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Antonsen Returns to Europe

Antonsen_Returns_to_Europe.jpg AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984 AliceEFyelander Thumbnails Helen Mae Demmon France 1984


The Shelton-Mason County Journal
Thursday, July 19, 1984 - Ninety-Eighth Year - Number 29 - 3 Sections - 38 Pages - 25 Cents Per Copy

[Photo of Antonsen reading french newspaper]
SHELTON'S RICHARD ANTONSEN peruses a French newspaper he picked up while in Normandy last month to mark the 40th anniversary of the Allies' invasion on D-Day. Antonsen didn't face the terror of landing under fire on June 6, 1944, but he was with the U.S. Army's 90th Infantry Division which fought its way through France and Germany into Czechoslovakia. He was wounded by shrapnel in Germany.

[Photo of street]
IN PERIERS, FRANCE, the mayor (right) led a ceremony in which a street was named for the 90th Infantry Division, which had liberated the town in 1944.

This time, invasion was friendly
By CHARLES GAY
Forty years ago this month Private First Class Richard Antonsen joined the U.S. Army's 90th Infantry Division in Normandy and began one of the battle-filled campaigns which ended World War II in Europe. Last month the 63-year-old Shelton man was one of thousands of veterans from several countries who returned to the beaches, fields and cities of France and Germany to commemorate the Allies' invasion of Europe which started on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

Antonsen and his fellow veterans were honored guests wherever they went. He brought home a shopping bag full of medals, certificates, cards, other assorted mementos and newspapers which he picked upon his 17-day tour through the places his division had fought four decades ago.

On June 6, 1984, Antonsen was part of a huge crowd at Utah Beach, which included veterans from several countries and heads of state who marked the invasion on D-Day.

In Periers, a town in Normandy which the 90th Infantry Division liberated in the summer of 1944, the natives opened their homes to the veterans, held receptions, scheduled a special church service with hymns in French and English and named a street after the division. Antonsen and his wife Helen, along with about 180 veterans and their wives, stayed in private homes for three days in Periers.

In Paris, Antonsen was part of a special ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe, was invited to a reception in the French Senate by French President Francois Mitterand, was whisked away through town by a police motorcycle escort and had time to tour the city.

In the French cities of Metz and Maizieres-Les-Metz near the German order, where the 90th had met stiff resistance from the Germans along the Maginot Line, Antonsen and his fellow Americans were given medals at receptions hosted by the cities.

In Heidelberg, Germany, the veterans attended a dinner with members of the German 6th and 15th paratrooper regiments who had been their foes 40 years ago. The Germans gave the Americans certificates of friendship and beer mugs. And one of the Germans gave Antonsen a pin with the symbol of his paratrooper regiment.

At Dillingen, Germany, where Antonsen was wounded in December 1944, there was another reception for the Americans. Antonsen and his party took a tour through Fort Hackenberg the same day as the Dillingen visit. The fort, consisting of tunnels and buildings under 395 acres of forest and scrub, was part of the Maginot Line, the fortifications built by the French along its border with Germany which were supposed to protect France from a Nazi invasion. The tables were turned on the Allies when, after D-Day, they had to fight through the fortifications which the Germans had taken over early in the war.

In Bastogne, Belgium, near where the 90th joined other American troops for the decisive Battle of the Bulge, the veterans were again honored at a reception following a ceremony at the Mar-Dasson Monument. The Belgians gave the Americans cards which read: "Forty years ago, you fought here in snow and ice. And now, flowers are in the meadows. We give you flowers, picked for you this morning, because you are our friends forever, coming from America." Bastogne is where General George Patton is buried. The veterans' activities there included placing flags on the graves of the men of the 90th who lost their lives in Belgium.

In London, the veterans were treated to a "Stage Door Canteen" show at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in which Ann Sheldon sang. Sheldon began singing for the G.I.s in London when she was 16.

The Antonsens saw many other places, too. They toured London, crossed the English Channel, visited Pointe du Hoc where the Rangers stormed the cliffs on D-Day, saw the battlefield at Seves Island, toured the cathedral at Reims and surrounding champagne country, saw the "surrender room" where the Germans surrendered in Reims, stayed in Luxembourg two days and took a steamer ride on the Rhine.

