home to Kansas. Eisenhower did not admit to playing professional baseball until he was President some decades later. During his years at the academy, Eisenhower was a talented football player that suffered a career ending knee injury. He was fortunate that the doctor wrote a medical report that stated he was physically able to complete the rigors of his army responsibilities. In September 1944, during the Operation Market Garden air drops into the Netherlands, Eisenhower was unable to leave his plane during a meeting with Montgomery because he still had severe pain from this chronic knee ailment. 

For the two years leading to Woodrow Wilson’s declaration of war in 1917 against Germany, Eisenhower served in the infantry and was a football coach at a prep school near his San Antonio army base. During this early period that Eisenhower showcased his coaching knowledge, many of the American soldiers kept a watchful eye on the border after it was attacked by Mexican bandit Pancho Villa. There were also pressing issues that the United States would be pushed into the Great War that raged in Europe. Unlike other older World War II officers, Eisenhower had no combat experience during World War I. He distinguished himself running a tank training center in Camp Colt Pennsylvania that was outside of Gettysburg. For his efforts, Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of colonel, but the fighting ended as he was preparing to ship out. Eisenhower was an extremely capable officer, but he believed for the next twenty years that he would never have the chance to prove his abilities under enemy fire.

After WWI ended, the National Defense Act of 1920 drastically cut back the army promotions that were seen during the war and Eisenhower was demoted to a permanent rank of major. At this time, Eisenhower convoyed across the nation from Maryland to California and he observed the poorly connected roads that led from cities to the rural areas. Later as President this knowledge pushed him to build more infrastructure projects during the 1950’s. Living at Fort Meade, he also met George S. Patton, where both men and their families became good friends. Eisenhower enjoyed listening to war time exploits of Patton and both men had endless discussions on military tactics. 

It has been stated that these officers were not friendly during and after World War II, but this was far from true. These two men were completely different from each other, Patton was extremely wealthy, and he lived a vastly different life than Eisenhower. Patton furnished his house with furniture from France, had sports cars, servants and the best polo horses. Eisenhower had to rely on the poor military pay and he took furniture from the nearest dump that he refurnished. 

There were many other connections that surely aided the professional development of Eisenhower.  During World War I, General Fox Connor was a key planner that pushed American troops into the first battles against the Germans on the Western Front. He was a trusted leader that listened to the early military doctrine that these younger officers sought within the next major war. Eisenhower credited Patton with meeting Connor whom he considered to be a teacher and father figure that cultivated his earliest approach to leadership. Connor was a well-rounded officer that understood the need to work well with allies and to establish the most efficient military organization. These traits were all exhibited by Eisenhower’s command style during World War II and Connor advised his protégé to gain a position that enabled him to work with the brilliance of George C. Marshall. Although both men knew of each other and had brief encounters, they would not have any major connection for some twenty years until the start of World War II in 1939. 

Whereas Eisenhower did not serve in France during World War I, he had the unique opportunity to visit the battle sites with General John J. Pershing. The Battle Monuments Commission was established in 1923 to identify the different places that Americans fought from 1917-1918. While this was at first seen by Eisenhower as a limited position, he was in the presence of Pershing and he was able to show his considerable talents with his writing. Like that of the other senior officers, Pershing was extremely pleased with the ability of Eisenhower to accurately present the American contributions to this war.  Several years later when Pershing wrote his own memoirs, he asked Eisenhower to review the portions of this book that pertained to the battle sites that he commanded. In an interesting twist of fate, Eisenhower would again see these locations as the senior Allied commander during World War II.

In 1926, Eisenhower entered the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Missouri.  Armed with the knowledge of the terrain around Gettysburg, he was able to decisively speak about the tactics of this Civil War battle that made him shine amongst his fellow students. Graduating first in his class, he was given some help by his friend Patton who provided his notes to Eisenhower from his own time at this school. By the end of the 1920’s, Eisenhower completed the prestigious education through the War College. This school was established to train our future army leaders and Eisenhower was evaluated as being one of the most superior officers within his class. When he graduated his paper on mobilization was sent to the War Department, and some ten years later, his ideas were used during the tumultuous mobilization, training, and planning years of 1939-1941. 

In 1930, General Douglas MacArthur became the youngest Army Chief of Staff to hold this position.  While promotions were slow for Eisenhower, he was widely liked, and he continued to work with the best minds in the army.  As he respected the experience of MacArthur, Eisenhower did not like the the man’s ego and often clashed with some of his rash ideas. In 1932, World War I veterans widely suffered from the Great Depression and they descended on the capital to wage a massive protest. They sought an early payment of bonds that were promised to them for their service during the war. Army veterans organized themselves into groups, lobbied politicians, and slept on the lawn of the Capital Building.  

