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D-Day 75th anniversary recognized
June 14, 2019

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Rugby's Prairie Village Museum marked the 75th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Normandy, France, known as D-Day, last week with a special lecture by Judge Michael Hurly.

"I have an interest in World War II, in history in particular because both my grandfathers were veterans of the Pacific Theater," Hurly told an audience assembled in the museum's Sandven building last Thursday evening.

Hurly said one of his grandfathers had served in the Marines and landed at Iwo Jima, while the other had served as a medical doctor aboard the USS Winged Arrow.

"He was at every major naval engagement in the Pacific Theater," Hurly said of his grandfather who served as a physician.

"And they told me stories when I was growing up," Hurly continued, "so I fell in love with the history of World War II. I probably know more about to their detriment more about the European Theater than the Pacific Theater, other than general anecdotal stuff that my grandfathers told me about the Pacific Theater."

Hurly suggested developing a perspective on the pivotal June 6, 1944 invasion by examining the events that led up to it.

"So, what I would like to do, because I love history how did we get there?" Hurly asked.

Hurly described people who would play key roles in shaping 20th century events.

One person, Hurly noted, was an 18-year-old Serbian peasant named Gavrilo Princip, who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary to trigger World War I.

Other influential players have a local connection, of sorts.

"When I first moved here, I was floored that Queen Victoria's dress is here (in the museum)," Hurly noted. "I don't know how anyone does not know how important that dress is."

"You know who her three grandchildren are," he added after pausing. "Her three grandchildren are basically responsible for changing the history of the world. They're all first cousins Czar Nicholas I, first cousins with King Charles, and Kaiser Wilhelm, the Emperor of Germany. They're all first cousins."

"It's like Game of Thrones," Hurly added, drawing laughter from the group.

Hurly described other parties involved in the events leading up to D-Day and delved into the colorful personality of United States General George Patton.

Hurly noted the Axis forces' respect for Patton contributed to a successful diversionary tactic in England, known as "General Patton's Ghost Army."

The so-called army, which consisted of inflatable rubber "tanks" and other items designed to fool German reconnaissance personnel worked together with code-breaking efforts from the Allies' Project Ultra and advances in armaments to prepare troops for victory.

False messages intended to throw off Axis spies and missed Allied air strikes on the French coast also served to create confusion and build the element of surprise for the invasion, Hurly indicated.

However, Hurly reminded his listeners the victory on Normandy's beaches came at a high cost.

Hurly read first-hand accounts of the blood-drenched struggle on Omaha Beach, describing the heartbreak suffered by the small town of Bedford, Virginia.

Most of one unit landing on Normandy, Company A, came from the town.

"'For Bedford, the first 15 minutes of the invasion of Omaha was an unmitigated disaster'," Hurly read.

The company would lose 20 of the 30 Bedford residents fighting in the battle that day.

"Just think of that. Think of all the young men in Rugby, and 60 percent of them never come back. Do you know how devastating that would be to a community this size?"

"This happened all over the place."

Hurly answered questions and heard from an audience member who shared an account from her brother-in-law who had participated in the invasion of Omaha Beach. She told the group she had also visited the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Hurly said he plans another presentation next month.

"I'm doing a talk on World War I July 22," he said.

"It's called World War I: A Family Affair."

The lecture is slated for 7 p.m. July 22. More information is available at www.prairievillagemuseum.com or 776-6414.

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