JROTC cadets ravel to D-Day ceremonies in France
Three cadets in the Madras High School JROTC program, Kira Povis, Rabeka Ellis and Amaya Bisland, recently traveled to Normandy, France, June 2-10, with Lt. Col. Larry Renfro and his wife, to participate in the D-Day Memorial Parade on June 6, and other activities.
They were among the 10 cadets on the All-National JROTC Honor Platoon Tour, coordinated by Renfro for the past several years. The students toured Washington, D.C., before flying to France for the D-Day ceremonies.
Kira Povis, who was installed as next year's MHS JROTC Battalion Commander before leaving on the trip, said of the group, "There were other students and we all got to know each other. Three were from Indiana, two from Texas, one from South Carolina, and one from Virginia."
She said the part of the trip she liked best was, "Going to the cemeteries and getting to look at the memorials and visiting with (guest speaker) Mr. Shay."
"To see how many people actually gave their lives was a heart-touching moment, because I have a lot of friends going into the military," Povis said.
The cadets were part of the huge D-D Memorial Parade on June 6 in St Mere Eglise, and had the chance to tour Paris, France, for two days before returning home.
Rabeka Ellis was most impressed by the American Cemetery and Omaha Beach. "I liked the history and learning about what hahppened there, and actually getting to see what they had to go through to make it there," Ellis said.
Amaya Bisland said her favorite part was the memorial ceremonies. "We got to see Omaha and Utah beaches, and attended two memorial services (at the American Cemetery at Britany, and the Normandy American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer).
Bisland, who is of Native American heritage, said "I was the one who laid down the wreaths at one of the memorials. The guest speaker was Native American, and Bisland said she was not aware of the information he presented on tribal servicemen.
"The only World War II stories I had heard were from my grandfather, not (Shay's) stories," she said.
At the Normandy American Cemetery ceremony, June 5, the cadets had the chance to meet guest speaker Charles Norman Shay, Master Sgt. USAF, Ret., who is a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation.
Shay spoke of the little known service and sacrifices of the Native Americans, who fought in the D-Day battle.
"Nine years ago, I made my first pilgrimage back to Omaha Beach. It was a peaceful morning in the early fall. The sea was calm and the skies blue. A few people walked along the seashore. But in my mind, a radically different scene unfolded," he said.
"A beach littered with dead and wounded men, large iron obstacles and an armada of grey boats on stormy waves. Black smoke and smell of nitrate filled the air. Ear-splitting explosions. Screaming or yelling men everywhere. I confronted a past I had tried to forget, but never really did."
On D-Day 1994, I was a 19 year-old platoon medic attached to Fox Company, 2nd Battalion of the 16th Regiment of the First Division – the famous Big Red One. It was my first day in combat and I was in the first wave of assault," Shay said.
"Landing at down, we waded through a sea reddening with the blood of wounded or dying comrades. I came ashore at the Western end of a stretch designated Fox Green, just below a German bunker complex guarding the draw to Colleville. Mortar bombs and enemy machine-gunners entrenched in Widerstandsnest 62 mowed down hundreds of young Americans that morning."
"Among the mortally wounded was a fellow medic I remember to this day: Edward Morocewitz. A son of Polish immigrants, he was a year older than me. We had trained together in England and he came ashore in the landing boat next to mine. I last saw him on the beach. He was in severe pain. All I could do was to shoot morphine in his upper thigh and bid him farewell. Only 20 years old, he was buried here at the war cemetery. Posthumously, he was awarded the Purple Heart and a Silver Star," Shay told the crowd.
"Six other medics in my regiment were killed, and another 27 were wounded, some so seriously that they never rejoined the regiment. Among them was my sergeant Ray Lambert. We lost track of each other on D-Day, but finally met each other again at a reunion of my regiment. Now, in his mid-90s, he could not make the long journey back to Normandy this year." He said.
"Our regiment suffered nearly 1,000 casualties, including hundreds killed. In my own company, almost half of all the soldiers and seven out of nine officers were already wounded or dead by noon. About 3,000 young Americans, Canadians, Brits and Poles lost their lives, and another 6,000 were wounded in just one day. Neither words nor pictures convey the actual experience."
"When asked to share my story, I agreed as I want to foster a greater public awareness on both sides of the ocean that thousands of warriors from a few hundred American and Canadian Indian tribal reservations also participated in the liberation of enemy-occupied Europe. Most were infantry, many were paratroopers. Others were radiomen and machine-gunners aboard bombers or on battleships, and a few piloted fighter planes," he said.
"Dozens of Canadian Indians, including Cree, Chippewa, Mi'kmaq and Maliseet fighters came ashore on Juno Beach. Hundreds of American Indians jumped from the dark skies or waded ashore on Omaha as well as Utah (beaches). Among them were Cheyenne, Comanche, Kiowa, and Lakota, and also Mohawk, Pawnee, and Passamaquoddy. There were at least two Penobscots from a small tribal reservation village in Maine: Melvin Neptune and me," Shay noted.
"Most of us were raised in the unique ways of our own ancestral cultures and many carried Indian sacred medicines to the battlefields, sang traditional death songs, and performed war rituals before entering combat."
"On the night before the Normandy invasion, I met Neptune aboard our ship. We were distantly related, as we share a forefather, who was a war chief. A rifleman, he had already fought the Germans in North Africa and Sicily. He came ashore at Omaha later in the afternoon. Neptune was awarded the bronze star for taking out a German machine-gunner just outside Colleville in our first night on French soil," he said.
"I spent my first night in Normandy all alone. Somewhere in a wooded gully, I tried to sleep. I felt too exhausted to hear the noise and was too numb to notice the corpses of so many men."
"Every family in my home village at Indian Island had loved ones overseas. My own mother had four sons and said goodbye to each of them. We know her prayers were with us. That was true for my brothers, who fought in the Pacific and that thought also deeply inspired me and helped me find the courage to treat wounded comrades and rescue those about to drown here in the rising tide," he said.
"Of the war, I have forgotten almost everything. My forgetting has nothing to do with my old age. It has everything to do with the horrors I witnessed. For that reason, many combat veterans remain silent. WE all wanted to forget."
"Now, almost all my comrades have passed away. Most of us did not speak about the war when we came home. Few of us were ever asked. My three brothers and I never shared any wartime stories. Neptune, too, was silent about that past. Memories died with them," Shay said.
"Until my early 80s, I too did not speak about the war. As one of the last survivors, I want to keep the memory alive of brave young medics like Morocewiicz and American Indians like Neptune."
"In the quiet of the morning of my first return to Normandy in 2007, I found the stretch where we had come ashore and performed a simple traditional Indian ceremony with a sacred eagle feather, burning tobacco, sage and sweet grass. Honoring my comrades, I sent my prayers into the four directions, earth and sky. Today, I honor them here in public at the war cemetery before I myself will join them in the spirit world," Shay said.