The Longest Day for the Long Gray Line

Categories: West Point Magazine, Grad News
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By Desrae Gibby ’91, WPAOG staff

Eighty years ago, on June 6, 1944, approximately 100 West Point graduates from the classes 1912 to 1943 June made history as heroes among heroes as the Long Gray Line led and fought on D-Day during World War II. Many names were immortalized; all should be.

Paratroopers from the 101st and 82nd Airborne divisions began to drop behind enemy lines around 12:30am local time. During the assault, the commander of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR), a graduate from the Class of 1927, broke his leg. With a compound fracture he commanded from a wheelbarrow until a fellow West Pointer, Class of 1936, took command. In the 506th PIR, the Band of Brothers regiment, a 22-year-old from the Class of 1943 January was KIA, while in the 82nd a glider field artillery lieutenant from the Class of 1942 was mortally wounded. At 6:30am troops landed on the beaches under heavy fire. Shortly after, a DD amphibious tank battalion commander from the Class of 1928 led his tanks to land on Omaha Beach, after seeing 27 other tanks sink. Simultaneously, two engineer battalion commanders, one from the Class of 1929 and the other from the Class of 1939, led their soldiers to demolish obstacles, making gaps. Later, a young captain saw a “crazy man” amid heavy fire, waving his arms and screaming out for him to identify himself. Seeing the star, the captain saluted, “Captain Raaen, 5th Rangers, sir.” “Raaen… Jack Raaen’s son?” “Yes, sir!” “…Rangers. I know you won’t let me down.” John Raaen ’43JAN then heard 51-year-old Brigadier General Norman Cota, Class of 1917 April, continue to praise the Rangers and, later, learned that Cota was the first to say, “Rangers! Lead the way!”

Dwight D. Eisenhower, Class of 1915, encourages soldiers of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment

West Pointers fought side by side throughout that “longest day.” They all deserve to be honored. Click here to read about unsung heroes like then Major Sidney Bingham ’40, a battalion commander in the 116th Infantry Regiment and Distinguished Service Cross recipient who gathered the handful of soldiers left in his command and, under intense enemy fire, personally led them up a cliff to seek out an enemy machine gun.

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