OGDEN — It was 71 years ago this month when one of military history’s biggest gambles and most decisive victories forever changed the fate of the world — and one local veteran who was there hopes his own personal history exhibit will help a younger generation understand the operation’s significance.
The Normandy landings, code-named Operation Neptune and more commonly known as “D-Day,” were the landing operations of June 6, 1944 that began the Allied invasion of Normandy, France, during World War II.
The initial assault was the largest seaborne attack in history, and it began the invasion of German-occupied western Europe, which ultimately led to the liberation of France from Nazi control, and stood as a major contribution to an Allied victory in the war.
Ogden veteran Dale Pendleton arrived on the Normandy beaches on June 12, 1944, six days after the initial invasion.
The soft-spoken Pendelton, who is now 94 and well-known locally for performing as a guitarist, remembers his arrival like it was yesterday.
“It’s still clear in my mind,” he said. “In the beginning, we really had no idea what we were getting into, but we caught on pretty quick. We saw all of the bodies on the beaches — you’ve never seen such a mess in your life. I know that if I’d arrived there a couple days earlier, I probably wouldn’t be here today talking about it.”
According to D-Day.org, Allied forces suffered nearly 10,000 casualties on D-Day alone, with German casualties estimated at 4,000 to 9,000. There were more than 120,000 Allied casualties during the entire invasion.
Pendleton, who retired from the military as a staff sergeant, was a member of the Army’s 345th Quartermaster Depot Supply Company. His 186-member team spent 20-hour days unloading supplies to support the operation and spent their nights crammed together in self-made foxholes.
Although he was armed with a rifle, Pendleton was instructed not to use it unless it was absolutely necessary.
“In those foxholes, we were strafed by Germans every night,” he said. “We all had rifles, but we weren’t allowed to shoot unless a German was coming right at us. The thinking was, our shooting would have given away our position and put us in a world of hurt.”
It was during those sleepless and often terrifying nights that Pendleton decided he should keep some kind of physical record of his experience. He began shipping items home to his mother, who then lived in Wanship, Utah. He collected the items from small shops, from left-behind homes, from piles of knickknacks often just left behind in the street. Families he befriended also gave him items.
“Everything we took, we had to have an officer sign off that we could keep it,” Pendleton said. “A lot of time, we’d be in an area and the commander would just say, ’All right, take what you want.’ Otherwise, they would have just burned it.’”
As his time in Europe accrued, so did his collection of artifacts. His exhibit includes many must-see pieces, including an original, German copy of Adolf Hitler’s autobiographical manifesto, “Mein Kampf.” He also has Nazi armbands, a Nazi belt buckle, patches, medals, currency, a Nazi officer’s cap, a bayonet and a Mauser 7.65mm pistol that was carried by German officers.
“I just started sending stuff home to my mom,” Pendleton says. “And when I got back home I said, ’Wow, I’ve got quite a collection here.’ ”
“I’m not showing these things to toot my own horn,” Pendleton said of his exhibit. “I’m doing it for the veterans who died over there and who served over there. They need to be remembered.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Utah had just over 7,000 living World War II veterans as of September 2014.
“We aren’t going to be around much longer,” Pendleton said. “So I’m kind of making a push.”
He has been taking the items around to local schools.
“I asked the schoolkids if anyone knew what a foxhole was,” Pendleton said. “One of the kids raised his hand and said, ’Yeah, that’s where the foxes live.’ I told him he was right, but that soldiers lived there, too.”
When children can have something to physically see and touch, Pendleton says, it makes learning about the war more meaningful. He says if new generations don’t learn from past history, they’ll be bound to repeat it.
“If you can actually show them some of these things, instead of just reading out of a textbook, I think the message comes across a lot better,” he said. “War is hell — I’ve seen it with my own eyes. I wouldn’t ever want to go through it again, and I don’t want anybody else to, either.”