D-Day Remembered In Middle Tennessee, Where Thousands Of Troops Prepared To Invade

Members of the Second Army near Watertown, practicing with the 50 caliber machine gun they added by hand to a 37 mm gun vehicle. Via Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Second Army near Watertown, practicing with the 50 caliber machine gun they added by hand to a 37 mm gun vehicle. Via Wikimedia Commons

World War II veterans joined state officials at Fontanel Mansion Friday to mark the 70th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

Willy Howard Bullard remembers storming the beaches of Normandy.

 “We go there and crawled for a long ways. On the top of the hill there were German machine guns set up. Then here come our planes. And they bombed all that.”

Em Ghianni was fighting half a world away in the Philippines at the time. He still remembers getting word over the radio that Allied troops had successfully stormed the French coast.

“We were happy campers when that happened. It saved a lot of lives, and a lot of frustrations.”

Middle Tennessee has a special tie to D-Day. Throughout the war, the area was used as a training ground for soldiers and airmen because the terrain is similar to western Europe.

In the leadup to the invasion, a massive war game covered 20 counties, preparing roughly 800-thousand troops for the fighting that would follow the Omaha Beach landing. Cumberland University in Lebanon served as headquarters for the so-called Tennessee Maneuvers.

The exercise was perhaps a little more realistic than some residents would like; 4 million dollars worth of damage claims were filed afterwards.

A crowd gathered at Nashville's Union Station to send off soldiers to the front, in 1943. Image via the Tennessee State Archives

A crowd gathered at Nashville’s Union Station to send off soldiers headed for the front in 1943. Image via the Tennessee State Archives

Bobby Allyn also contributed to this story

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