The painting used to hang above the fire place at her childhood home in Illinois.
The small grey ship is crashing through the waves, set against a calm sky. If you didn’t know what a small, World War II-era patrol boat looked like, you might even mistake the ship in the painting for a fishing boat.
But the short, 175-foot vessel is actually a U.S. Navy ship named PC-565 better known to Anne Wilson and her five siblings as ‘dad’s ship’.
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Wilson opens up a photo album and looks through the pages in search of ‘dad’s ship.’
The album, along with the painting, tells a story, a story her father never recited to her family after he returned home from WWII. Talking about the war was just something her father, mother and siblings didn’t do, Wilson said.
“(WWII) was very much a part of him,” Wilson said looking at a photo of her father in uniform.
On June 6, 1944, Wilson’s father, Frederic Floberg, was the executive officer on PC-565 as it escorted and protected the fleet of U.S. ships heading toward the beaches of Normandy, France, during the D-Day invasion in World War II — the largest amphibious operation in history.
In October, Wilson will have her own photos of the North Atlantic Ocean and the beaches of Normandy, France, when she and her husband visit the WWII museum in Caen, France, and the gravesites of soldiers who lost their lives during the D-Day invasion, she said. Then, the two will walk the beaches of Normandy.
Wilson, a fourth-grade teacher at Creekside Elementary School, was one of 33 teachers at Franklin schools to receive a grant that will allow them to take a trip of their choice and bring lessons from it back to the classroom. Wilson’s $5,000 grant will incorporate the journey of journalist Ernie Pyle, who covered WWII, from his hometown of Dana, Indiana, to the beaches of Normandy, where he wrote the first article about D-Day, breaking the news to millions of Americans back in the states.
Pyle was Wilson’s mother’s only connection to the events of the war, as was the case for every American with a loved one overseas during WWII.
Four of Wilson’s five siblings have stood at, on, or near the beaches of Normandy, France. Her son has, too. When Wilson was 22, she had the chance to visit, but opted against it.
“It wasn’t important to me (then). But the older I get, I begin to realize the significance more than when I was younger,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s father was in Harvard law school in 1941 when Pearl Harbor was bombed by the Japanese. Immediately, like so many young men in his generation, her father wanted to enlist, Wilson said. Harvard expedited his degree path and he was in the Navy by 1942, Wilson said. In 1944, he returned to the United States, briefly, to marry her mother Ruth, Wilson said.
In the late 1990s, her sister was visiting Normandy when at dinner one night residents learned that her father fought in the D-Day invasion and was a part of the United State’s effort to liberate France. Each of the locals came over to her sister’s table just to say thank you, Wilson said.Wilson’s sister walked the beach with her children, who, naturally, were playful and too young to understand the significance of the location. When her sister came across a sign, she tried reading the top in French before giving up on translating the message, instead reading of the bottom of the sign in English, Wilson said. The message was bold and clear: Stay off the beach; it is unknown if all the mines have been found.
Her older brother, Fred Floberg, visited Normandy in 1967. In a letter he wrote home to his family, he said he, too saw children playing on the beaches. He had a hard time wrapping his brain around the innocent joy of children in the moment, just 23 years since the D-Day invasion took place.
“(I) couldn’t help but think about the contrast between the children playing on the beach and the hell that that sand was for some men. It staggers any rational approach,” Fred Floberg wrote.
“I remember getting to the beaches of Normandy and it was awe-inspiring,” Fred Floberg said. “You realize this was a scene of unbelievable brutality — 5,000 American casualties.”
When Fred Floberg visited the cemeteries of the fallen U.S. soldiers, the magnitude of what an incredible sacrifice those men made really hit home, looking at the crosses of those who fought on French soil to keep WWII off the doorstep of the United States, he said.
He also served in the Navy.
On D-Day, 72 years ago today, Frederic Floberg was in his 20s, navigating larger ships and landing crafts through the water and avoiding mines, so that soldiers and supplies, such as vehicles, could be unloaded, Fred Floberg said.
“It had to be an extraordinary spectacle that day,” Fred Floberg said. “(PC-565) would have been close enough to the shore that they could have been hit. He never really talked about it in detail, he just said ‘we did what we had to do. We gave them the cold steel that day’. Valor and courage, these guys lived it, they were the real heroes.”
Before D-Day, Frederic Floberg navigated ships across the North Atlantic for nearly two years, escorting larger ships through dangerous waters infested with German U-boats and submarines responsible for a lot of sunken ships transporting supplies to the allies. Frederic Floberg went to bed every night wondering if he would wake up at the bottom of the ocean, Fred Floberg said.
