Seventy-five years ago, 156,000 young men from the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada landed on five beaches that stretched over 50 miles along the German-fortified Normandy Coast. In addition to those brave soldiers, thousands more manned the 6,939 ships and landing vessels and the over 3,000 aircrafts that dropped airborne troops behind enemy lines. Without the heroic sacrifices made during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944, the Allies may not have defeated the Nazi forces in Europe. It was a critical turning point in the war and a critical time in world history.
My uncle, Richard Havel, was one of those sailors who served on a support ship that was part of the D-Day fleet. My Uncle Dick was my father’s oldest brother. He had graduated from Springfield College in 1943 and was commissioned as a lieutenant in the U.S. Navy serving on the U.S.S Atlas in the Atlantic, which participated in the D-Day invasion. Later in the war, he was also deployed on the U.S.S. Capricornus in the Pacific.
After the war, he returned to New York City, attended Columbia University, and began a life-long career as a professor of physical education at several colleges, including Hunter College in New York and Wayne State University in Michigan.
His ties with former shipmates on the U.S.S. Atlas continued through his life, and he faithfully attended reunions to reconnect with them.
He had a wonderful family and a wonderful life. I danced with him at my wedding in 2000. I attended a celebration of his life in 2008.
It makes me sad that I never sat down with him and heard his story about what it was like to be part of that momentous day in history 75 years ago. Capturing the memories of your loved ones is a treasure your family can’t afford to miss out on.
Thanks to the “Tell Me a Story” oral history program at the Midwest Genealogy Center in Independence, Mo., you have two ways to record these stories for the future:
- Visit: Call the Midwest Genealogy Center (816.252.7228) and make an appointment with a trained oral history technician who will help set up the equipment and record your interview on-site. MGC is open daily.
- Check out a Tell Me a Story kit: If you or your loved one is unable to travel to MGC to record the interview, or if you are traveling to visit someone outside of the area, kits can be picked up or sent to your nearest MCPL location for checkout. Kits contain easy-to-use recording devices, instructions, and sample questions that can be helpful with starting conversations.
In both cases, you will receive a copy of the recording for your use that can be duplicated for other family members.
In honor of D-Day, honor your family’s past – record your loved one’s history before those memories are lost.