Michigan Heroes Museum hosts 75th Normandy invasion commemoration

The Michigan Heroes Museum respectfully invites the public to honor members of our greatest generation at, Operation Overlord Remembered – the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion.

The event will feature free admission from 10:00 am until 8:00 pm on Thursday, June 6, 2019, at The Michigan Heroes Museum, 1250 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth.

The event will highlight the hardships and the perseverance of our Michigan men and women who fought on the beaches and throughout Normandy on D-Day.

In addition to the spectacular stories that are already on display, the museum is also proud to announce the opening of the Colonel Ralph W. Hauenstein exhibit.

Colonel Hauenstein, a Grand Rapids Native, was instrumental in the planning of Operation Overlord as a member of the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF).

COL Hauenstein reported directly to Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower on matters of intelligence.

Along with the COL Hauenstein exhibit, the museum will be featuring 14 other stories Michigan’s D-Day veterans.

These stories include men of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions that parachuted behind enemy lines before the landings.

Other stories are of men, from the 1st and 4th Infantry Divisions, who stormed the beaches on the morning of June 6th, 1944.

Yet other stories are of the sailors and airmen who bombarded the coastline, keeping the German reinforcements and the Luftwaffe at bay.

Finally, is a story of a brave US Army nurse, serving in Italy, who lost her husband on D-Day.

They had been married for less than a year.

  • WHAT:   FREE ADMISSION for Operation Overlord Remembered – the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Invasion
  • WHEN:  10:00 am until 8:00 pm on Thursday, June 6, 2019
  • WHERE:  The Michigan Heroes Museum, 1250 Weiss Street, Frankenmuth, MI 48734
  • MISSION:  to Honor, Respect, and Remember Michigan citizens’ personal contributions to our nation’s military, and space program

COL Ralph Hauenstein, SHAEF, Grand Rapids, MI – Ralph had been on active duty since 1940. He spent time in Iceland before being assigned to the intelligence division of ETOUSA (European Theater of Operations, U.S. Army). He was on Gen. Eisenhower’s staff and was instrumental in planning Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion. Ralph returned to the U.S. in July, 1945.

SGT Donald Burgett, 101st Airborne, Detroit, MI – Don parachuted into the Normandy countryside early on June 6th. He spent the next week fighting throughout the hedgerow country of the region. He was severely wounded on June 13th, outside of Carentan. He recovered in England and served through the rest of the war.

SGT Donald McKeage, 82nd Airborne, Stanton, MI – Don jumped into Normandy just Northwest of Ste. Mere Eglise. His unit landed, mostly intact, on their drop zone. Ste. Mere Eglise became the first, French town liberated. Don fought hard for 33 days before being sent back to England. He would later jump into Holland and fight in the Battle of the Bulge.

1LT Rita Burkart, Army Nurse Corps, Saginaw, MI – At the time of the Normandy Invasion, Rita was stationed in a field hospital in Italy. Her husband, Erwin Thomas, was killed on June 6th, after he had parachuted in with the 101st Airborne. Rita served through the rest of the war returning home in 1946. She never remarried.

SSG Earl Theobald, 2nd Ranger Battalion, Jackson, MI – Earl landed on the short beach below Pointe du Hoc on the morning of June 6th. He and the 2nd Rangers had to climb the 100-foot cliff with ropes and ladders, all in the face of heavy German fire. Earl was captured on the night of June 6th, but managed to escape three days later. He served through the rest of the war.

GM3c Vern Treloar, USN, Detroit, MI – Vern was assigned to LCF-12 (Landing Craft Flak), and provided anti-aircraft support for the landing forces. The crew also looked for survivors from the many wrecked landing craft. The night of june 6th, Vern and his crew fought off a German air raid. Vern was eventually transferred to the Pacific and was also at the invasion of Okinawa.

MAJ Michael McPharlin, USAAF, Hastings, MI – Michael was a P-51 Pilot during the D-Day Invasion. He had been serving almost 4 years by June 6, 1944. Michael joined the RAF’s Eagle Squadron in November, 1940 and transferred to the USAAF in September, 1942. On June 6th, Michael was providing air cover and attacking German troops when he radioed that his magneto had failed. That was the last anyone heard of Michael. It was later found that he had been shot down on the way back to England.

CPL Marvin Cammin, USAAF, Saginaw, MI – Marv worked as a mechanic and refueler for the 84th Troop Carrier Squadron. The 84th carried paratroopers and supplies for the 82nd Airborne Division during the Normandy Invasion. They also kept a continuous supply line going to the airborne troops for the next three days. Not only did Marvin work on the ground, he also volunteered to be a crew chief aboard the planes, dropping supplies to the troops. He returned to the U.S. in August, 1945.