Memories run deep
And looking back at their childhood, it was amazing how their father could put the war behind him and just move on, they said. Back then, post-traumatic stress disorder was not something people knew about. Most of the veterans from WWII carried their mental and emotional scars with them, Fred Floberg said.Through the years following WWII, Frederic Floberg would organize reunions with his shipmates.
Memorial Day was difficult each year. On that day, Frederic Floberg would toast to the boys who never came back and on special occasions, would recite King Henry V’s speech, “band of brothers”, which he knew by heart, Fred Floberg said.
“He lived it. Experienced it. Survived it. We knew (WWII) was (with my dad). He had a painting of his ship above our fireplace. WWII is a part of the fabric and history of who we are,” Fred Floberg said. “It wasn’t until dad was gone when I starting thinking about those times more than I did before, where we would watch and listen to his toast.”
Wilson is the youngest of Frederic’s six children, so her childhood was further removed from the WWII era and not as engaged as Fred, who was the oldest son and closest to the end of the war, Fred Floberg said.
So, for Wilson, that painting above the fireplace was one of the only open expressions of honor, pride and respect to those men who never made it back.
Their father was a lawyer in Chicago following the war, though he stayed in the Navy reserves during that time.
In 1986, at 68 years of age, Frederic passed away.
Frederic Floberg, who never spoke of his experiences in WWII to his wife or children, requested he be buried in his Navy uniform, Wilson said.
“I don’t think I ever remember seeing my dad in his uniform (for any occasion). WWII was just a part of his world he didn’t want to share. But he had a lot of WWII in him his whole life, he just didn’t talk about it,” Wilson said.
But Wilson and her siblings do talk about it. And it’s the reason why this trip in the fall is something she feels a sense of obligation to go do. WWII, and specifically the D-Day invasions, are something that has very much become a part of who Wilson is, she said.
Soon, she will stand on the sand just a couple hundred yards away from where her father lived his finest hours among so many other American heroes.
“I think it’s great (for Anne),” Fred Floberg said. “My dad always said being involved in D-Day was the greatest thing he ever did, the most important day of his life. Five of his six kids (will now) have gone to see Normandy on their own time to see what was such an incredible event in their father’s life. It’s a really moving experience, especially when you have DNA in what took place.”
Anne Wilson has a copy of the D-Day orders passed onto her father’s ship in May of 1944. Here is the briefing all members of the United States Navy received just two weeks before D-Day, June 6, 1944.
27 May, 1944.
From: Naval Commander, Western Task Force
To: ALL HANDS
1. We of the Western Naval Task Force are going to land the American Army in France.
2. From battleships to landing craft ours is, in the main, an American Force. Beside us will be a mainly British force, landing the British and Canadian troops. Overhead will fly the Allied Expeditionary Air Force. We all have the same mission — to smash our way onto the beaches, and through the coastal defenses, into the heart of the enemy’s fortress.
3. In two ways the coming battle differs from any that we have undertaken before: it demands more seamanship, and more fighting. We must operate in the waters of the English Channel and the French coast, in strong currents and twenty-foot tide. We must destroy an enemy defensive system which has been four years in the making, and our mission is one against which the enemy will throw his whole remaining strength. These are not beaches held by apathetic Italians or defended by hasty fortifications. These are prepares positions, held by Germans who have learned from their past failures. They have coastal batteries and mine fields; they have (illegible) and E-boats and submarines. They will try to use them all. We are getting into a fight.
4. But it is not we who have to fear the outcome. As the German has learned from failure, we have learned from success. To this battle we bring our tested methods, with new weapons, and overwhelming strength. Tides and currents present a challenge which, forewarned, we know how to meet. And it will take more than the last convulsive effort of the beaten “master race” to match the fighting spirit of the American Navy. It is the enemy who is afraid.
5. In this force there are battleships, cruisers, and destroyers. There are hundreds of landing ships and craft, scores of patrol and escort vessels, dozens of specials assault craft. Every man in every ship has his job. And these tens of thousands of men and jobs add up to one task only — to land and support and supply and reinforce the finest army ever sent to battle by the United States. In that task we shall not fail. I await with confidence the further proof, in this the greatest battle of them all, that American sailors are seamen and fighting men second to none.
6. Captains will please publish this letter at quarters on the day that the ships are sealed; then post on bulletin boards; and remove and burn prior to sailing.
A.G. Kirk (Commander, U.S. Navy)