“This operation is not being planned with any alternatives. This operation is planned as a victory, and that's the way it's going to be. We're going down there, and we're throwing everything we have into it, and we're going to make it a success." --General Dwight D. Eisenhower
Well, it certainly feels of late that we are in the midst of a gauntlet of military commemorations, a time where patriotism is remembered, and equally important, honored. We are a week-and-a-half removed from Memorial Day, and Flag Day will be upon us next week. And the granddaddy of patriotic celebrations is simply a month out—July 4th! But there is an extra day in early June that is certainly deserved of recognition for the events that transpired 75 years ago on June 6th, 1944. This is better known to history, military and freedom admirers as D-Day.
Regarding this day, a website www.army-mil.com says the following:
“On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline, to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which, ‘we will accept nothing less than full victory.’ More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day’s end, the Allies gained a foot-hold in Continental Europe. The cost in lives on D-Day was high. More than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded, but their sacrifice allowed more than 100,000 Soldiers to begin the slow, hard slog across Europe, to defeat Adolf Hitler’s crack troops.”
Frederick’s Mount Olivet Cemetery is the final resting place for a few of the men who participated in this legendary American offensive. One of these was 27-year old Calvin Clayton Cannon, who holds the unique distinction of being the first Frederick County World War II soldier to have lost his life in France. As you have probably guessed, this unfortunate incident occurred on June 6th, 1944.
Today, Cannon’s mortal remains comprise a semi-circle of the graves of 30 US military veterans lost during World War II and surround Mount Olivet’s World War II Memorial located in Area EE. This monument was unveiled on Memorial Day, May 30th, 1948.
Two large pylons are topped with stars and flank a central pedestal bearing the names of 213 fallen Frederick County World War II veterans and crafted after an eternal fame and reads:
“Dedicated to the Men and Women of Frederick County, who by their unselfish devotion to duty, have advanced the American ideals of liberty and the universal brotherhood of man.”
PFC Lester Earl Stull was the first veteran to be buried within the confines of the newly created World War II monument area. A military funeral was held for this former member of the US Army’s 134th Infantry Regiment at 2:00pm on Saturday, December 13th, 1943. Two days later, our subject for this week’s “Story in Stone,” PFC Calvin C. Cannon would be the second man interred in this extremely hallowed area of Mount Olivet. His reburial, with full military honors, occurred on Monday, December 15th, 1947. Cannon’s body was delivered to Frederick by train a few days prior, as it had been sent direct by the Philadelphia Quartermaster depot after returning stateside from an initial burial in in Normandy, France.
From Yellow Springs to Omaha Beach
Calvin Clayton Cannon was born on April 7th, 1917. Just one day earlier, Congress granted a request for war made by President Woodrow Wilson. The United States was now formally at war with Germany. The country would come out of “the Great War” victorious. Young Calvin was merely a year-and-a-half old when church bells rang out across Frederick County on November 11th, 1918 proclaiming a cease fire after the signing of an armistice between the US and its fellow Allies and chief aggressor, Germany.
Calvin Cannon grew up in the small Yellow Springs community north of Frederick City. His father, Clayton Lurene Cannon, was a skilled carpenter and his mother, Laura Christina (Kintz), was a homemaker. Calvin was one of nine children. He attended local schools, including one year of high school and was quite familiar with farm work.
Calvin was 24 when the US entered into a second World War. The United States Congress declared war on Japan (and other Axis powers in Germany and Italy) on December 11th, 1941 just days after that “infamous day” of December 7th. President Franklin D. Roosevelt urged the nation to join Great Britain and other allies in liberating European countries that had been initially invaded by Germany and Italy back in the spring and summer of 1940. War in western Europe continued through 1941 as the US sat on the fence, but was quietly ramping up for war against Germany.
Cannon would join the US Army in January, 1942. Three of his brothers, Carroll, Herbert and Robert would also enlist and serve in the war. Calvin soon found himself at Camp Lee in Prince George County, VA. He would be assigned to the 26th Infantry Regiment. The regiment’s nickname is the "Blue Spaders," taken from the spade-like device on the regiment's distinctive unit insignia.
