An estimated audience of some 500 watched and listened to the D-Day +70 commemoration ceremony held in the Wisconsin State Capitol Rotunda at noon Friday, June 6.
It was June 6, 1944, that Allied forces stormed the beaches in Normandy in the action that historians see as changing the tide of World War II and was the beginning of the march to Berlin that ultimately brought Germany to surrender.
The Normandy landings, code named Operation Neptune, were the largest seaborne invasions in history as some 24,000 British, U.S. and Canadian troops landed on a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast that was divided into five sectors: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beach.
Strong winds blew the landing craft off their intended positions, particularly at Utah and Omaha, and the men landed under heavy fire from gun emplacements overlooking the beaches. The shore was mined and covered with obstacles such as wooden stakes, metal tripods and barbed wire. Casualties were heaviest at Omaha beach.
Leslie Mabie, as a 22-year-old member of a special signal core unit that landed very early in the landing, not only survived (one of the few in his 294th Joint Assault Signal Company that did) but went on to become a well-known Jersey dairyman and farmer in Stoughton.
Mabie, now 92 and in failing health since his wife Jeannette died May 22, was accompanied to the ceremony by his son Stanley.
You may remember a story I wrote about Les Mabie on these pages May 24, 2012, and how he never talked about his war involvement, something that was a real shock and surprise to his farmer friends, neighbors and even family when they read his story.
Stan Mabie said he found certifications (during preparations for his mother's funeral) that his dad had been awarded two Bronze Stars, the fourth-highest individual military award given for acts of heroism, acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone (apparently another Les Mabie war secret).
As I wrote previously, I consider Les Mabie, the mild-mannered and unassuming dairy farmer, a real-life hero and one of those responsible for what America is and has been for the decades since World War II. Knowing this humble dairyman is a special privilege.
The program in Madison, "D-Day +70: Honoring Wisconsin's Heroes" was hosted by the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Wisconsin Honor Flights and the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association.