It was 75 years ago, when the United States and its Allies invaded the beaches of Normandy, France thus beginning the liberation of German-occupied France and later, western Europe, from Nazi control. The Invasion of Normandy, often referred to as D-Day (Operation Neptune, part of Operation Overlord) was the largest seaborne invasion in history, taking place on June 6, 1944.
For historians and educators like Arn Kind, history must be preserved in order to retain the stature of the United States of America. Kind, an educator since 1976, to students of all ages, now spends his time traveling to different venues throughout Minnesota, giving historic reenactments and multimedia presentations revolving around the country’s most significant moments in history. The American Civil War, American Revolution, the Fur Trade, and the 100th anniversary celebration of America’s entry into World War I are just a few of Kind’s presentations.
On Thursday, June 6, the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he was in St. Peter.
“Each of my presentations requires six months to a year of research. It’s amazing how much I learn as I research significant moments in our history, even having been a history teacher. The amount of information is just unbelievable,” Kind explained. Not only does each event requires time and studying effort by Kind, but he also invests a significant amount of money into each of his presentations, purchasing artifacts and relics true to their time.
Once a Mankato area elementary school teacher, Kind knows how to keep his audience interested in the chosen topic. Hands on interaction and audience involvement are essential in Kind’s notion that history doesn’t have to be boring, and his approach makes it the exact opposite. His keen knowledge, extensive collection of artifacts, and his ability to make the audience feel as if they have traveled back in time and space, make his one-of-a-kind demonstrations a must-see experience.
Gabriela Roemhildt, St. Peter assistant program supervisor, contacted Kind a year ago, knowing the 75th Anniversary was taking place in 2019, asking if he would be available to speak on behalf of this significant moment in United States history.
“As a former military spouse of 25 years, I know first hand the sacrifices that our military puts forth to serve our country. We have a lot of veterans in and around our community, and pulling people together to talk about a shared history, and what makes American’s unique, has to be celebrated,” said Roemhildt.
St. Peter American Legion Post 37 and its affiliates, as well as the Nicollet County Historical Society and the Traverse De Sioux Treaty History Site, also took part in the anniversary presentation. The American Legion provided color guard presentation and a rendering of Taps to honor the fallen was played by Mark Roemhildt, a retired St. Peter Navy veteran.
Artifacts and relics conducive to WWII were pulled from their hometown displays at the Treaty Site and assisted in Kind’s hands on approach to the reenactment of the D-Day attack. Uniforms, artillery, weapons, and live interactive examples of what took place during the attack were accompanied by movie clips from movies such as “Saving Private Ryan.”
With more than a year in the making, D-Day was originally intended to take place on Monday, June 5, 1944, but inclement weather and poor visibility in the skies pushed the operation off for another day. With only a few optimal days within a month to work with the tides, the weather was less than cooperative for a successful attack.
Chaos broke out in the skies; pilots became disoriented because of massive cloud cover over the drop zones where they were to drop their comrades for air to land attacks. About 1,200 planes flew toward enemy lines in carefully planned formations, carrying three airborne divisions, and 24,000 troops to their drop zones. But confusion and uncooperative weather caused some pilots to panic and pull out of formations. Some dropped their airmen too close to the ground, others took to the skies at higher altitudes without knowing, and released their crew too soon, leaving the parachuters open behind enemy lines in the sky, for enemy target practice.
This caused massive casualties before soldiers would even begin to fight on the ground. About 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers comprised the success of the Normandy landings. Five battleships, 20 cruisers, 65 destroyers and two monitors sailed to their rendezvous points off the coast of France, carrying 132,000 troops across the English Channel that morning of June 6, 1944.
Landings of infantry were delayed because of rough seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.
Between June 6 and the end of August, Operation Overlord casualties reached more than 425,000. Many lost their lives, but the invasion was considered key bringing down the Nazi regime.
75 years later, Operation Overlord, the Invasion of Normandy, remains the largest seaborne attack to ever take place in history. Many WWII veterans, including those who were witness to D-Day and the battles in the days that followed, have now passed on. Others still remember and will never forget. Stories have been shared with family members and friends throughout the decades that followed, and the memories still remain steadfast.
“Those that do not learn history are condemned to repeat the mistakes made in the past,” Kind said in his presentation.
For Kind, keeping the memories alive and our country’s history alive is essential in keeping with our forefathers wishes and honoring those who still serve. According to him, our nation would not be what it is today without the selfless sacrifices that paved the way to freedom.
He noted a letter to the Allied forces from then Army General and later President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”