LTC Clement Van Wagoner, 1st INF DIV, Alpena, MI – Clement was a First Lieutenant with the 18th Infantry Regiment on the morning of June 6, 1944, when he landed at Omaha Beach. He was in the first wave and faced murderous German fire. He ran the 150 yards from the water to the relative safety of a shell and sand dune under the Germans. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal for rescuing his company’s ammunition from a burning jeep. Out of the original 1,800 members that made up the original 18th Infantry Regiment, Clement was one of only 32 to survive the entire war.

Tech5 Nelson Merce, 4th INF DIV, Luna Pier, MI – Nelson landed on Utah Beach on the morning of June 6th. Although fighting was tough, Utah Beach was secured quicker than Omaha. By noon the troops were starting to move inland to link up with the 101st Airborne. Pockets of German resistance and large caliber guns kept the 4th Infantry Division from moving as quickly as they wanted. However, they pushed on and the link up with the airborne troops was achieved by nightfall. Nelson fought through the rest of the war in Europe and returned home in September 1945.

MG Cecil Simmons, 101st Airborne, Grand Rapids, MI – Cecil enlisted in the Army in 1933. By the time of the Normandy Invasion he was a Captain in command of Company H, 502nd PIR. He parachuted into Normandy in the early hours of June 6th. He fought in Normandy until relieved. He would again jump into Holland and also take part in defending Bastogne. Cecil was promoted to Major General in November 1962.

CPT Christopher Melikan, 101st Airborne, Highland Park, MI – Chris was a new Lieutenant when he parachuted into Normandy with Company F, 502nd PIR. He was 19 years old, and in charge of a platoon. His unit captured several key objectives and disrupted the German communications in an effort to pave the way for the men assaulting the beaches. He later fought in Holland and at Bastogne. Chris was promoted to Captain during the war and also spent 37 days as a POW. He was discharged in March 1946 and returned home.

SGT Melvin Palo, USAAF/101st Airborne, Flint, MI – Mel was a radio communications expert with the USAAF. He volunteered to go to Airborne Jump School in England and be an Air to Ground controller. This meant that he jumped in with the airborne troops and radioed planes to provide air cover and knock out German targets. He parachuted into Normandy on June 6th and after finding his radio, began coordinating attacks from the airplanes overhead. He also fought as an infantryman during German counterattacks.

PFC Walter Lukasavage Jr., 101st Airborne, Houghton Lake, MI – Walter parachuted in Normandy in the early hours of June 6th. He was with Company I, 506th PIR. Walter said it was like a living hell, fighting day to day, trying to keep from getting killed. Many of the men were scattered and just fought with whoever they found. Walter was part of one of the only bayonet attacks of the war, outside Carentan. When the survivors made it back to England, Walt was the only one of his 12-man squad to survive Normandy.

1LT Darlyle Watters, USAAF, Jackson, MI – Darlyle was a glider pilot during World War II. On June 6th, he landed a British Horsa glider near Ste. Mere Eglise. It was carrying a jeep with loaded trailer and 11 combat artillerymen. Darlyle fought alongside the men of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions for four days until he was sent back to England. In Holland, he was captured and remained a POW until May, 1945.

PFC Leonard DeFoggi, 82nd Airborne, Saginaw, MI – Leonard “Tony”, parachuted in Normandy on June 6th. When he landed, he soon realized he was alone. The men of his “stick” were scattered. The shock of his parachute opening had also ripped away his bag of munitions. He eventually found other paratroopers and continued with his mission to blow up a railroad bridge. After 33 days of heavy fighting, Tony was sent back to England. He later took part in Operation Market-Garden and the Battle of the Bulge.

CPT William Chickering Jr., USAAF, Birmingham, MI – Bill was a P-38 pilot and part of the large scale air cover for the Normandy Invasion. Throughout June 6th, Bill strafed German troops and other hard targets throughout the Normandy Region. This was crucial in keeping German reinforcements from reaching the beaches to repel the assaults. He eventually completed 89 missions before being discharged and returning to the University of Michigan to complete his studies.

SCPO John Krawczyk, USN, Lansing, MI – John enlisted in the Navy in 1941 and was assigned to the USS Tuscaloosa, a cruiser. On June 6th, the Tuscaloosa began bombarding the beaches and inland targets at Omaha Beach. John was a part of the largest armada ever assembled, many of those ships, like the Tuscaloosa, were meant to shell the beaches before the infantry assaulted. After expending all their ammunition, the Tuscaloosa sailed back to England. John later went into the Submarine Service from which he retired in 1965.

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