In the latter half of 1943, the 4th Infantry Division took part in maneuvers at Camp Gordon Johnston in Carrabelle over in Franklin County, including amphibious landings at Carrabelle Beach and Dog Island. After the training operations, the division was sent to England. On D-Day, the 4th Infantry troops were the first American troops in the amphibious landing to reach French soil when they hit Utah Beach in Normandy.
Decades later, the 4th Infantrys time in Florida is still remembered. Theres a historical marker at Carrabelle Beach focused on the D-Day preparations. Back in 2000, the Camp Gordon Johnston Association collected soil from Carrabelle Beach to include in National 4th Infantry Division Associations monument in Arlington, Va. Visitors to Carrabelle can learn more at the Camp Gordon Johnston museum.
D-Day heroes are still honored across the Sunshine State. Among the honored veterans interred at the Florida National Cemetery in Bushnell is Largos Col. Leonard T. Schroeder. Schroeder, who passed away in 2009, was the first American to land at Normandy during the D-Day operation. Wounded at Utah Beach, Schroeder earned the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star during his three decades of service to this country.
On Friday, events honoring the 70th anniversary of D-Day will be held across Florida. In Tallahassee, at the World War II monument in front of the Leon County Courthouse, veterans will be honored on Friday morning. Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Miami will hold a remembrance service on Friday with decorated veterans and representatives of the other Allied powers, including the United Kingdom and France. The French consulate general in Miami will be honoring veterans and there will be an event with veterans and French officials at the Naples Depot on Saturday to mark the D-Day anniversary.
Right before the invasion, Schroeder was part of the team of officers to get briefed by Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son and namesake of the 26th president. Seeing Schroeder, Lt. Col. Carlton MacNeely, the commander of the 2nd Battalion, called him by his nickname Moose and wished him luck.
"Well, Moose, this is it," MacNeely said. Give 'em hell!"
"Well, colonel, I'll see you on the beach!" Schroeder replied.
Accompanying Roosevelt to the beach, besides being the first American to set foot on Utah Beach, Schroeder led his company to take out German fortifications. Half of his company were casualties and Schroeder was wounded twice in the arm. Schroeder left an account of his D-Day experience and much of his equipment can still be seen at the Armed Forces Military Museumin Largo.
Reach Kevin Derby at email@example.com.