Memories of D-Day still fresh for NH veteran
During World War II, Hanover's Clinton Gardner, seen in Belgium around October of 1944, was an anti-aircraft artillery officer who landed in Normandy on D-Day. (COURTESY)
Clinton Gardner has donated his badly damaged helmet from the D-Day invasion to his alma mater, Dartmouth College. (COURTESY)
"We landed at 9 a.m. expecting that our troops would be a mile inland, and they were only 300 yards inland," Gardner said in an interview this week. "So they in fact were fighting on the cliff, trying to get up the cliff from the beach. It was just beyond the surf; we were still on the sand."
"There was even some thought that we wouldn't continue the invasion at that point," he said.
But the invasion did continue, about 160,000 Allied troops under the command of U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower landing on a 50-mile stretch of French coastline for the operation that would turn World War II inexorably in the Allies' favor.
When he finally did receive medical attention, it took several medics to pry the gaping helmet from Gardner's head.
While he was recovering from surgery at a hospital in Salisbury, England, a British captain representing London's Imperial War Museum visited and asked for the helmet. The hole, the captain told Gardner, was the largest he had seen worn by any survivor of World War I or World War II.
A native of Larchmont, N.Y., Gardner attended Phillips Exeter Academy and joined the Army in 1942. He was a member of the highly decorated 110th anti-aircraft artillery battalion.
In 1945, after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, he was appointed commander at Buchenwald, overseeing care for the survivors and the interment of many of the estimated 55,000 who were killed there.
After the war, Gardner returned to New Hampshire and graduated from Dartmouth College, served as the managing editor of a U.S. military publication in postwar Berlin, Germany, raised a family in Armonk, N.Y., with his wife, Libby, and moved back to New Hampshire with Libby in 2003.
He says it doesn't take the anniversary of a battle for memories of the war to come flooding back.
"I certainly do think of it — not only when the anniversaries come up," he said. "I often think of the war."
But Gardner is still here, and so is his D-Day helmet, which he has been able to show his three children, eight grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.
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