Monday is the anniversary of D-Day, the day 72 years ago when more than 150,000 Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy, France, to fight — and ultimately defeat — the Nazis during World War II.
By the end of that day — June 6, 1944 — nearly 7,000 vessels and about 12,000 aircraft had supported the invasion. Allied aircraft flew 14,674 sorties, and only 127 were lost, according to the D-Day Museum in Portsmouth, Britain’s only museum dedicated to all aspects of the D-Day landings.
Thousands of Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. The National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, estimates that 4,413 Allied soldiers died during the invasion, significantly higher than earlier estimates of about 2,500.
Nearly 72 years later, nine of the D-Day survivors from South Florida recently received France’s highest award, Knight in the Legion of Honor. The ceremony was held on May 7 as part of Fleet Week Port Everglades.
“This ceremony is about you and what you have done,” Consulate General of France Phillipe Letrilliart told the nine veterans. “We recognize the actions of our nine veterans, and through you we remember and honor your comrades who made the ultimate sacrifice. It is important to remember what these men did and the lives lost, to tell your children about their feats so that it is never forgotten.”
South Florida’s 2016 Knights of the Legion of Honor include Kalman Bass, Edwin Blasingim, James Gilchrist, Robert Kampert, Sam Kornfield, Arthur Kosa, Calvin Landau and James Lockshin.
The ninth, Charles Frederick Adderley, is a native of Miami’s Colored Town/Overtown. Born March 3, 1924, Adderley, the youngest of five children, had four sisters. The family emigrated from the Bahamas in 1910 to Miami. He attended Dunbar Elementary School and graduated from Booker T. Washington Jr./Sr High School in 1942.
His hometown was one of many communities in the United States where black (colored) people were separated by custom and law in every phase of life. During that time, the U.S. Armed Services were racially segregated.
After graduation, Adderley worked at odd jobs, started a family, and was active in the church where he was christened, Mount Olivette. World War II had already begun when he volunteered for the U.S. Army on Oct. 13, 1943.
In fact, several years earlier, Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland had driven Great Britain and France to declare war on Germany. Many of the friends Adderley depended on for advice had already enlisted when he decided to follow them. He volunteered for military service without his parents’ consent.
In a recent interview he recalled: “The Army’s rule was that if there was only one male in the family he would not be drafted. My family was surprised to learn that I signed up in spite of that rule.”
Upon receiving military orders, Adderley and Miami’s other black recruits trained at Camp Blanding in Starke in northern Florida, Camp Plauche near New Orleans and Camp Reynolds near Lake Erie, Pennsylvania.
At Camp Reynolds he met three recruits and they quickly became Army buddies. Louis A. Charles, from New Orleans; Gerald Ball, from Raleigh; Moses L. Smith, from Monroe, New York; and Adderley were inseparable.
Deployed to Fort Bragg in North Carolina, they were among the black soldiers trained in “service units,” to support white units in battle. Their “service unit” traveled to Liverpool, England, then onto Normandy.
Adderley recalled the landing on Normandy Beach: “As far as the eye could see there were ships all around us. Then there were explosions and casualties. Many, many casualties. It is an experience I can never forget.”
The Battle of Normandy lasted from June to August 1944.
Adderley and his buddies were separated from their unit, lost, and without food and supplies for 14 days. They searched many villages before finally reconnecting with their unit in the port of Cherbourg, France, a main battleground after the D-Day landings.
While in Cherbourg, Adderley was among the colored soldiers presented medals for valor by Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Sr. Davis (1877-1970) was the first black general officer in the regular Army and the U.S. Armed Forces.
When Adderley’s unit crossed the Rhine River on a convoy with equipment, on their way to Liege, Belgium, they were hit with an an explosion. He and other soldiers were injured. After an extended stay in a field hospital, Adderley received an honorable discharge on April 15, 1946, at Fort Bragg. He returned home to his family, church and a segregated community.
In 1948, U.S. President Harry Truman, by executive order, championed integration of the races in the Armed Services. Several decades later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlawed discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. The Act did not end discrimination, but it opened the door for further progress.
At the 2016 ceremony, when 92-year-old Charles Frederick Adderley’s name was called, he walked up to receive his medal without hesitation or assistance. His children, grandson, church and American Legion Post #29 members were among the well-wishers.
Adm. Kurt W. Tidd, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, was among those who honored the nine veterans.
“You came from different backgrounds, different experiences,” Tidd said. “You were ordinary men who became part of something extraordinary. In countless battles, large and small, you changed the course of history.’’
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.