The regiment was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division for the duration of World War II. The 26th Infantry led America's first-ever amphibious assault in North Africa and fought at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia in February, 1943. A few months later, Cannon’s regiment assaulted Sicily at the amphibious battle of Gela in July. At the time, he held the rank of private first class, having received a promotion earlier. A month later, the Frederick News reported to readers in Calvin’s home county that the young man from Yellow Springs had been seriously wounded in the Italian campaign. He apparently had received an injury to his back.
Calvin fully recovered and rejoined his fellow soldiers. With the Allied Sicily campaign over, the division returned to England, arriving there on November 5th, 1943 to prepare for the eventual invasion of Normandy, France across the English Channel to the south. The 1st Infantry Division and one regimental combat team from the 29th Infantry Division would comprise the first wave of troops that assaulted German Army defenses on Omaha Beach on June 6th, 1944—D-Day.
The 26th regiment was commanded by Colonel John F. R. Seitz. Over the duration of the war, Seitz would lead his men in three amphibious assaults, and earned seven battle streamers, a Presidential Unit Citation, and five foreign awards. The third of these assaults would take place on June 6th, 1944.
Below is a part of the most detailed report from the 26th Infantry Regiment’s 3rd Battalion. It gives a glimpse into what PFC Cannon experienced over his final week among the living:
June 1 - All Battalion transportation and equipment not being carried by personnel (excepting kitchen trucks and personnel which are scheduled to come ashore at "D" plus 8) is today completely loaded aboard LST #494, U. S. Navy. The ship is anchored in Plymouth Bay, England. Seems rather symbolic, for the Mayflower was anchored in this same bay before the Pilgrim Fathers made their historic voyage to New England. Today all NCO's received their briefing from 0930 to 1030 hours in the Officers Ward Room. Were brought up to date on Enemy installations and dispositions, our plans and tactics to be used and routes to be taken after we hit the beach. Army rations are being taken aboard.
June 2 - We are still anchored put in the bay but the convoy is forming slowly but surely. Even in this one small port the forces, and the equipment, the ships and the personnel are tremendous and preparations such as we see here, are occurring all over the United Kingdom. It forebodes evil for the Jerries whenever "D" day occurs. Boat assignments have been made in case of abandon ship. General Quarters drill has been observed and worked out quite well. Personnel reacted quickly according to instructions and generally were well behaved during the drill. All units aboard holding briefing conferences again. All personnel gradually becoming acquainted with the situation and the plans. Nothing unusual happened today. Day filled with unit organization. Motors were warmed up and tested for one hour from 1500 to 1600 this afternoon. Weather is clear and sunny. Lieutenant Volk and Lieutenant Allen plus six men as an advance detail boarded the DOROTHEA DIX, U. S. Navy, today.
June 3 - Convoy is still forming and growing. Aboard this ship the day being devoted again to briefing and general organization. Motors again started and warmed up between 1500 and 1600 hours. Everyone anxious to get going and get the job started. The balance of the Battalion is loading aboard LCI's today.
June 5 - Moved out of Plymouth Bay at 0230 Hours. Sailed along south with France our destination. In particular, the coast of Normandy at a point between St. Laurent Sur Mer and Colleville Sur Mer. Men getting all packed and ready to go. Morale is good and spirit excellent. Again, nothing to do but "sweat it out". At darkness can still sight the coast of England. No unusual occurrences.
June 6 - At daylight no land can be observed. 0720 hours was to be "H" hour for the invasion of Europa Festung (The Fortress of Europe). We are to land on Omaha Fox Green beach. At 1000 we first observed land on our right flank (starboard bow). We were first able to discern the beach at 1500 hrs. It seems to be littered with equipment. Enemy fire falling length and breadth of the whole beach. The Bn. hit Omaha Easy Red Beach between 1800 and 1900 after vainly trying to get in on Fox Green. "I","K", and "M" Companies landed during this period and moved inland. Col. Corley's command reports the beach an utter shambles. Equipment scattered everywhere. Beach under observed artillery fire. Derelict sea-craft hung up on the beach--a few on fire. The colonel led the Battalion through the one gap they were able to traverse. Moved toward assembly area and ran into the Regimental CP in an over-ran gun emplacement. At 2300 hrs. German Dive Bombers bombed the beach area. At 2300 the Bn. moved out in column of files because of mine fields. Colonel Corley received orders that 116th and 115th are attacking St. Laurent Sur Mer and that 3rd Bn. is to by-pass the town and seize the high ground on the south of town. Battalion moved out at 1230 with "K" Co. leading.
