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2015-11-12

'Band of Brothers' in Bandera for Veterans Day

By Susan Junker BCC Contributor

Photos by Doug and Carol King
During last summer's D-Day tour, former Bandera County Commissioner Doug King and his wife, Carol, visited Dog Green Sector of Omaha Beach. Aka the "Killing Field," the spot was so-named because countless soldiers were killed here by German crossfire. "It is visits to these historical sites that renew our gratitude and pride in the courage of our veterans and their families," King said. He will serve as keynote speaker at the Bandera Honors Veterans ceremony, beginning at 10 am, Saturday, Nov. 14.

hotos by Doug and Carol King
Last June, former Bandera County Commissioner Doug King and his wife, Carol, participated in historian Stephen Ambrose's D-Day and World War II tour. Included was a stop at Bletchley Park in Portsmouth England - code name "Ultra" - where British intelligence agents broke Germany's ENIGMA" machine and its codes, saving countless lives.

This view of Omaha Beach was taken from a German bunker. Americans who landed here on D-Day, June 6, 1944, faced the strongest German resistance of the day's invasion and incurred their greatest losses.

A memorial of red, white and blue flowers was placed by citizens on Utah Beach on, June 6, 2015, the D-Day anniversary. In France, the sacrifice of American troops during World War II has not been forgotten.




As historian Stephen Ambrose wrote in his 2001 "Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest": "The past is a source of knowledge, and the future is a source of hope. Love of the past implies faith in the future."
On Saturday, Nov. 14, this quote will become the theme of the Bandera Honors Veterans Celebration. The day's activities will put this quote into action - demonstrating to future generations a love of the past that strengthens our faith and hope for a peaceful future.
The tribute starts with family military displays on the courthouse lawn, beginning at 10 am with the program at 11 am and parade at noon, followed by the veterans barbecue luncheon.
Ambrose's book became a 10-part television mini-series, "Band of Brothers," which chronicled Easy Company that was dropped behind enemy lines in 1944. In the late 1970s, Ambrose led his first combination D-Day-World War II tour. The tours enabled participants to understand better the experiences of those military service members - experiences that led to incredible victories on behalf of this country.
Former Bandera County Commissioner Doug King and his wife, Carol, of Utopia, both avid history buffs, participated in the Ambrose D-Day tour to the Rhine and Berchtesgaden last June. Since King's son currently serves with the 101st Airborne, this tour was personal and important. As the 2015 Bandera Honor Veterans program guest speaker, King will share a few of the couple's most moving experiences of the trip.
The D-Day tour began in London in the Churchill War Rooms, nerve center for British planning and operations; Eisenhower's headquarters; and the Imperial War Museum. They viewed the Enigma machine, built to decrypt Axis codes and cyphers. Each evening, the tour group assembled for insights and films to prepare for the next day.
A cross-channel ferry ride allowed tour participants to approach Normandy from the same direction as Allied troops in 1944. Visits to various landing sites and critical events, experienced by the Allies and Easy Company, included Ste-Mere-Eglise, La Fiere Bridge, Brecourt Manor and the Invasion Museum.
The "Day at Utah Beach" and surrounding sites allowed the Kings to experience the immensity of the task and wonder at the "strength of character that kept soldiers going across the beach and up the hills."
The group then traveled to Omaha Beach where the Americans landed and faced the strongest German resistance and incurred the greatest losses.
King recalled, "We walked out at low tide to the water's edge. We turned around to try to visualize what they saw ... the layout and limited number of German guns, but with exceptional overlapping fields of fire. The troops had to cover 400 yards through the cross fire with cover. There were massive deaths. Of 225 Rangers, only 90 made it through."
He continued, "From there, we paid our respects at the American Cemetery that serves as the final resting place for 9,387 American soldiers." The tour also included walking through German fortifications, hearing about little known events and viewing D-Day invasion from the German perspective.
Visiting the D-Day invasion beaches at Normandy, as well as Ste Marie du Monde, Dead Man's Corner, Carentan, Carol King found it difficult to "try to take in the sheer immensity of it all, looking at the cliff at Pointe-du-Hoc."
She found D-Day ceremonies - with participation of countries from around the world - especially moving. Given Carol King's father's maritime service, the Navy tribute at Utah Beach proved particularly meaningful. Her father had served in the Navy in the Pacific Theater during WWII. Following a longstanding tradition, the couple packed a few small stones from Utopia to replace the teaspoon of sand they gathered there.
Following Easy Company's journey to Paris and Arnhem, the Kings studied Operation Market Garden, the Allies early attempt to strike directly for Berlin. This included Hell's Highway; Nijmegen, where the 82nd Airborne crossed the Waal River; and the operations conducted at Ardennes.
The tour followed the route of the 101st Airborne through Bastogne where the 101st held off 15 German Divisions for six days. The final leg of the journey included Berchtesgaden with General Patton's grave, the Siegfried Line, Eagles Nest, and Dachau.
When describing the visit to the Dachau Concentration Camp, the Kings finished each other's thoughts, noting it was "very somber, quiet. The drizzly and foggy day made it even more emotionally wrenching."
"Sadness and fear were heavy in the air," Carol King said. "I wasn't prepared for the sorrow of it - overwhelming terror, death, fear and sorrow."
"It was important for us to pay our respects," Doug King added. Over 200,000 prisoners from more than 30 countries were housed in Dachau, which was the second camp liberated by British and American forces.
The tour provided an opportunity not only to recall the heroes and veterans of World War II, but also all those before and since who have secured the freedom of Americans and so many other people.
The Bandera Honor Veterans event will be a local opportunity to do the same. Bandera has a long, honorable history of sending its best when the nation called. Therefore, we should do no less than celebrate our heritage and the individuals who built it.