Lawrence A. Krumanocker of Allentown was with Company G, 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, when it stumbled ashore at Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944. By day's end, Company G had made itself the pivot point of World War II.
Krumanocker and Company G were part of the front-line advance of the largest naval invasion in history -- 2,700 ships carrying 176,000 soldiers from the United States, Great Britain and Canada. They confronted Adolf Hitler's well-entrenched German army that morning along a 60-mile front on the northern coast of France.
But it was Company G -- 226 enlisted men and nine officers led by Capt. Joseph T. Dawson of Corpus Cristi, Texas -- that was the first to break the German lines. Company G was the first to make it up the heavily-fortified 150-foot bluff along the beach. And when, late that day, Company G fought its way into the seaside village of Colleville-sur-Mer, it was the first town in France to be liberated by the landing troops.
Historian Stephen E. Ambrose, author of the just-published "D-Day: June 6, 1944: The Climactic Battle of World War II," calls it one of the great moments of the war.
Now, a half-century later, veterans of D-Day by the tens of thousands are headed back to the villages and beaches of Normandy where their courage was tested in one of the greatest battles of all time.
Two weeks from tomorrow, in a ceremony that will be watched on television by millions around the world, President Clinton, French President Francois Mitterand, Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain and other heads of state will join 35,000 veterans from a number of countries at the spot on Omaha Beach where Company G came ashore. They will pay tribute to the heroism of those who fought and to the sacrifice of the many who died in that watershed moment of the 20th century.
Krumanocker, 72, would love to be there. All through the winter and spring, he watched the mail for a letter from the Army inviting him to attend and explaining how to participate. He even heard that the 25 surviving members of Company G were going to be asked to serve as an official honor guard at the ceremonies.
But no official-looking envelope arrived at his house on S. 34th Street. And when Krumanocker began to make telephone calls several weeks ago to inquire whether he might visit on his own, he learned that, for all practical purposes, he was too late.
Every hotel room from Cherbourg, the big port city on the Normandy Coast, to Paris, 200 miles inland, was booked. The same is true of practically every seat on every airliner running between New York and Paris that week.
"We have been left out completely," says Krumanocker. "No one seems to know why."
Indeed, the only person from Company G who plans to be at Omaha Beach on June 6 is Dawson. But Dawson, a retired Army major now 80 years old, has been going back to Normandy for all the big World War II anniversary ceremonies.
Dawson was in Normandy 10 years ago when President Reagan shed tears at the Pointe du Hoc monument where D-Day soldiers needed grappling hooks to lift themselves up the bluff into the range of German guns. He returned to Normandy five years ago for the more modest ceremonies that were held on the 45th anniversary of the invasion.
But Dawson knew that nothing short of his death could keep him from the 50th anniversary ceremony this year. So while he was in France in 1989, he made a hotel reservation five years ahead of time.
Others had the same foresight to make their travel plans early. Nearly 600 men and their families from the 29th Infantry division, a group that joined the Battle of Normandy on D-Day plus 1, June 7, 1944, and fought valiantly across Europe in the coming months, placed reservations on hundreds of rooms in hotels all over the region three years ago.
"The bookings are very, very tight," conceded Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Frey of the Defense Department's official World War II Commission that is planning the ceremonies. He said anyone who did not make travel plans months ago will have difficulty setting them now.
The problems associated with attending the ceremonies are heightened by the fact that the region of Normandy has remained nearly as rural as it was on the day the Allies landed. Hotels are few, roads are narrow and there is little public transportation capable of moving massive numbers of people.
So although Krumanocker might still be able to get the Army credentials he'd need to attend the ceremony, and although he might still be able to make airline connections to Europe, he might find himself stranded in Paris, unable to get to the coast and without a bed to sleep in.
The trip not only would have let Krumanocker bask in the tribute of the ceremony, it might have let him put to rest his memories of the war, which took him from the invasion of North Africa in 1942 to the landing in Sicily in 1943 to the invasion of Normandy in 1944, then the long fight across Europe, all the way to Czechoslovakia by 1945.
Krumanocker and Company G spent seven months in England training for the D-Day invasion, but it wasn't until the morning of June 6 that he and his fellow soldiers realized they would be part of the first wave that would face the German guns.
The fighting was fierce from the moment the men of Company G began to disembark from the five landing boats that took them ashore. One of the first to be wounded was Capt. John Finke, commander of Company G, now a retired colonel living in Virginia.