After there were hostile actions between the police and veterans, Hoover ordered MacArthur to use limited force to push these people out of Washington D.C.  Although MacArthur led many of these men, he was convinced that there were communist radicals intermixed within the protesters ranks and that they had to be driven out of the capital by excessive force. Eisenhower was appalled MacArthur’s action who he believed severely misinterpreted his orders from Hoover. As he later traveled with MacArthur to live in the Philippines to run their military, by 1939, he requested a transfer back to the states. He was burnt out for handling the numerous responsibilities of working for MacArthur and he wanted a fresh start away from this demanding officer. At this time, his son John asked him about entering West Point, Eisenhower stated that the army was good to him, but he would shortly be retiring as a colonel.

With World War II starting in Europe, General George C. Marshall was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt the position of Army Chief of Staff. It was known that Marshall kept an eye on promising officers that he was bound to place in key leadership positions. While he barely knew Eisenhower, Marshall was giving a glowing recommendation by General Mark Clark on his effectiveness. At one point, Eisenhower believed that Patton was destined for the highest rank and responsibility. While Marshall respected Patton, Eisenhower was one of the few officers that understood the big military picture, he respected his planning during the 1941 military maneuvers, and his ability to solve complex problems with little help from others.  

From 1941-1944, Eisenhower in quick time went from an untried senior officer in battle, to organizing the greatest coalition ever assembled to defeat Hitler’s forces in Europe. As Eisenhower pondered attacking Normandy in the hours before the June 6, 1944 D-Day landings, his many decades of service, experiences, and relationships helped him make this momentous decision. Always armed with the will to succeed for this nation and the world against this totalitarian power, Eisenhower’s presence some seventy six years ago made the tremendous decision to bring the beginning of the end to Hitler’s terrible rule on the European mainland.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

How Eisenhower made the choice that would lead to the end of the Third Reich

General Dwight D. Eisenhower addresses American troops before the D-Day invasion. Photo from the Library of Congress

By Rich Acritelli

In the early morning hours that led up to the D-Day landings, former general and later president Dwight D. Eisenhower had to make one of the most vital military decisions to determine the fate of plans to invade Normandy, France. While tens of thousands of men were waiting on ships that were being loaded with everything from blood to tanks, Eisenhower was delayed by hazardous weather. It was determined that the water conditions were too rough to launch and land the soldiers who were expected to make it ashore with tons of gear and against the fire of the German army.  Senior officers Gen. Omar N. Bradley and Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, and chief of staff Gen. Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, watched as Eisenhower was completely alone in determining if the Allies should carry out this attack.

Troops off the boats at the Normandy Invasion. Photo

As Eisenhower walked around the room, he was briefed by his meteorologist about a brief break in the weather that would possibly allow the Allied landings to reach the beaches of Normandy. The general heard Montgomery’s beliefs that all should be risked at this point. He also learned that if they did not go at this moment, it was likely that the Allies would have to wait until July to attack the shores of France due to poor weather reports. While these forces waited in large numbers, Eisenhower fully understood that Hitler was bound to learn of his plans to attack Normandy. He refused to allow noted Field Marshal Erwin Rommel the time to strengthen the French coastline with additional armaments, fortifications and resources to halt this Allied assault. Even as Eisenhower watched the success of Operation Fortitude’s ability to deceive Hitler of the Allies’ false accounts to attack the French location of Calais in the south and Norway in the north, this was too much of a secret to hold on to much longer.

In Germany, Hitler refused to listen to his generals in allowing flexibility within the deployment of Panzer tanks situated in Calais. Eisenhower tricked Hitler into believing that he would attack Calais, which was the closest French landing spot on the English Channel, but as he prepared for D-Day, the American general continually worried about this information being leaked out to the enemy. These fears were presented through a West Point classmate of Ike. Maj. Gen. Henry J.F. Miller was the commander of the 9th Army Air Force Service Command. He made a serious blunder that could have been extremely costly. Drunk, he was overheard speaking about these sensitive invasion plans in a busy English restaurant.  It was described by a younger officer that Miller spoke in an arrogant manner and that he showed no discipline in loudly addressing top secret plans to civilians. Right away Eisenhower questioned him and quickly sent his good friend home to the United States, where he was demoted to his previous rank of colonel. 

