Local Man at D-Day
The United States, and pretty much the whole world for that matter, paused on Thursday to remember the 75th anniversary of D-Day. It was a turning point in World War II and it was because of the brave men who fought in that terrible war that the world was saved for democracy.
The sacrifices were monumental and literally thousands of men in the U.S. military paid the supreme sacrifice on that fateful day, but through it all, the United States and its allies prevailed and the world became a safer place.
We've written about this story in the past, but with this week filled with news coverage of D-Day, and some of the few remaining soldiers who participated discussing their recollections, we thought it would be worth a little copy here on a Watertown man who was there.
It was back in 1994, on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, that the Daily Times was publishing articles about Watertown men who fought in that war.
The stories were compelling and they came reluctantly for most of the soldiers who were there. For the most part, they kept their wartime experiences to themselves, rarely, if ever, even discussing them with their wives and families.
But, as time goes on and the clock on their lives is ticking, some open up a bit, and such was the case with the late Weir McQuoid. Back in the summer of 1994, a "little birdie" whispered to us that Weir McQuoid had a World War II story worth writing about.
Weir was a physical education teacher of ours back in the 1960s, and we knew him well. So, we gave him a call and he put us off quickly, wanting to know, "Who the hell told you to call me? I don't want to talk about it."
That was about par for the course, but we pushed him a little bit and he said he'd at least consider it. A couple days later, he called and agreed to meet.
As we started the conversation it was short and to the point but he gradually opened up and I couldn't believe all that he endured.
Yes, Weir McQuoid, one of the best high school wrestling coaches in Wisconsin, a dedicated teacher, father and husband, was at D-Day, but not even his family knew of everything he was through while defending our country.
Above is one of the iconic photos of World War II. It is of Gen. Dwight Eisenhower addressing the troops of the famous 101st Airborne on June 4, 1944, just one day before the D-Day invasion was scheduled to begin.
This is a cropped version of the famous photo, but the man on the left is Weir McQuoid, just a few feet away from the general as he spoke.
As we said, Weir was a man of few words when it came to his war experiences, but in our interview, he called it "pure luck" that he was one of several people pictured in that famous photograph that has been reproduced hundreds upon hundreds of times since that day.
He said, "The photo was taken on June 4, 1944, a day before D-Day, but the actual date was delayed by one day because of bad weather.
"There was a call for everyone to assemble because the general wanted to talk with us. Nearly everyone went. He talked to us a few minutes and then walked a little farther and talked with another group. He wasn't there very long."
It's 75 years later, but this iconic photo is still one of the most published ones of World War II.
Through all those years McQuoid told very few people that he was in the photo. He called it a stroke of luck but it is one of the most memorable.
In our interview of 25 years ago, McQuoid said he and his crew left the air base in England at 1:30 a.m. on D-Day, about five hours before the full-scale assault was scheduled to commence. Their mission was to parachute into France and set up some radar to assist the planes that would be bombing the coast in a matter of hours.
He said the pilot was not a veteran and underestimated his speed, and as a result, the men parachuted out of the plane 25-30 kilometers further inland than was planned and also farther apart from each other than anticipated. He was unable to make contact with the others and quickly hid in a wooded area.
He gradually found his way to a farmhouse where he could hear the heavy bombing in the distance, a signal the D-Day was underway. The farm family was able to get Weir in touch with the French underground and through them he ultimately got back to his unit.
There's more to Weir McQuoid's story, but we thought this one had special meaning on the anniversary of D-Day.
Weir died in Whitewater back in 2004, but we were glad he opened up about his experiences in the military. It was a compelling story all should hear.