By JENNIFER McBRIDE Daily News
Al Meyer of West Bend may not have stepped off the ship on to the beaches at Normandy, France, 70 years ago today on June 6, 1944, but like many young soldiers, he knows the feeling of putting his boots on the ground in an unfamiliar land while being attacked.
“When we came back from a stint on the line we were back to the rear area back in tents for a little relaxation,” he said. “We talked about it, it must have been one hell of a bunch of men who lost their lives.”
Of 160,000 Allied troops who landed on a 50-mile stretch of beach, more than 9,000 died.
Richfield Trustee and peacetime Marine veteran Rock Brandner was just a kid “living on a farm in northern Wisconsin with a radio operated by a car battery” on D-Day. It took days for the family to keep up on war news.
“If we wouldn’t have fought back in Germany and Japan, there would probably be no America as the way it is today. Absolutely not,” Brandner said. Though not at Normandy, he had three brothers serving during World War II.
His brother Raymond Brandner, 88, was in the Merchant Marines on a ship when allies were retaking the Philippines. He was out of service for a year but went back as an Army soldier when the Korean War started. His brother Herbert Brandner is 101 years old. He was in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a butcher and because of his skills, was taken around the country to show others how to render tallow into lard. This was used in cooking for the troops.
Rock’s brother Roman, since passed, was drafted into the Marines but saw no combat. He trained to invade Japan. “They were ready to board a ship to invade Japan and old Harry dropped the bomb,” Rock said.
Kewaskum High School students are taught about D-Day and World War II in a mandatory American history class. Though it’s mandatory, teacher Luke Piwoni said many students want to be in it.
“Typically we spend a lot of time on World War II in general,” he said, “because of the mass amount of lives lost and the risks they had to take to make that operation successful.”
Afterwards they discuss if D-Day was worth that risk and “the sacrifice that was necessary and that question of ‘Would you be able to do something like that?’” This year, students overwhelmingly said it was worth it.
“We look at the entire war and they realize if this didn’t happen, who knows how it would have turned out,” Piwoni said.
With parental consent, students see a bit of the movie “Saving Private Ryan.” “The opening really gives them a good understanding of how brutal and gruesome it was and that it was a suicide mission,” Piwoni said. “You can talk about it all you want, but until the kids see a visual, I don’t think it really sinks in.”
Not only is the class an eye-opener for the students, Piwoni said it is for him as students share stories passed down from World War II veteran family members and friends.