It was an emotional trip for Antonsen, who was still deeply affected by the memories it evoked after he returned from Europe. At one point in his interview with the Journal, tears filled his eyes as he recalled the war years.

Antonsen didn't go ashore with the first invading troops on D-Day. He sailed out of Boston on D-Day on the USS Wakefield (formerly the luxury liner USS Manhattan) and spent his 23rd birthday on June 8 crossing the ocean. He went over to Europe as a replacement. By the time he got to France, the Allies had secured the beaches at Normandy, and his ship pulled up to a dock on Utah Beach which had been towed across the English Channel.

He joined the 90th Infantry Division on July 15, just before its breakthrough at Saint Lo. The division was in hedgerow country, and the going was slow as it fought Germans behind hedges in the fields.

The Americans broke through at Saint Lo after bombing the city to pieces when they ran into fierce resistance from the Germans. Periers, the town liberated by the 90th, is northwest of Saint Lo.

The 90th proceeded to Avranches and Le Mans, then went north to Chambois, close to where it helped catch the Germans 7th Army in a trap at Falaise. In the famous Battle of Falaise Gap, most of the 7th Army was destroyed when it was caught in a valley by the Americans coming from the south and the British coming from the north. Heavy air attacks by the Americans proved devastating to the Germans, Antonsen recalled.

The 90th then swung south of Paris to Fontainebleau. Although he wasn't part of the liberation of the French capital, he got to visit the city on a 48-hour furlough. Just when his group crossed the Mosel River, his name was drawn for the "rest and relaxation."

The 90th and other American troops were held up in Reims in northeast France because of supply problems, Antonsen said. “That's where Patton ran out of gas for his tanks," he said. The American 3rd Army, of which the 90th Infantry Division was a part, was advancing so fast that supplies couldn't catch up with it.

Then it was on to Metz for the 90th. Antonsen remembers being in the area on the Maginot Line for several weeks. The division crossed the Saar River and touched Germany for the first time at Dillingen. It was at Dillingen on December 19 that he was wounded by shrapnel when the Germans shelled American encampments.

Antonsen ran a .30 calibre water-cooled machine gun as part of a heavy-weapons squad. The unit usually had rifle companies in front of it and would give the rifle companies support and cover when the division would assault a town.

Antonsen's machine gun was in the doorway of a house in Dillingen. When the shelling began, he retreated down the hallway to the middle of the house. But a shell lit outside the house and a piece of shrapnel hit him.

The wound took him out of action for three months. First he was evacuated to a field hospital, then to Paris, then to England. He missed the 90th's participation in the Battle of the Bulge in Belgium.

He returned to action in the middle of March just after his division had crossed the Mosel again. When his squad lost its leader, Antonsen was promoted to sergeant. The Americans crossed the Rhine west of Frankfurt, bypassed Frankfurt and made rapid progress through the rest of Germany.

Antonsen said there was less resistance because many of the Germans had been wiped out or captured, the Nazis were demoralized and they lacked equipment. A lot of German equipment had been committed to the Battle of the Bulge and lost, he said.

The 90th was the first American group to reach Czechoslovakia. There, in Suscice, near Pilsen, the announcement the soldiers had been waiting for, on the end of the war, came May 7, 1945, less than a year after D-Day.

Some 3,340 members of the 90th had been killed in the drive across Western Europe, and another 18,051 had been wounded. Antonsen was one of 21,400 replacements needed to keep the division at full strength (15,000) because of casualties. The 90th captured over 83,000 German prisoners.

Antonsen, who is originally from South Dakota, has lived in the same house at 1334 Ellinor since 1947. Antonsen returned to South Dakota after the war and married his wife in 1946. They came to Shelton because she had relatives here.

He got a job at the Simpson Power Plant and worked there 36 years before retiring in June 1983. The Antonsens have four children, all Shelton High School graduates: Diane. 37, of Boise, Idaho; Judy, 36, and Katie, 31, both of Olympia; and Keith, 28, of Los Angeles.

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