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Locals revisit D-Day 60 years later

By Ed Brock

Helen Denton's biggest regret is that she never told her husband or son about what she did for the cause in World War II.

She never mentioned to her husband Noel Denton that she typed the orders for D-Day, the orders that would eventually take him to Utah Beach on the shores of Normandy where they would meet.

When they took their son Jon to London to show him where she was stationed during the war, the former farm girl from South Dakota never explained to him that the little office there was where military strategists dictated to her the plan for invading Nazi-controlled Europe.

"At that time I didn't think it was that important," said Denton, now 83 and commander of Veterans of Foreign War Post 3650 in Riverdale. "I would have loved to have had them know."

Now Denton is very aware of the importance of her role in history and she's even writing a book about those months of typing the plans for the liberation of Europe. And a documentary filmmaker has contacted her about being in a film.

"I'm making very sure that when I'm gone my great nieces and nephews know exactly what happened," Denton said.

Denton was 21 when she joined the Army in 1943. She was one of nine children from that little South Dakota farm.

"We had five of us in World War II at one time," Denton said. "The patriotic thing to do at the time was join the service."

The first step of Denton's service was in Omaha, Nebraska serving as a secretary to the post commander at Army Fort Crook.

"One day I carried a telegram to him," Denton said.

The telegram informed the post commander that he had to pick somebody to go to England to be a secretary for Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.

"I said, ?I'll take it,'" Denton said.

So after some training Denton flew off to London. She stayed in a small pension with several other secretaries where the housekeeper would serve daily tea. And five days a week she would go to that small office across from Barclay Square.

In that room she sat at a small table with a manual typewriter. There was another table where the military strategists sat, sometimes two, sometimes three, often a different person, and they would dictate to her what they planned. They would dictate one at a time.

It would soon become evident to her what they were planning.

"There was no doubt when they talked about ships and when they would land," Denton said.

She typed slow because the document had to be perfect with no mistakes, but she can't recall the details of the plans for "Operation Overlord," the code name for the invasion.

"We learned not to remember what we typed," Denton said.

But Denton's memory was somewhat refreshed this week when on Thursday she received a call from 56-year-old Wythe "Sandy" Peyton IV in Decatur.

Peyton said his father, Wythe Peyton III, had served as a captain on Eisenhower's staff.

"Years and years ago when I asked him what he did in the war he said he was in logistics, making plans for the war," Peyton said.

Peyton wasn't sure how serious his father, who never gives many details about his war experience, was about that claim. Then, following the recent death of his mother, Peyton and his brothers and sisters were up in the attic sorting through boxes of his father's possessions.

"Lo and behold we found these papers stamped top secret and ?Operation Overlord,'" Peyton said.

The papers were his father's detailed, handwritten original notes. When Denton was typing the orders she made three copies, but the carbon papers and typewriter ribbons were destroyed each day and she has never been sure where the three copies are kept today.

But when Peyton, who read about Denton in a recent newspaper article, told her what was on the papers she said that sounded exactly like what she was writing. Peyton has promised to show her copies of the documents while he sent the originals to the D-Day Museum in New Orleans.

Denton typed the orders from February to the first part of May in the small room with black curtains over the big windows to keep the light from escaping during bombing raids.

"When we finished they asked me if I would like to take it up to the general," Denton said.

She did just that, remembering Eisenhower's office as being very bare, no different from any other officer's.

"He said, Do you know what you typed," Denton said.

Denton said she did know, and Eisenhower then asked if she knew that her brother was in Europe, and that he was in fact in Salisbury, England. Then he gave her a pass to go visit her brother, who was assigned a jeep so they could take a tour of southern England.

After the orders were finished and the invasion began, the bombing raids became so intense that Denton and the other Women's Army Corps soldiers were sleeping three stories underground.

"They decided it was safer for us to go to France than to stay in England," Denton said.

So, about a month after D-Day, they took a midnight ship to the shores of Normandy, to Utah Beach. Like the soldiers who had come ashore before them they had to cross the watery distance between the landing craft and the shore. That was the moment that fate found her.

"When I said to the girl behind me that I wished we had some dry clothes a soldier said he had a jeep and he would take us to get some," Denton said.

That soldier was Staff Sgt. Noel Denton. In the time before Paris was taken Helen Denton, then Helen Kogel, and the staff sergeant spent a lot of time together. And even after Paris was taken (there was still fighting in the streets for two days after the WACs were flown in) Noel Denton's position in the signal corps allowed him to stay in touch with her, calling her and asking her to write to his mother.

When the war ended the couple went back to South Dakota to meet the Kogels.

"My father made me promise I wouldn't get married until I was home and he could have a big church wedding so he could give me away," Denton said.

They married in South Dakota and then flew down to Noel Denton's hometown near Atlanta where he got his old job back with what was then Southern Bell.

He retired in 1974. Their son Jon died in a fire in 1982 and Noel Denton died from a heart attack shortly after.

Helen Denton got involved in volunteer work and she remains a member of the Delta Pioneers, a club for retired Delta Air Lines employees, and the Kiwanis Club. She does a lot of work for the American Red Cross along with her duties as VFW post commander. And soon she will begin her term as a district commander for the VFW.

Denton also likes to talk about her experiences to civic groups and schools, to let people know that women played an important role in World War II as well.

Having spent last weekend in Washington, D.C. for the inauguration of the National World War II Memorial, Denton plans to spend this weekend, the 60th anniversary of the historic invasion in which she played a role, at home.

"I'll just stay here. I'll fly my flag," Denton said.