Reinforced with two regiments of the 29th Infantry Division, the 1st Division led Force O in the assault on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. After being transported to shore aboard amphibious landing craft, soldiers of the 1st Division had to run 300 yards to get to the bluffs. The men encountered a hailstorm of intense fire from the German defenses. Through incredible acts of individual bravery, initiative and leadership, the 1st Infantry Division overcame the enemy forces and penetrated well inland. Some of the division's units suffered 30 percent casualties in the first hour of the assault, and secured the French towns of Formigny and Caumont by the end of the day.
PFC Cannon would not have luck on his side on June 6th. He would become the first Frederick County man killed in action. Local newspaper accounts reached home nearly a month later said that this occurred in the siege of Cherbourg, a major, deep water port town. However, I have a major problem with this. The newspaper accounts (and our records based on them) are speculative at best. The town of Cherbourg is 51 miles northwest of Omaha Beach! There is no way PFC Cannon died on June 6th in Cherbourg, which would be liberated by the Allies a few weeks later around June 20th. I have traced regimental records and can't find the 26th Blue Spaders fighting in Cherbourg either.
I strongly feel that Calvin C. Cannon landed in the eastern vicinity of Omaha Beach in the second phase on the late afternoon of June 6th, and was killed in action near here, just inland, at a location directly northeast of the village of Colleville-sur-Mer. Interestingly I found a name "Cabourg" on the map which appears both on a short road (alley) and entails a small cluster of old farm houses. This is at the intersection of Rue Cabourg and D514 (Route d'Omaha Beach). Could this be where PFC Cannon breathed his last breath?
Cherbourg and Cabourg are very similar both spoken and written, and by the time news reached home in early July, the name of Cherbourg had been in the news a great deal with its capture in late June. (NOTE: I'm certainly open to continued guidance from folks much more studied in the battle and regimental movements of the 1st Division. I also haven't been able to find what company he belonged to.)
Far from home, Cannon would be buried here, adjacent the shore of Normandy at St. Laurent.
The 26th would push on without PFC Cannon. The division fought through the hedgerows of Normandy, fought through the breakout and fought through the rapid Allied advance across northern France against the retreating German Army. They would defeat the Germans in Normandy and began plowing westward through France and into Belgium.
The 26th eventually reached the Siegfried Line and border with Germany. In October, they conquered Aachen, the first German city of the war. They crossed the Rhine River and attacked all the way to Czechoslovakia by war's end.
Beginning another occupation of Germany, the Blue Spaders bore the United States national colors at the Allied Victory in Europe parade, and served as guards at Nuremberg War Crimes Trials. Thus began a lengthy stay in Germany, first as conquerors and later as friends and allies. Sadly, PFC Calvin Clayton Cannon would not experience the fruits of war with his fellow soldiers—his body remained on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach.
Cannon's corpse was placed in the temporary American St. Laurent Cemetery, that was established by the U.S. First Army on June 8th, 1944, the first American cemetery on European soil in World War II. This would later morph into the famed American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
I had the great opportunity of visiting this cemetery and Omaha Beach back in June, 2001 while on a WWII Battlefield Tour with my father. You may recall it from the movie “Saving Private Ryan.”
Calvin’s body would come back home in late 1947 and, as previously mentioned, his military funeral took place in Mount Olivet just a few weeks before Christmas, 1947.
A return to normalcy had been experienced by the entire country, but it still must have been difficult for GI’s even though the war had been over for over two years. It can be certain that all those who attended PFC Cannon’s funeral reflected back to the importance of “the longest day,” June 6th, 1944, and the ultimate sacrifice made by this particular Frederick County boy. Today, we should surely remember it again.
“The flame of love shall burn into our hearts the memory of our noble dead.”
Authors Note: Special thanks to Calvin Cannon's great-nephew, Andy Harley, for providing me with the photograph taken of the fallen veteran on the occasion of his 27th birthday in April of 1944.