The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

The Danville News

June 5, 2014

D-Day anniversary: Omaha beach landing ‘a mess’

DANVILLE — It wasn’t until Independence Day in 1999 that Murray Hackenburg would discuss the D-Day invasion of World War II.

Code-named Operation Neptune, it was the largest seaborne invasion in history, beginning June 6, 1944.

Friday marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day — the start of the invasion of German-occupied Western Europe and a contributor to the Allied victory.

“All the years I had been interested in military history and even before I was 10 years old, I kept asking Dad questions growing up but he didn’t talk about it until then,” said Randy Hackenburg. “I took out the tape recorder and spent two hours with him asking him all the questions he was willing to talk to me about.”

Randy Hackenburg lives in Boiling Springs and is the retired curator of the U.S. Army Military History Institute at the Carlisle Barracks — the Army’s official repository for historical materials.

His dad, who taught school in Danville and served as a principal, died at age 84 in 2004.

“It was a mess. The things he saw and all those poor guys saw — all they wanted to do was forget it,” Randy Hackenburg said of D-Day.

After graduating from Danville High School, Murray Hackenburg joined the National Guard when he was 18 in 1939. His Danville unit became a full-time Army unit in 1941.

The National Guard Danville Unit became the headquarters of the 1st Battalion 107th Field Artillery of the 28th Infantry Division.

Hackenburg was assigned to a shore fire control unit of 12 men with each group having two radios and each soldier issued a .45-caliber auto pistol.

The targeted 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast of France was divided in five sections — Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword beaches. At age 23, Hackenburg landed on what was called the easy red portion of Omaha Beach with the 16th Infantry Regiment.

“Both radios of his unit were shot up and inoperable and with just a pistol they couldn’t do much to shoot snipers on the beach,” Hackenburg said.

By the time his dad landed with the second wave, there were already lots of bodies on the beach.

When they arrived on that coast, the soldiers were already sick from dysentery and by the ships having circled and circled, he said. “The uniforms they received stunk to high heaven. They had no clean clothes for weeks,” he said.

While he doesn’t know how many of his dad’s unit survived, his dad was on that beach overnight as they continued to push inward.

“He didn’t do much fighting. He had nothing to fight with. He followed along after the infantry men. He kept his head down was what it amounted to,” Randy said.

Hackenburg later was able to experience some light moments.

After arriving at a replacement depot, he was adopted by a white ferret. “He would take off his shoes in the pup tent and the ferret would crawl into his shoe and sleep there. When he left the depot, it stayed behind at the depot,” he said.

Hackenburg has a silver ring bearing the great seal of the United States his dad purchased in a store in Louisiana while on maneuvers. He was wearing it when he landed on Omaha Beach. His son also has a New Testament, called the bullet shield because it had a metal plate over it, his dad carried. His aunt Mary Jane Hackenburg had given it to his dad.

Hackenburg and his fiancée, Mae, corresponded nearly every day during the war. “I have about seven boxes full of letters he sent home to mom,” his son said.

“My Dad was quick to acknowledge God as the one who kept him safe during those hours on Omaha Beach and who brought him home at the end of the war,” Hackenburg said.

Because of points accumulated and number of battles he was in, Hackenburg was among the early troops discharged following V-E Day on May 8, 1945. He and Mae were married June 12, 1945. Mae died in 1996.

Hackenburg went to Bloomsburg College on the GI Bill, taught at Danville and served as principal of the Fourth Ward School. Also a teacher, Mae taught in Danville schools during the war.

Randy Hackenburg, who has participated in Danville’s Iron Heritage Festival in past years, has written three books, two about Montour County and the Revolutionary War and the Civil War.

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