A marker for Johnnie Owen Duncan lies amid his Duncan ancestors in the Turner-Siegel Cemetery in rural Excelsior Springs. His body, however, found its final resting place in the English Channel on April 28, 1944, during a training exercise in preparation for D-Day.
Duncan was one of 639 killed or missing in action after German E-boats sank two landing ships involved in “Exercise Tiger.” The incident was kept secret until after the war to avoid tipping off the invasion plans.
Johnnie Owen Duncan wasn’t the only local man killed in the “Exercise Tiger” exercise. His cousin, Johnnie D. Owens, also died in the same D-Day training exercise, along with Raymond Baldwin, also of Excelsior Springs, and Eugene Barger of Orrick. All were in the same Quartermaster Division. All were awarded Purple Hearts posthumously.
Coincidentally, the Exercise Tiger incident report was written about two years later in March 1946 by Lt. Clifford L. Jones, who had moved to Excelsior Springs before the war. Jones, an Iowa native, brought his English bride, Ivy, and daughter Mary to Excelsior Springs when he returned to work at the VA Hospital here. Mary Pierson is a valued volunteer at the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives.
On June 6, 1944, the first Excelsior Springs soldier killed on D-Day was Pfc. Cecil McRorey, who by that time had already seen action in Africa, Sicily and Italy. A Richmond boy, Bartley Hodge Graham, also died on June 6, 1944. No other local deaths on D-Day were unearthed in extensive research in the Daily Standards of 1944 and 1945.
The first notice of a local D-Day casualty was published in the then-Daily Standard on July 2, when the parents of Lt. Kenneth F. Hill of Lawson learned he was recovering from shrapnel wounds incurred during the invasion of France. C.W. “Jack” Moore also was wounded on D-Day in France, for which he earned a Purple Heart. Before his European tour, he worked for the Daily Standard.
Other families received better news. Cpl. John “Monk” Griffith — the first Excelsior Springs boy to quit school after Pearl Harbor to join the service — was a member of a nine-member radio unit of the Ninth Air Force cited for its actions on D-Day. “By virtue of its splendid record in action the unit has a high place on the “honors list” of the division,” the War Department reported.
Staff Sgt. Horace Cravens of the Ninth Troop Carrier Command also earned D-Day accolades. His carrier unit, which flew gliders over the Cherbourg peninsula, engaged in more sorties than any other troop carrier group and “the outstanding courage, skill and fearless initiative demonstrated by all of the personnel , both individually and as a closely knit combat team, contributed immeasurably to the success of the European invasion and materially accelerated the collapse of the enemy forces on the Normandy coast.”
Cravens had trained in Europe for eight months prior to D-Day; that training kept casualties to a minimum. After the war, Cravens joined the Excelsior Springs Police Department.
Herbert Lawrence Carder landed on Omaha Beach with the Army during the D-Day invasion. He also saw action in Belgium and Germany, earning a Bronze Star.
The Museum has a longtime project of collecting the service records and photos of local veterans. The information and photo on Carder is included in the Military Service Binders found in the Military Room at the Museum. The binders reveal that several other local soldiers and sailors performed heroically in Europe and other theaters of operation, but it is unclear whether they were involved in the D-Day invasion.
For more information on Exercise Tiger visit http://www.exercisetigermemorial.co.uk/about
Online Only: Side Bar Extra
Normandy Invasion Touched Excelsior Springs
By Linda Brink
Museum Design Committee Chair
Seventy-five years ago, the long-rumored Anglo-American invasion of France was launched. Bad weather had postponed the invasion once, and a 24-hour period of barely tolerable conditions was forecast beginning midday on June 5. The Allied Forces’ Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, said, “I don’t like it, but there it is. I don’t see how we can possibly do anything else.” The invasion of Nazi-occupied France, D-Day for Operation Overlord to liberate Europe, would launch June 6, 1944.
The Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives has commemorated this pivotal point in world history with a display and historical research that has unearthed the names of local soldiers and sailors who participated in the events preceding and during the Normandy invasion. The related article tells the story of some of them, and the Museum is seeking information on any others not included. Please call the Museum at 630-0101 if you have information on your local family’s involvement in this historic event, and visit the Museum Tuesday-Saturday, 11 to 4, to learn more about the event.