Hometown News For Orange County, Texas

Orange prayed as men fought in Normandy 80 years ago

As the fighting was raging on the shores of Normandy 80 years ago, people in Orange were going to churches.

The famous Allie invasion of France to drive to drive German Nazis out of the occupied country began before dawn on June 6, 1944, along the Normandy coast. It was a surprise attack that every one knew would come some day and bring thousands of casualties. No one knew the date.

It was 9:30 in the morning French time for the invading troops when word began coming into Orange about the invasion. The Orange daily newspaper reported news arrived about 3:30 a.m. local time. At 4 a.m., a shipyard blasted its whistle to let the town know big news was breaking.

The churches soon opened their doors. "Before the sun rose, doors of churches throughout the city opened to those wanting to enter and pray for success of the invasion. Men and women with dampened eyes entered many of the churches to kneel at the altar and then quietly walk away," a reporter wrote.

Not all the town was sleeping at 4 a.m. Orange had grown from about 7,000 people in 1940 to an estimated 60,000 people during World War II. They came to work in the local shipyards, including the large Navy U.S. Consolidated Steel yard, the the locally-owned Levingston Shipbuilding and Weaver Shipyard.

The shipyards were working 24-hour a day shifts to turn out ships, barges, and landing craft for the military. Some of those vessels helped with the D Day invasion.

Because of all the shift workers, parts of downtown Orange, particularly its cafes and diners, were open all night. The Beaumont Enterprise at the time described the town as never sleeping.

Maybe some of the people going to the churches were on their way to work. Maybe some were getting off work. St. Paul's Episcopal Church set five services spread throughout the day.

A lot of those in prayer were family members of military men who could be involved in the invasion. The local newspaper estimated 600 to 1,000 men might be taking part.

The U.S. Army website says 160,000 Allied troops participated in the invasion. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft participated. In one day, more than 9,000 of the Allied soldiers had been killed or wounded.

Levingston Shipbuilding set aside 20 minutes during the for a service with company president Edgar Brown Jr., vice president Ed T. Malloy, yard supervisor E.W. Dusch, and manager Frank Malloy attending. The Reverend Ed Barcus with First Methodist gave the opening prayer and Mrs. Betty Jean Cooper sang the national anthem. A Navy lieutenant commander gave a short speech and the Reverend Joe Bererich from St. Mary's Catholic gave the closing prayer.

Over at Consolidated Steel, the scheduled ship christening went on. The USS Rambach, a destroyer escort named in honor of a Navy lieutenant killed in the Pacific action.

Consolidated Steel in Orange that made the LCI landing craft, a flat-bottomed boat with a pilot house. The craft could carry 200 men up onto the beach. According to the U.S. Coast Guard history page, members of the Coast Guard often piloted the LCI.

Though the Higgins Boat built in New Orleans gained more fame at Normandy, the LCI landing craft model was also extensively used.

At least 12 of those built in Orange were used at Normandy. The USS LCI (L) 92 was lost in action at Omaha Beach. The U.S. Coast Guard website said the vessel was commissioned on February 15, 1943, in Orange at Consolidated Steel. The crew on D-Day was three officers, 21 enlisted and 188 troops. The ship was hit by enemy shelling and caught fire. It was landing next to another craft from Orange. Even though LCI (L) 92 was lost in D-Day action, the website said there were no casualties reported.

Levingston Shipbuilding had several ocean-going tugboats working off shore during the invasion, assisting with transporting fuel for ships and for use ashore.

The shipyards were also ramping up their efforts to sell war bonds, a kind of investment everyday people could make to loan the government money to pay for the war. Consolidated Steel sold $20,000 worth of the bonds in the first couple of days of the invasion.

No local histories include the names of local men killed in action in Normandy, but several later prominent people in Orange were among those landing in the first weeks after the invasion. They included the late lawyer and Orange native Roy Wingate, and physician Dr. Howard Williams, who went on to write the history of Orange. They were young at the time and acquired their educations after the war.

Raymond Burdine grew up in Arkansas, but spent his adult life in Orange. He had a serious leg injury from parts of a German mortar shell during skirmishes in the infamous hedgerows of France. He was only 19 years old at the time.

The French countryside and farms didn't use fencing, but had thick, brambling hedges of plants in rows to divide land. Those hedgerows made perfect hiding places for Germans to ambush the Allied troops.

Burdine never fought again and when he was discharged, he came to Orange, where his parents had moved to work in shipbuilding. He married Orange native Jeneane Seruntine and they stayed here.

Most of the World War II veterans are now gone and the ones alive are around 100 years old. A few of the 1944 Normandy survivors will be attending ceremonies for the 80th anniversary, most of them in wheelchairs.

There may be none left for the 85th anniversary.

But in 1994, the 50th anniversary, hundreds of D Day veterans attended the ceremonies as they were in their late 60s and into their 80s. The now defunct Houston Post, when covering that ceremony, had a giant banner headline above a photograph of those veterans. 'These Men Saved the World.'


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