D-Day the Sixth of June 1944

Saturday, June 7, 2014

It is important to remember the 70th anniversary of D-Day June 6, 1944 and June 14, 1944, the 70th anniversary of the day Homer L. Wise, Stamford, CT’s greatest war hero received the Medal of Honor .

It is important to remember those young men from Stamford who fought on D-Day like Joseph Gutkowski, who was awarded five bronze stars, Richard Page, a much decorated paratrooper and Constatnine Vanech who dropped paratroopers in the early morning hours of D-Day and many others.

We must ensure permanent recognition of their contributions to keep this country free and to helping those in need after their service.

To those to whom World War II is a distant drum.

During the first two and half weeks following the invasion of Normandy the average life span of an American soldier was 47 seconds.


STAMFORD -- Though a skilled pilot, Army Air Corps Capt. Constantine "Gus" Vanech still ran into trouble in the early morning hours of D-Day, 70 years ago today.

His orders were to drop paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division behind enemy lines early on June 6, to cut off German lines of communication and secure bridges and causeways for the infantry troops who were about to attack the beaches of Normandy.

But many of the "pathfinders" who had already dropped in hours earlier to mark the landing zones for Vanech and other pilots had been misdirected by poor visibility and enemy fire.

So it was up to Vanech to navigate through the dark on his own.

The work he did that day, along with that of so many others, was key to the success of Operation Overlord, the largest amphibious invasion in history, when an estimated 160,000 Allied soldiers landed on the 50-mile stretch of beaches of Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, setting in motion the series of events that lead to the downfall of Nazi Germany.

"For many years, he wouldn't tell us these stories," said one of his daughters, Donna Randano, 70. "But when he did, you could tell how humble, but proud, he was."

It wasn't the first time Vanech would find himself navigating in the dark.

It happened again three months later, after the Allies had liberated Paris from the Nazis and U.S. Army Gen. George Patton was hammering the German forces farther back east into during the Lorraine Campaign.

The hard-charging general and his troops ran into a potentially devastating roadblock: their tanks ran out of gas, and fuel trucks were unable to reach them. They stalled, leaving the troops ill-equipped and vulnerable to a German ambush. Each time fuel trucks were deployed to help them, they were shelled by enemy artillery and their drivers killed. The roads were in enemy control, forcing an aerial response.

A group of U.S. C-47 planes carrying hundreds of jerry cans of fuel were sent, but they encountered fog so heavy that it forced nearly all of them to reverse course. One unit continued on. It was Vanech.

A flight leader and captain in the Air Corps, he led a group of four planes in tight formation under the fog layer, a risky move considering the 10-foot clearance he had over the tops of the forest's trees. After a series of maneuvers, his crew successfully landed and delivered the fuel before German forces arrived, possibly saving hundreds of lives and paving the way for several decisive Allied victories.

For his actions, Vanech was promised a series of medals and also the military's highest honor.
"What you did is above and beyond duty, you deserve the Medal of Honor," his captain said. "You'll hear about this, I promise you."

He never heard back.

Born to Harry and Virginia Vanech and raised in Stamford, he went to work at a mill factory after graduating from Stamford High School in 1938. On Aug. 2, 1941, two days after the Third Reich's "Final Solution" was authorized, he enlisted in the Army. After completing fighter-plane training in Texas, he was assigned to the 98th Troop Carrier Squadron, a now-inactive U.S. Air Corps unit. There was a surplus of fighter pilots at the time, so Vanech was assigned as a cargo pilot, completing campaigns in northern France, Central Europe, the Rhineland and Normandy.

"He was such a fine pilot," said James Vlasto, a cousin of Vanech and himself a Korean War veteran. "There were some incredible things that he did."

Vanech was honorably discharged in 1945 and returned to Stamford to work as a machinist at Pitney-Bowes, the postage supply company until 1982. He had aspirations of becoming a commercial pilot, but was rejected after he was injured waiting to return home from war. He was sitting in a Jeep on the airport's tarmac when it was struck by a taxiing airplane, breaking his back. He instead spent time with his wife, Ethel and daughters, Donna, Cheryl and Wendy, and restored older model planes and flew his own until declining eyesight forced him to stop flying in his mid 60s. He kept busy, but he never forgot the promise his commander made to him. He compiled the intricate details of that day in a letter he sent to then-Sen.Chris Dodd in 2006 to find out why he had never received his award.

"This mission has been with me in my mind and heart throughout the years," wrote Vanech. "I have called all over the U.S., being guided from once place to another, always coming up with no information. I would appreciate it if you could somehow look into this matter so that my mind could be put to rest."

His plea went unanswered for another two years. At last, U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays read Vanech's letter and presented him with the Air Medal with One Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Unit Badge, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, and two additional medals. Vanech received them the week before he died on July 10, 2008, at age 88. Though not the Medal of Honor, Vanech was grateful to still be recognized, his daughter said.

"My father was the type of person that would let things go," said Cheryl Ippolito. "But he was told he was supposed to receive these medals and as he got ill, he wanted them."

Stamford has no formal recognition ceremony planned for Vanech and others who served on D-Day. This upsets Tony Pavia, former principal of Stamford High School and author of "An American Town Goes to War," a compilation of stories of Stamford veterans who served in World War II. Stamford's population during the war hovered around 60,000, and of those, close to 10,000 were active military personnel. Of those, 226 of them died in the war.

"These are quiet, humble people who didn't even believe they did anything special," said Pavia, a history teacher by trade. "Well they did do something special and they certainly should be recognized for it."


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