A virtual Memorial Day ceremony, recorded on location at the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, premieres Monday, May 31 at 11AM.
On-site guests are invited to view the ceremony on a screen inside the Bobbie G. Johnson Pavilion at select times throughout the day.
Two decades ago, the National D-Day Memorial Foundation set the goal of identifying all Allied personnel killed on June 6, 1944 in the invasion of Normandy. Researchers in the “Necrology Project” painstakingly sifted through burial records, after-action reports, personnel records, unit histories, and other sources to honor the D-Day fallen. While the project is not considered finished and research continues, the Memorial’s necrology database remains the most complete accounting of the D-Day fallen anywhere in the world. The Foundation’s ongoing research has now led to the identification of two more Americans lost on D-Day, bringing the known total to 4,415 Allied service members who made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom on June 6, 1944. This Memorial Day we remember and honor Frederick Nye Moses Jr. and Clarence A. Tolle with the addition of their names to the Memorial’s Necrology Wall.
Frederick Nye Moses Jr. was born in Wyoming in 1920 but grew up in Hermosa Beach, California. When the US entered WWII, Moses (usually known by his middle name Nye) was a student at the University of Southern California and a naval reservist. Upon graduation in 1943, Nye reported to Northwestern University for further training, and then to England to take command of Landing Craft Tank 540 by the beginning of 1944. It was not long before the men of 540 were informed that, in addition to their daily tasks of moving men and equipment around southern England, they would soon take part in the greatest invasion of the war, Operation Overlord, the assault on the beaches of Normandy.
Ensign Moses was determined to prepare his crew for their vital role. He led his men in extensive training and practice exercises, including Operation Tiger, the disastrous practice landings at Slapton Sands, England. Through diligence and uncompromising discipline, Moses lowered the time it took his men to unload their cargo to less than four minutes.
On June 1, 1944, LCT-540 received orders to load the men and equipment of the 5th Engineer Special Brigade, attached to the 1st Infantry Division. It soon became clear that this was more than another practice: the invasion was at hand. Nye Moses received his orders: 540 was to assault the Easy Red Sector of Omaha Beach only an hour after the invasion began. The LCT would be one of the first large vessels to approach the beach, making it a prime target for the German artillery awaiting them.
As 540 approached the beach, it was clear that things were not going well. The landings were chaos, the obstacles and mines were still in place, and the signal informing the LCT where and when to land was nowhere in sight. Nonetheless, Moses ordered his ship to continue to the beach, even as artillery shells began to splash around the vessel.
About 900 yards from the beach, Moses stepped out of the pilot house to shout instructions to some of his men on the deck below. Half in and half out of the door, a German shell hit Nye Moses, severing his left leg below the knee. Shrapnel rebounded off of the bulkhead and hit him as he fell, inflicting more injury. The shocked crew ran to his aid and attempted to treat his wounds, but it was clear that he was mortally wounded.
Despite the pain and shock, Moses continued to give orders and encourage his men. His executive officer William Wilhoit took command and continued the charge to the beach, despite the vessel sustaining at least eight serious artillery hits and three of the army engineers also being killed. At least eight other sailors were wounded.
Reaching the beach and still under intense fire, 540 attempted to offload its valuable cargo of vehicles. However, in the attack the ramp’s engine had been damaged and could not be lowered. Ensign Wilhoit ordered the vessel to withdraw. At a safer distance, repairs were affected, and LCT-540 made a second run to Omaha Beach. This time, the crew was able to offload its cargo of men, vehicles, fuel and ammunition. The Allies would win Omaha Beach by the end of the day, and the valor of LCT-540 was one key to that costly victory.
