Remembering Payne Co Men Who Fell at Normandy

Remembering Payne Co Men Who Fell at Normandy
U.S. Army troops wade ashore on "Omaha" Beach during the "D-Day" landings, 6 June 1944. Chief Photographer's Mate (CPHOM) Robert F. Sargent, U.S. Coast Guard, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The phrase' four score ' is rarely uttered outside Lincoln's Gettysburg Address. But I will invoke it here to honor the servicemen from Payne County who made the ultimate sacrifice in the D-Day landings and the ensuing operations. 

June 6, 1944, is known as D-Day. It was the largest seaborne invasion in known history and a significant step toward liberating France and driving the Axis powers to defeat less than a year later. Amongst the many thousands of Allied troops that stormed the beaches 80 years ago, I found five men from Payne County who died and now rest at the Normandy American Cemetery. By comparing WWII Army records, Cemetery burial records, and Ancestry archives, I found some details of these ordinary yet remarkable men. I took care to ensure accurate matches, but if there are any mistakes in these records, I hope the reader will forgive me.

U.S. Army Private Kenneth Johnston was born in 1920 in Payne County. At the time of his enlistment on January 13, 1943, in Tulsa, he was a college student and a farm worker. He was about 22 years old, 5'4" tall, and weighed only 128 lbs. He served in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and was killed in action on July 5, 1944. His sacrifice was recognized with the Purple Heart.

U.S. Army Corporal Fred W. Kendall was born in 1915. The youngest of William and Elgina Kendall's eight children, he enlisted in the Army on May 12, 1942, in San Francisco, California. He worked as a plumber and gas fitter. He was 5'9" tall and weighed 162 lbs. He might have known Kenneth Johnston, also in the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. Fred was killed in action on June 17, 1944, on Omaha Beach, Normandy, France. His bravery was posthumously recognized with the Purple Heart.

U.S. Army Second Lieutenant James J. McNeill of Payne County served in the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 82nd Airborne Division. He was killed in action on June 7, 1944, and posthumously awarded the Purple Heart. 

U.S. Army Air Forces Second Lieutenant Clarence P Peck Jr. was born in 1922, the eldest of two boys to Clarence and Massie Peck. He lived in Stillwater and had two years of college education. His stated occupation was "Actor". He enlisted in the infantry on September 16, 1940, in Stillwater, coming in at 5'7" and 150 lbs. Lieutenant Peck was a member of the 643rd Bomber Squadron, 409th Bomber Group, Light. He was killed in action on May 22, 1944, and was posthumously recognized with the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters and the Purple Heart.

Joe E. Thompson Jr., born in 1922, worked as a general store clerk when he enlisted in Oklahoma City on March 26, 1942. He was 5'10" tall, weighed 144 lbs., and was only twenty years old. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces as First Lieutenant in the 452nd Bomber Squadron, 322nd Bomber Group, Medium. He was found dead on July 8, 1944, and posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal with 11 Gold Stars, and the Purple Heart.

The Normandy American Cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, France, holds 165 more names from men from Oklahoma, names like William Baker, Elmar Crowl, and Harold Fulton just to list a few. Almost every one of those 165 names has pinned to it a Purple Heart, Bronze Star, or Flying Cross. They are numbered among some of WWII's bravest soldiers. When their time came to fight for liberty, they rose to the call. I wish to remember these and all others who paid the price for our freedom during those grim days 80 years ago.


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