D-Day expert speaks at Rotary luncheon
by Lindy Oller
Friday marked the 70th anniversary of World War Two’s D-Day invasion at Normandy, France, and there were observances in Newnan and around the world.
In honor of the 70th anniversary, Dr. Walter Todd, professor of history at Shorter College, talked about D-Day during the Newnan Rotary Club luncheon Friday at Newnan Country Club. Later in the afternoon he gave a lecture at Newnan Carnegie Library and shared memorabilia from the war.
Todd taught at the University of West Georgia for 28 years. He started teaching history at Shorter College five years ago. Todd is a specialist on World War II history.
The invasion, Todd said, was supposed to have happened on June 4, 1944, but inclement weather led to a delay. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower made the call at 3:30 a.m. on June 5 to plan an attack at Normandy later that evening.
One of the battles at Normandy took place on Omaha Beach. It was the bloodiest of all the battles that were fought that day.
As the number of living World War II veterans grows smaller, Friday’s anniversary took on a special poignancy. U.S. Pres. Barack Obama and French Pres. Francois Hollande spoke at ceremonies in Normandy.
Seven returning vets from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division and their family members were in France to raise a toast to those who died in the invasion on Omaha Beach.
At least one D-Day soldier is still living in Coweta County. Bradley Burkhalter, 94, now lives at Wesley Woods of Newnan-Peachtree City. Burkhalter was a lieutenant and navigator on a B-17 stationed in England that flew 35 missions, and he flew two bombing missions in France on D-Day.
Helicopters from France showered a million rose petals on the Statue of Liberty, itself a gift from France to the United States, on Friday. Children unfurled flags – one American, one French – at the base of the statue before both countries’ national anthems were played.
A wreath-laying ceremony at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. involved Susan Eisenhower, granddaughter of the general, and Elliot "Toby" Roosevelt III, great-grandson of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR visited Newnan a number of times and died at Warm Spring in neighboring Meriwether County in 1945.
It is undetermined exactly how many of the Allied soldiers were killed at the invasion. Todd said an estimated 7,844 allied soldiers were either wounded, killed or missing on D-Day.
Walt Thompson, president of the Newnan Rotary Club, recounted a time when he had visited the memorial site at Normandy some years ago. It is a tribute to the soldiers who fought for freedom and justice.
“If you ever get a chance to visit Normandy, it is a site worth seeing,” said Thompson.
Todd’s history program about D-Day at the Carnegie was titled “Remembering World War II- “D-Day: The Seventieth Anniversary of The Invasion of Normandy.” The program was part of the library’s history series.
(Times-Herald Assistant News Editor Winston Skinner and Associated Press reports contributed to this article.)