As he was surrounded by the likes of Prime Minister Winston Churchill, the deposed President of the French Republic Charles de Gaulle and Montgomery, his thoughts were never far away from the rank and file who were tasked to carry out his directives. Although Eisenhower was confident of success against the German army, he feared that his men were bound to suffer heavy casualties against the enemy that was waiting for them at Normandy. At this time, Eisenhower’s son graduated from West Point as a second lieutenant on June 6, 1944, during the very moment that the Allies carried out this risky operation. He was always troubled that he was ordering soldiers younger than his own boy to their possible deaths. To soothe the stress that he felt from his heavy burden of command, Eisenhower smoked almost five packs of cigarettes a day.

There is a famous picture of Eisenhower meeting members of the famed 101st Airborne Division, taken in the hours before he approved the invasion. He was alarmed over the estimated reports that the paratroopers would endure heavy losses. Most of these fears were put to rest when Eisenhower personally asked the airborne where they were from in America, the college teams they followed and their lives before the army. This commanding general always searched for soldiers who were from his own hometown of Abilene, Kansas. Whereas Eisenhower was immensely powerful, he was a well-rounded officer, who enjoyed playing cards and sports, and was extremely well-liked. These junior service members calmly told Eisenhower not to worry about the air drops, as they were determined to defeat the Germans.

Miller’s behavior was contrary to the views of Eisenhower, who preached that every member of the armed forces from private to general was needed to operate as a team to win this war in Europe. The moments leading up to D-Day were perhaps the most difficult that he had to handle through his extensive time in the military and his two-term presidency. Whereas Miller flaunted his rank, he failed to understand that World War II impacted every type of American. Higher command figures like Gen. George C. Marshall lost his stepson during the fighting. Former President Theodore Roosevelt’s younger son Ted was a brigadier general who landed at Normandy and died five weeks after this assault of a massive heart attack. Even FDR’s four sons were all in uniform, where they saw combat duty in Europe and the Pacific.  

As he pondered this vital decision, Eisenhower was constantly reminded of the poor conditions as the rain was heard hitting his headquarters in England.  With his arms folded behind him, Eisenhower looked at the American and British officers and stated, “The question is, just how long can you hang this operation on the end of a limb and let it hang there?” With the risk of the weather, Eisenhower continued, “I am quite positive we must give the order. I don’t like it, but there it is … I don’t see how we can do anything else.” This directive by Eisenhower cut the tension in the room, as his key air, naval and army officers carried out their D-Day responsibilities. Eisenhower wrote a detailed letter accepting the failure of this operation if his forces were pushed back into the English Channel.

Eisenhower was a spectator observing the military might of this machine that he molded to destroy the might of the German military that waited behind the “Atlantic Wall.”  This decision encompassed almost a year of intense training by the United States military and continuous day and nighttime bombing missions that targeted resources, bases, railroad lines and key targets that were able to support the enemy at Normandy. By June of 1944, Eisenhower was a seasoned leader who had learned from his own failures in North Africa and during the hard campaign to take Italy. He was extremely determined to defeat Hitler and drive the final nail in the German war machine to destroy their forces in France and move into Germany to gain a final victory. It was at this moment some 75 years ago that Eisenhower made the successful decision that led to the end of the Third Reich’s reign of terror in Europe.

Rich Acritelli is a social studies teacher at Rocky Point High School and an adjunct professor of American history at Suffolk County Community College.

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Marie Mack, front, and her family and friends celebrated her birthday Jan. 27. Photo from Betty Mulligan

By Jane Swingle 

Our grandparents Charles Petersen and Anna Kenney were married in 1913 and had three children. Their son, John Anthony, was born in 1917 and lived for 10 days. Their daughter, Marie Gertrude, our mother, was born in 1919 and has been living for 100 years. Mary Catherine was born in 1920 and lived for 24 hours.

Marie, who eventually married to become Marie Mack, always wanted a sibling and was told as a child that if she put salt on a windowsill, she would get a brother and if she put sugar on a windowsill she would get a sister. She said she remembers that at one time she had sugar or salt on 11 windowsills. Unfortunately for Marie, she remained an only child, and Jan. 18 of this year she celebrated her 100th birthday. A surprise birthday party was held for her Jan. 27 with over 90 guests in attendance.

