D-Day 75: Remembering the Colorado heroes who never came home

COLLEVILLE-SUR-MER, France – On a cliff above Omaha Beach on France’s Normandy coast, one will find the final resting place for dozens of Colorado heroes.

This week, FOX31 is visiting France with a charity founded in Colorado, The Greatest Generations Foundation. The organization returns war heroes to the battlefields where they once served. Right now, the group of World War II veterans is in France to mark the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

The most sacred spot on their tour is the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,380 military dead are buried. Most of them were killed during the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944 and in the military operation that followed.

About 100 of the graves are where Colorado men are laid to rest. Men like Private Philip Germer of Trinidad. He volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs on D-Day: jumping out of airplanes. He even got to meet General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who wished him and his fellow paratroopers good luck. His obituary tells us that as he made his D-Day jump from a low-flying plane, he was an easy target. German soldiers fired mercilessly on him from below. It would be days before his body was found in a field near the small French hamlet of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, still in his parachute. He’d been machine-gunned to death before he ever hit the ground.

Germer’s parents had the choice to bring his body back home to Colorado, but like so many other families of the fallen, they decided to let him rest in France, alongside the men with whom he served.

Normandy American Cemetery is one of 26 permanent American military cemeteries overseas. The cemeteries are located throughout Europe, and they’re also in Africa and Asia, near World War I and World War II battlefields. FOX 31 has visited several of them as part of our series, “Where Heroes Rest.”

First Lt. Frank Bernzen of Boulder didn’t even make it to D-Day. He was one of six American crew members on a B-26 who died on a combat mission more than two months before the invasion. The heartbreaking news made it back home to his widow in Boulder, via telegram from the Secretary of War, who extended “his deepest sympathies.”

In another part of the Normandy cemetery, one will find the marble grave marker for Turner Turnbull. He was a paratrooper who served in several different places during World War II, from Africa to Italy.  He survived a plane crash and a gunshot wound to the stomach. He was awarded the Purple Heart and a ticket home, but insisted on staying with his men on D-Day. At about 1:45 a.m. on June 6, 1944, he parachuted into France just inland from Utah Beach, and fought like hell for hours. He was crawling through a hedgerow, leading the charge, when a thunderous explosion killed him. It was shrapnel from an artillery shell.

One noted World War II author said Turnbull not only “belongs with the brace, but is among those who saved the invasion.”

It was an invasion that cost so many lives and broke so many hearts back in Colorado, but also revealed the heroes from our hometowns. Heroes who are still lined up in formation, in rows of marble crosses, on a pristine lawn atop Omaha Beach, not far from where they died.

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