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Remembering D-Day 74 years later

By Andrew Atkins • Jun 6, 2018 at 3:00 PM

Donald I. Jakeway remembers the blitzing heat of a bullet flying by his face.

Jakeway, now 95 and a resident of Johnstown, jumped with the Army 82nd Airborne's 508th Parachute Infantry into Normandy 15 minutes after midnight on June 6, 1944: D-Day.

Storms of flak rocketed through the sky around Jakeway as he parachuted down. He landed in a tree in a churchyard. It took him 10 days to reunite with his company, during which time he traveled with the British and another U.S. company. He fought through Normandy for 37 days.

"Europe had been under occupation for three to four years," Jakeway said. "They had fortified (Normandy) ... Everyone was just like slaves."

Some 156,000 American, British and Canadian forces landed on five beaches along a 50-mile stretch of France's Normandy coast, where they met stiff resistance from well-entrenched Germans in concrete bunkers placed at strategic points along the coast and beaches with mines and other anti-tank obstacles as well as wooden stakes, barbed wire, and metal tripods to impede landing craft and the movement of troops once ashore.

Within three months, however, the northern part of France would be freed by more than 2 million Allied troops and the invasion force would be preparing to enter Germany, where they would meet up with Soviet forces moving in from the east.

Jakeway continued to fight until a sniper bullet struck him in the chest on Jan. 31, 1945. He recovered in an English hospital until that August, then he was sent home.

It's important to continue to remember D-Day today because of the bravery of service members such as Jakeway, said Ron Albers, a Vietnam veteran and retired Ohio National Guard colonel.

"Those people never knew when they were coming back," he said.

And many didn't come back. Jakeway's company went into Normandy with 130 men and came out with 30, he said.

More than 20,000 dead were among the total of approximately 124,400 American Army casualties between D-Day and the end of August 1944. The First Canadian and Second British Armies had nearly 16,000 killed among their 83,000 casualties. In addition, there were 8,536 U.S. Army Air Corps and 8,536 Royal Air Force airmen killed with 4,100 aircraft lost, according to historical military casualty records.

Though it's been 74 years since D-Day, Jakeway and Albers don't think the nation has forgotten the story of D-Day and the sacrifices made to help end World War II.

One restaurant, La Chatelaine, which has three locations in central Ohio, provides a free meal to veterans every D-Day. Jakeway and Albers stop by every year to talk with other veterans, though Jakeway said the crowd from WWII is thinning out.

D-Day should never be forgotten, Albers said, because so many people gave up their lives not only for freedom in this country, but other countries, too.

"Because we won, we still have the freedom we have in this country," he said.

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©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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