by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
The words of “God Bless America” sung by Erin Gilmore filled the brisk fall air Saturday at the Mid-Continent Public Library's annual Veterans Salute in Platte City.
CE Jean Long, 87, and Herald Searcy, both of Dearborn, were among the many war veterans honored in Platte City at the 70th anniversary of the D-Day Invasion of Normandy during World War II. The event commemorated what many considered to be a military event unparalleled to any other in history.
No other military event has “transported a quarter of a million troops across an open body of land, delivered 18,000 airborne troops behind enemy lines, sorting 4,000 ships, and launched 5,100 bombers to establish a 50-mile beach head and launched a major attack against a fortified enemy in the history of the world,” said Platte City Mayor Frank Offutt.
The June 6, 1944 invasion of Normandy, known as D-Day, led the allies to expand their foothold on the beaches of Juno, Utah, Omaha, Gold, and Sword.
Colonel John Brooks and Al Churny are the only surviving veterans in the Greater Kansas City area who participated in the invasion of Normandy.
Offutt said the patriotism shown by those on D-Day cannot simply be passed through DNA, but rather acquired through experiences and sought after opportunities.
“Those who have served our nation, who have laid their lives on the line for the defense of our nation's security of its own people, are the embodiment of healthy patriotism through their own sacrifice,” he said.
“This morning, one can learn through the exchanges, the displays, and demonstrations that the ability to sacrifice one's own comforts, even one's own needs, is for the greater good of others. This sacrifice is at the heart and core of military service,” said Mayor Offutt.
Service men and women were asked to sign a collage of artistically crafted portraits of heroes, framed beautifully at the entryway of the Platte City Mid-Continent Public Library. CE Jean Long and Herald Searcy of Dearborn, who served in the United States Navy during WWII, were among those invited to leave their mark.
Searcy shared memories of his time as a United States Navy pilot aboard the USS Intrepid CV 11 in the Pacific. Commissioned during Franklin Roosevelt's presidency in September of 1944, Searcy underwent 18 months of training as a B-5 aviation cadet. Afterward, he joined Air Group 14 and was sent to the Pacific. Searcy considers himself fortunate because “I didn't shoot at anybody and nobody shot at me.”
Air Group 14 was scheduled to leave for the invasion on Japan in August. Those plans changed when the 33rd President extended his authority to drop the bomb on Japan. The first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima Aug. 6, 1945. The second was dropped on Nagasaki Aug. 9, 1945.
Searcy said it was a “quick way to end the war.”
“Everybody kind of frowns on Harry Truman for dropping the atomic bomb, but Jean and I probably wouldn't be here today had he not done so,” said Searcy. “It would have been a terrible battle, had the battle invasion of Japan occurred. There would have been a lot of lives lost. They figure more than 2.5 million people would have died.”
Rough calculations indicate the effects of the bombing on Hiroshima killed 90,000-166,000 people and the bombing of Nagasaki killed anywhere from 60,000-80,000 people.
A month after the war ended, Searcy assisted with the allied occupation of Japan. While based in Tokyo Bay, Japan, Searcy said he was surprised with what he saw.
“Japanese citizens would back off the sidewalk and bow to us,” said Searcy. “Their leader had told them they should never want to surrender because Americans were terrible people. That was a lie.”
Today, the USS Intrepid serves as the foundation of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City.
“To me it was a great honor and a privilege to serve in the Navy and the country. I think most people back in those days felt that way. The cause was just and we were there to try to foot the bill. From what I read, I guess we really did,” said Searcy.
Long, who served as a storekeeper on a destroyer during WWII, referred to the warship as a “taxicab of the Pacific,” escorting larger vessels towards battle.
“I was in a couple of scraps but lucked out,” said Long.
Steve Potter, library director and CEO, expressed his gratitude to the brave men and women in attendance who served in the Armed Services.
“Your courage and sacrifice, both on and off the battlefield, is the entire reason we are here today,” said Potter.
Service men and women in attendance stood as the multi-award winning American Legion Band of Greater Kansas City performed the anthem of every branch of the U.S Armed Services.
Following the opening ceremony, veterans and library patrons gathered inside where displays showcased memorabilia of the WWII era.
A member of the Kansas City Military Collections Club revealed blueprints of the atomic bombs deployed during WWII. Nearby, an alarming beeping of a radiation detection device alerted that danger was near. A female dressed in WWII military attire displayed medical supplies used to heal the wounded.
Among the dozens of waving American flags, historical memorabilia, vintage military vehicles, and a Vietnam-era helicopter, the Platte City Mid-Continent Public Library resembled a living history museum much more than a room stacked high with books.
This was not by accident.
Engaging the community on a higher level is the main focus for the MCPL system, indicated Potter.
“A library is no longer a warehouse of books,” said Potter. “A library is a place where people can come to collaborate and build community. I think that is what we are doing here today. We are building a community.
“Young people are getting to learn stories from people who have served. People who have served get to extend their knowledge and build a sense of community with other people who have served. There is nothing more exciting for me to see veterans of different conflicts come together to build a community at an event like this,” Potter added.