South Carolina Teacher with Normandy Allies
A New Meaning—A Fresh Understanding
—John L. Kuntz, Ph.D., Sergeant Major, U.S. Army (R), SAI, ROTC Commander
The 2011 Normandy Allies excursion was the culmination of 34 years of military service and nine years of teaching ROTC in High School and English in college at the Citadel. Well do I remember the last 16 years of my career in the 29th Light Infantry Division and all the trips that I missed to England and France and the Normandy Battlefields. After serving s an AGR Operations Sergeant in five different battalions and as the Operations Sergeant Major in the 29th Division Support Command (DISCOM), I always seemed to be in the wrong part of the Division whenever the overseas deployments became available, especially to the Normandy Beaches. Like most soldiers of the Division, I had heard all the stories about the horrific landing at Omaha Beach and always wondered what the real landscape looked like. I tried to imagine Pointe du Hoc. Realistically, it is impossible to understand the magnitude of D-Day and the Normandy Beachhead without actually seeing the terrain and recalling the untold sacrifice of the American Infantry on the 6th of June, 1944. To say the least, the experience this past summer was more that I could have imagined.
What started off as a massive forced-entry onto the French coastline, Operation Overlord quickly became a killing-ambush upon the cold, tidal flats of a bitter, rainy day some 67 years ago, when being in a 29th Division landing craft was truly being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Writing this, I cannot but help remember my three-mile walk northwards along the Omaha Beach Front this past summer with Walter Ford Carter. Like D-Day, misty rain and cold winds covered our every step. Our guarded talk belied our feeling that somehow fate had played a cruel joke on the young soldiers from the “Blue and Gray” Division, but sacrifice that fated day seemed the norm and not the unusual. Spiritually, we all take these walks, but we don’t necessarily confide in others the profound significance of our thoughts.
As we walked, I could see the remnants of the pill boxes and the German fortifications high atop the cliffs and Normandy ridgelines. I could feel some of the experiences of what our fallen comrades must have felt. Personally, the steps along the shoreline were not only telling in my heart, as I was also beginning to see what others must have felt when they had visited these hallowed beaches during the past seven decades. As a teacher, military instructor, and educator, the experience quickly elevates one to a spiritual, if not religious, realm. That day the sacrifice for freedom was truly beyond belief. Being on the shoreline while the waves crashed ashore was personally and professionally moving. Now, with my ROTC Cadets, World War II and the Normandy Landings take on a new meaning from my fresh understanding of what actually took place in the first few hours of the D-Day Landing.
In closing, I applaud the four facilitators of Normandy Allies who I accompanied on this unique and eye-opening trip. Their contacts, from French locals to the fighters of the French Resistance, were exceptional and added a fine touch to my overall experience. Moreover, from an operational standpoint, Normandy Allies never missed a beat. Their actions—and their planning and execution of our Normandy journey, were above reproach. Silently, I could only expect that from a Sergeant Major who was from 1985 until 1996 my mentor in the 3rd Brigade. If I have heard him say it once, I have heard Sergeant Major Charles I. Frick say it a thousand times: “I love it when a plan comes together!” As an ROTC Instructor of 137 young Cadets, the Normandy Allies trip was a one of a kind lifetime encounter for an educator. For me, the understanding of what took place on June 6th, 1944, is now irreplaceable, as I go about the teaching of tomorrow’s future. Rarely do such occurrences come along that provide so much understanding about the human experience, especially about war, as this one did. Once again, I only hope that the educator’s stipend continues for the Normandy Allies of 2012 and future trips in the years to come.