On December 7th, 1941 the Japanese bombed the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Five weeks later on January 17th, 1942, a 33 year old man in New York City – an Armenian immigrant to America – enlisted in the U.S. Army. On Ancestry.com his civil occupation is listed as “skilled motion picture projectionist”. He was “single, without dependents”, 5’6″ tall, completed four years of high school, and was a private in the Infantry. He was my great uncle Leon Krikorian, and I remember him well :-)
Leo was among the 73, 000 American troops (156,000 Allied troops altogether) who landed on the beaches of Normandy, France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, a mission known as “Operation Neptune”. Today the free world commemorates the 70th anniversary of that historic mission. My uncle was wounded on those beaches and was awarded a Purple Heart, something he always dismissed in conversation and never wanted to talk about. He’d talk about the war, yes, but not his medal. And he admitted with candor and honesty that he and his fellow infantrymen felt “fear” that morning under stormy ominous cloud cover, and endured hours of seasickness during the rough crossing of the English Channel.
In a letter written the day before the invasion (mistakenly dated July 5 instead of June 5) General Eisenhower penned a worst case scenario note in the event that the mission failed. It is known as the “In case of failure” letter, although that phrase does not appear in the text. Scrawled on a 4 x7 inch sheet of beige notepaper and written on a portable desk, the note is brittle and worn. Eisenhower had folded it and tucked it in his wallet. In it he wrote, “The troops, the air, and the navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt, it is mine alone.” That’s a five star General right there.
Uncle Leo achieved the rank of Staff Sergeant. He died in 1992 and is buried at Long Island National Cemetery. RIP.
Photos of D-Day, which speak for themselves: