The June 6, 1944 invasion, the largest amphibious military operation in history, is widely considered the turning point of World War II.
The 70th anniversary of the invasion will be commemorated in France by ceremonies attended by an estimated five million people, including President Barack Obama, Russian President Vladimir Putin, England’s Queen Elizabeth, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and nearly 300 veterans of D-Day, all now in their 80’s and 90’s.
Events will also be held at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, the hometown of the "Bedford Boys" - 19 service members who were killed during the invasion. (See D-Day anniversary events.pdf)
Stan Dale says he didn’t initially plan on being there himself.
“About six or eight months ago, I decided to visit France, and when I started seeing the days I would be there, I realized D-Day, 70th anniversary, I gotta go,” Dale, a retired IT consultant and college professor who lives in Scottsdale, told CNSNews.com.
“And as it approached, it took on more meaning to me. So I thought about what kind of a gesture, you know, maybe tossing some flowers out in the English Channel, or whatever. And I came up with this idea of getting soil from all the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“The way I was thinking was that these guys left and thousands of them never came home,” Dale said. “They’re buried on American soil, consecrated American soil, in France, and in Belgium and Holland, etc. But they never came home. And so what I decided to do was, I would bring home to them.”
The project took about two months.
“I started reaching out to family and friends, who reached out to their family and friends, and a lot military learned about it through the grapevine,” Dale told CNSNews.com. “I’m very pleased to say that I managed to get it all together and I got some really cool sources.”
For example, Dale says he received soil from the family farm of World War II flying ace and Medal of Honor recipient Joe Foss, who was a two-term governor of South Dakota, the first commissioner of the American Football League and president of the National Rifle Association.
Richard Onines was one of the first Americans to land on Omaha Beach where, despite being wounded and under constant fire from the Germans, he used signal flags to help bring in landing craft safely.
“I had planned to meet with Onines…who was part of a group of 60 and at the end of the day he was the only one left,” Dale said. “Unfortunately he passed away in March before I got a chance to meet with him.” But he added that Onines’ son sent him soil from the D-Day veteran’s Florida home.
Another packet of soil came from the home of a private who was wounded on Omaha Beach and lay surrounded by dead bodies for three days until he was found by medics.
A friend who was meeting his daughter’s future in-laws brought Dale some soil from Puerto Rico, he said, and a chance encounter at a Santa Claus convention in Tampa ended with him receiving a soil sample from the Virgin Islands.
“The only soil that I got myself was at the memorial to the USS Arizona in downtown Phoenix,” he told CNSNews.com.
“The next thing to do was to get the soil over there. I contacted the French, because I wanted to find out if there would be any problems with Customs. They immediately referred me to the Department of Agriculture or whatever, and so I contacted the Belgians and they said, ‘A couple of ounces? Oh sure, come on over.’ So I’m flying into Brussels as opposed to Paris because they made no big deal over it.”
Since the Normandy beaches will be off-limits on June 6th due to security, Dale plans to take the ferry from Portsmouth to Caen, which has a D-Day museum. “I’ll arrive at Caen at sunrise, about the same time the Allied troops disembarked from the ships for the invasion.”
“The Normandy beaches will be all but shut down to everyone on June 6th from 6 am to 6 pm,” Dale continued. “So I’ll go down to Omaha Beach the evening of June 6th around sundown and build a sandcastle with the soil, and go down to the cemetery at Bastogne, where the Battle of the Bulge was fought, and do something similar.”
Although none of his own family members were at the D-Day invasion, Dale said his father served as an X-ray technician at field hospitals in the Philippines, New Guinea and Australia during World War II and his uncle was stationed in Italy and Germany.
At first, he said, he rejected suggestions to publicize the soil project, preferring to keep a low profile.
“It’s not something I’ve tried to publicize because it was just a private gesture,” Dale added, but a friend “thought that this would be something that people might want to know about” due to the historical significance of D-Day.
“Nothing ever occurred like it before in the history of the world, and because of the changes in technology and strategies and everything else, it’s all but impossible to imagine something like that ever occurring again. So it’s a once-in-the-history-of-man event.” (See D-Day history.pdf)