Ensign Frederick Nye Moses would not live to see that success. In the midst of the battle it was clear that the skipper would succumb to shock and blood loss. In the presence of the enemy, with his vessel still under fire, Nye Moses died at about 0830 on 6 June, 1944. His remains were turned over to a Coast Guard cutter the next day, and were buried at sea in the English Channel. For reasons never entirely clear, his date of death was listed as 10 June, perhaps the day the report of his burial at sea was made by the Coast Guard. However, multiple oral histories and accounts of the actions of LCT-540 leave no doubt that he died on D-Day.
Born Feb. 6, 1917 in Ohio, Clarence A. Tolle grew up in the Roaring 20s and the challenging Depression years. In young adulthood, he was employed as a photographer and spent a year in college; but in January 1941 he answered his nation’s call and enlisted in the army as a private. Like so many other men who joined the peacetime army, he could not imagine that before 1941 was over the United States would be at war.
By 1944, Tolle had attained the rank of Captain and was in command of Company D, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. Widely respected and liked by his men, he trained them heavily for the most anticipated operation of World War II: the invasion of France.
When 6 June 1944 broke, Tolle and his men were already in the air over the English Channel approaching the French coast. The mission of the paratroopers of the 507th: to jump into assigned drop zones straddling the Merderet River, seize crucial bridges and crossroads, and prevent the German army from moving reinforcements to repulse the seaborne invasion.
Like so many other paratroopers on that chaotic, unpredictable day, Tolle and his men were widely scattered across the countryside. Recognizing that his company was too dispersed to act as a unit, Captain Tolle gathered what men he could find and began leading them in the direction of the crucial village of Amfreville, picking up more men and joining a colonel’s forces along the way.
In Amfreville, Tolle’s men encountered a house where a force of Germans with a machine gun pinned them down. By one account, Captain Tolle stormed the house himself and kicked in the door. By another, he stayed back to direct his troops in assaulting the house. But all accounts agree that about noon on June 6, 1944, Clarence Tolle was hit in the chest by the German machine gun and was mortally wounded. He died soon afterwards in the arms of his company’s first sergeant.
Despite the rigors of combat, the grieving men of Company D made it a priority to care for their beloved captain’s remains, taking them with them as they were soon forced to evacuate Amfreville. Eventually they turned their Captain over to officials of graves registration for burial. For reasons never understood, but probably due to the chaos of the battlefield, his official death date was listed as 17 June. However, his grave marker in Normandy American Cemetery bears the date 6 June, and the weight of the historical evidence points clearly to his death on D-Day, making him eligible for inclusion on our Memorial Wall.
While Captain Tolle did not live to see it, the 507th made a profound difference in the eventual Allied victory in Normandy. By controlling the crossings of the Merderet River, the 507th prevented the Germans from moving their troops to oppose the landings at Utah Beach. For this vital service, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
Clarence Tolle, for his service even unto death, was recognized with a Purple Heart and a posthumous Silver Star. In a letter of condolence to his widow Marian, Major General Matthew Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne, spoke of Clarence Tolle as “a likable and loyal officer. He always had a good word for his fellow officers, and his thoughtfulness for his men made him admired and respected by all.”
General Ridgway went on to note that “the admiration, respect and affection of comrades are a soldier’s most priceless possessions…these possessions I believe your husband had earned in full measure. Death of such a man leaves with each member of the Division a lasting sense of loss.”
In what has come to be a Memorial Day tradition, guests can view the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross display on the Memorial’s west lawn (across from Gift Shop). The display honors America’s fallen in current and past conflicts, dating back to the War of Independence. The helmet on rifle with bayonet thrust in the ground was used during battle to mark the location of the fallen for later retrieval. The modern military rarely has the need to mark the fallen in such fashion. Instead, displays that combine the rifle, helmet, and boots of the fallen are often used in memorial services. The visual tribute has come to be known as the Fallen Soldier Battle Cross.
The National D-Day Memorial Foundation thanks David Gilmer for helping us honor the fallen by graciously sharing his collection with our guests.
While at the Memorial, be sure to view the newly installed bricks in the Annie J. Bronson Veterans Memorial Walk.