FLEMING ISLAND – Ned Broyles was busy flying training missions with his Navy F4U Corsair squadron in Rockland, Maine, on June 5, 1944, for a possible top-secret mission. Little did he know, his squadron was preparing fora backup plan to assist the invasion of five beaches at Normandy, France.
Although he didn’t have to join that fight, the retired Navy Captain still has vivid memories of the battle that finally gave the Allies the upper hand in its war against Germany.
“I remember it well,” he said. “I didn’t know the mission at the time. Thank goodness we weren’t needed.”
Now 104 and living at Allegro Senior Living, Broyles still defines America’s Greatest Generation. He fought in World War II and Korea, and he was part of the search party in 1939 for Amelia Earhart. He’s lived through 14 presidencies, watched the Cold War come and go and endured an ever-changing political landscape that continues teeters back and forth like an out of control pendulum.
But one thing has never changed.
“If I was needed, I would have been there to support it,” he said.
Although Broyles wasn’t needed for the D-Day invasion in Europe, he didn’t escape the bloody realities of war. Once the invasion at Normandy proved successful – at the cost of 2,501 American lives – Broyles was reassigned to the U.S. Marines amphibious group and shipped to the Pacific theater to fight Japan. He hit the beaches at Iwo Jima and Okinawa in battles where more than 82,000 Americans were killed.
“In 1944 I was transferred to the Marine Corps,” Broyles said. “I had no idea the seriousness of the operation we were headed into. We arrived off Iwo the day before [Pacific] D-Day on 18 February. I was carrying a rifle, sidearm, ammo, two canteens of water. We had to be self-sufficient. The mission was to guide aircraft for bombing.”
The battle at Iwo Jima lasted 24 days. It was an important early step in stopping Japan’s march across the Pacific.
“I remember there were 30-percent casualties,” Broyles said. “It was a fierce battle.”
He also remembered the Navy’s beachmaster, soldier-turned-actor Lee Marvin, being wounded.
From there to Okinawa, the bloodiest battles of the war.
“It was the bloodiest battles of World War II. There were 1,900 kamikaze attacks,” Broyles said. “They sank 32 of our ships and damaged another 350.”
Counting Okinawans and Japanese, more than 200,000 died during a battled that lasted two months and three weeks.
It also was the last of the major battles of the war. Four months after the battle of Okinawa ended on April 1, 1945, the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on the Japanese mainland at Hiroshima and Nagasaki to force Japan to surrender.
Germany surrendered three weeks later.
We enjoy liberty and freedom today because of the men who bravely stormed the beaches of France and the Pacific Islands. We continue to stand against tyranny because that’s what the Greatest Generation, including soldiers like Ned Broyles, taught us.