The largest amphibious invasion in history was launched on June 6, 1944 when Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy to liberate Europe from the grip of Nazi Germany. For this year’s 79th anniversary of D-Day, volunteers with the non-profit Stories Behind the Stars are commemorating the sacrifice of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division. Fifty-six PA members of the 116th Regiment lost their lives on Omaha Beach on D-Day, including one from Adams County.
Richard Miller Palmer was born on October 29, 1916 in Littlestown, PA to Lee Elmer Palmer (1888-1968) and Augusta Eliza Jane Miller (1884-1965). His father was a farmer. Palmer had two older brothers. He graduated from Littlestown High School where he was President of his senior class. Palmer attended Millersville State Teachers College, graduated, and earned a Masters Degree from Elizabethtown College. He taught one year at Slate Ridge School and two years at Spauldings School. Palmer enlisted in the Army on May 1, 1941 in Harrisburg, PA.
Palmer was assigned to HQ Company, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. In October 1942, the 116th Infantry Regiment, as part of the 29th Infantry Division, arrived at Tidworth, England. In June 1943, the 116th Infantry Regiment and its division transferred to Devon for coastal defensive duties near Plymouth. They began training for amphibious landing assaults at the U.S. Army Assault Training Center on Woolacombe Beach. In May 1944 the 116th Regiment participated in Exercise Fabius I at Slapton Sands, a final rehearsal before D-Day.
For the invasion of Normandy, the 116th Infantry Regiment was to lead the assault on Omaha Beach and land at the Dog Green sector, west of the 1st Infantry Division’s 16th Infantry Regiment. On June 3, 1944 the 1st Battalion (Companies A, B, C and D) boarded the troop carrier SS Empire Javelin. The 2nd Battalion (Companies E, F, G and H) boarded the USS Thomas Jefferson. The 3rd Battalion (Companies I, J, K, L and M) boarded the USS Charles Carroll. At 0230 on June 6, the invasion fleet had arrived from Weymouth in the English Channel and dropped anchor about twelve miles from the Normandy coast.
By 0430, all first wave landing craft had left their ships and moved towards Omaha Beach. The second wave began moving towards Omaha Beach at 0700 and by 0740 had reached the beach area. As soon as the ramps of the Landing Craft Vehicles (Personnel) were lowered, the soldiers were faced with heavy enemy small arms, machine gun and mortar fire. Some of the LCVPs were grounded on sand bars requiring the soldiers to wade through sometimes neck high water to reach the beach. Many were killed or drowned trying to reach the beach. Also, because of bad weather and rough seas, the LCVPs landed out of position on the beach causing additional confusion and making it difficult to get organized.
Tec 5 Palmer’s remains were repatriated to the United States in November 1947. He was laid to rest at the Christ United Church of Christ in Littlestown, PA. Tec 5 Palmer was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously.
On D-Day, 3,100 men of the 116th Infantry Regiment entered combat. By the end of June 6, 1944 the unit suffered 1,007 killed, wounded, or missing during the Omaha Beach assault Their courage, bravery and sacrifice helped create a foothold that allowed Allied forces to continue the invasion and to defeat Nazi Germany within a year. The 116th Infantry Regiment earned the Presidential Unit Citation and the French Croix de Guerre with Palm for the D-Day landings in Normandy.
Stories Behind the Stars memorials are accessible for free on the internet and via smart phone app at gravesites and cenotaphs. The non-profit organization is dedicated to honoring all 421,000 fallen Americans from World War II, including 31,000 from Pennsylvania. To volunteer or to get more information, contact Kathy Harmon at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.storiesbehindthestars.org.