Marie Mack during her birthday celebration Jan. 27. Photo from Betty Mulligan

She was loved dearly by her father who in 1898 joined the Navy during the Spanish-American War at the age of 15. She remembers him having a dry sense of humor (we’re sure she herself got this from him). He was a good cook and she always looked forward to a batch of potatoes, eggs and onions after work. Her dad loved coming out to Long Island to vacation and in 1928, when Marie was 10 years old, he bought the house in which she currently resides. They had spent their summers in the same house beginning in 1924, the same house that was the Mount Sinai Post Office and General Store from 1908 until 1922.

Her mother was very different from her father. She was very melancholic most of the time unless she was taking the Putnam Avenue trolley to downtown Brooklyn to go shopping. She crocheted beautiful baby outfits for her grandchildren and loved going to the movies. Marie said her mother had a beautiful smile and always wondered why she didn’t smile more often. 

They lived at 83 Saratoga Ave. in Brooklyn in what was known as the “Railroad Flats” where they paid a monthly rent of $25. As a child she remembers the iceman delivering blocks of ice two to three times a week to keep their food cold. Milk was delivered at 4 a.m. and they had dumbwaiters so they didn’t have to carry everything upstairs. They lived on the third floor and once Marie even put our sister Elizabeth, “Betty,” in the dumbwaiter so she didn’t have to carry her up all those stairs.

In 1934 Marie saw our future dad, John Howard Rogers,  working in a candy store and continued to eyeball him until they finally started dating in 1935. They went to their first prom at the Hotel George and she remembers wearing a pink taffeta long gown, silver shoes and our dad gave her her first corsage. They continued to see each other and in 1941 they were married and had their reception at her home on Saratoga Avenue. Our sister Ann Marie was born in December 1942, but our dad left soon after she was born for the Pacific front in April 1943. He did not see his daughter again until 1945 when he returned from the war. During the time that he was away our mother moved back in with her parents — she had only 35 cents to her name. She became an air raid warden and was given a certificate for selling war bonds.

When dad returned from the war, they became very busy making a family and in 1946 Elizabeth was born, followed by Nancy in 1951, Jane in 1953, John in 1954 and Thomas in 1956.  With this expanding family they could no longer live in Brooklyn so they moved to Woodhaven in 1948, then to Rockville Centre in 1962 and eventually to Mount Sinai in 1968.

When asked when her favorite years were, Marie told us during the 1950s when she was raising her children. She got us through chicken pox, measles, mumps, ear infections, the teen years and the death of our father in 1969. She went back to work in 1970 at the Probation Department in Yaphank and remained there until 1977 when she married Bernard Mack. She again lived in Woodhaven for a short time after they were married but moved back to her home in Mount Sinai.

In 1996 when going into her attic to open a window she fell through the ceiling and shattered her knee, which required surgery and many months of rehabilitation. During this time Bernard passed away, but she rallied around again with her children pushing her to recover and get well.

She often wonders why she has lived so long. On many occasions she has said: “I’m not good enough to go to heaven, not bad enough to go to hell, so I guess I’m still here to torment all of you.”

Marie Mack during her birthday celebration Jan. 27. Photo from Betty Mulligan

When we think about her life spanning 100 years, we are astounded with all the changes that she has experienced in her lifetime. She was born before most people had electricity in their homes. She remembers gas lamps still being used, when there was no TV, no computers, no cellphones and when it cost 2 cents to mail a letter. She has lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, 9/11 and 18 presidents. She was even born before they started slicing bread in 1928.

She credits her long life to her family for keeping her – in her words – “Alive, alert and stimulated.” She’s had many bumps along the way, especially the passing of our brother John and our sister Ann Marie, but she’s always had a positive attitude and has always wished our father could have been with her to share this journey. What amazes all of us is her incredible memory – she remembers names of friends when she was a child, teachers’ names, games she played, street names where she used to live, movies, actors, books she read and all the places she has ever worked. As a child she enjoyed going to Coney Island for hot dogs, the hurdy-gurdy man who played the accordion with his monkey, putting hot bricks in her bed at night to warm her feet and attending the World’s Fairs in both 1939 and 1964.

When asked what important lessons she wanted to pass on to her children, her 12 grandchildren and her eight great-grandchildren, she told us to always remember how important family is, to be respectful, considerate and always take the time to listen. She was the best teacher of these lesson and we couldn’t have asked for a better mother.

Jane Swingle is a resident of Norwich and echoes the sentiments of her siblings, Betty Mulligan, Nancy Rogers and Tom Rogers. Their mother Marie Mack has lived in Mount Sinai for close to 50 years.