By Bill Durette
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings that occurred in Normandy during WWII. This was the beginning of the fight to liberate Europe from the Nazis. That crucial day on June 6, 1944 was pivotal in order for the invasion to succeed. There were many Charlestown men who participated in that “longest day,” a name that D-Day is sometimes referred to. One of those men was John Noonan.
Noonan was an Infantryman who lost his life storming the beaches that day. He would become one of about 2,500 men who were killed on D-Day.
John Noonan was born in Charlestown on April 11, 1911, to Daniel and Catherine Noonan. Noonan’s parents were born in Ireland and immigrated to the U.S. in 1843. Along with Noonan they had three other children, George, Marie and Celia. Noonan was educated at St Catherine’s School and Charlestown High. He married Margaret Chase and they lived together at 84 Bunker Hill St. in Charlestown. In 1943 their daughter Beverly Ann was born. Before the war Noonan was employed by the Boston and Maine railroad as a carpenter.
On Dec. 9, 1942 Noonan was inducted into the Army. In 1943 he became a member of an Anti-Tank Company of the 298th Infantry Regiment, 100th Infantry Division. While a member of that Division he completed a Ranger Advanced Infantry course and qualified to wear the Division’s Ranger patch. In late 1943 Noonan was assigned to L Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division and joined the division in Sicily. The following year Noonan would participated in the June 6 D-Day Normandy Invasion. The invasion force left England early that morning comprised of 7,000 ships and over 150,000 men. Noonan’s company was in the first waves that assaulted Omaha Beach. His L Company landed at approximately 7 a.m. in an area of the beach designated Fox Red. As Noonan’s company approached the beach one of the landing craft was swamped with the heavy seas and sunk, drowning a lot of the men aboard. About a quarter of a mile from the beach, L Company started to receive heavy mortar and artillery fire. When they finally reached the beach they were met with horrific machine gun and mortar fire. One of the landing craft took a direct hit and the company itself immediately took heavy casualties after the ramps dropped. Within seconds, 34 men where instantly killed. Some of the landing craft became stuck on sand bars 50 to 100 yards off the beach forcing the men to wade in neck deep water. Some of the men drowned due to the weight of their equipment. For those L Company men who made it to the beach and off the landing craft, they ran across 200 yards of open beach, under heavy fire, to the safety of some nearby cliffs. They were one of the few companies that morning that were somewhat operational, although now reduced to 120 men out of 200. The company’s commander Captain John R. Armellino, directed his men to assault the German strong points and advance to their objective, which was to capture the village of Colleville-sur-Mer. He would eventually be wounded and several other L Company’s officers, Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith and Lt Robert Cutler took over. They would help lead the advance to capture the strong points and capture their objective: Colleville-sur-Mer. Lt. Monteith himself would be killed during the assault and eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. John Noonan would also lose his life some time during that day. L Company paid a high price for their brave deeds to capture their objective. The Allied forces themselves paid a high price to get a foothold in Normandy. They certainly would have paid a higher price had it not succeeded. Approximately 4,413 men were killed on D-Day, with 2,499 Americans and 1,914 British and Canadian forces.
Noonan was a proud Infantryman who left behind his wife Margaret and his daughter Beverly. Noonan is buried at the American Normandy Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, France. The very area his company was tasked to capture. Noonan’s wife Margaret would eventually remarry and sadly she would lose her son, William McNamara, in Vietnam. Certainly, one Charlestown family’s great sacrifice we should never forget.
Several Charlestown residents had the honor of visiting Noonan’s grave site at Colleville-sur-Mer several years ago. This cemetery contains the graves of 9,380 American men who were killed on D-Day and the subsequent battles that followed. The Cemetery itself is administrated by the American Battlefield Monument commission. During the visit, as they stood near Noonan’s grave, they met one of the administrators. She told them that she often brings visiting tours over to Noonan’s grave because he was actually killed on June 6 at Omaha Beach. It’s also because Noonan is buried up front in the center of the cemetery and allows her to easily take visitors to his grave. Certainly a nice thought to think Noonan has been visited by so many.
To commemorate the 75th anniversary of Noonan’s sacrifice a Hero Square will be dedicated to him in Charlestown. The place of honor that has been chosen will be at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Chelsea Street. The dedication itself will take place on Saturday, June 1, at 11 a.m. The public is invited to participate and share in the dedication and remembrance.
For further information please contact:
Charlestown Veterans History Project