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Riverdale VFW observes Memorial Day

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

Helen Denton, 88, shared a story with visitors to the Frank Bailey Senior Center on Wednesday that she had kept a secret for more than 50 years.

Denton, a retired Delta Air Lines employee and former post commander of the Riverdale chapter of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), had an important job during World War II. Under the orders of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Denton said she was one of 30 secretaries given secret federal training and sent to the European Theater to take dictation for high-level military officials.

According to Denton, she manually typed the battle plans for "Operation Overlord," a major offensive against Nazi-occupied northwest Europe, which included the invasion of Normandy, France (commonly referred to as D-Day). Under the threat of constant air raids, Denton said she served in London and Paris in 1944 and 1945.

"My job was to sit in a room and listen to commanders from five different countries, to listen to them dictate the plans for the invasion of France," Denton said. "At the end of the day, the officer would burn my carbon paper and my print ribbon and then I could go. It took me from February to April (of 1944), typing eight hours a day, to type it all.

"We were told to forget everything we typed," Denton said. She said the plans contained troop movements, supply routes, and other information vital to the success of the mission.

Denton was one of several members of VFW Post 3650 (Riverdale chapter) to share their war stories and Memorial Day traditions on Wednesday, at the Frank Bailey Senior Center in Riverdale. During the program, members of the VFW led local seniors in patriotic songs, read poems about the American flag, talked about the first Memorial Day observed on May 30, 1968 to honor the Confederate and Union dead at Arlington National Cemetery, and discussed the significance of the poppy flower in Memorial Day remembrance.

Ronald Stubbs, commander of VFW Post 3650 and a veteran of both the Vietnam and Gulf wars, said soldiers and civilians alike can learn from the sacrifices made by soldiers during World War II.

"I was no Audie Murphy or Sgt. [Alvin] York, but I was one of many soldiers who did a job," Stubbs said. "Being a veteran of Vietnam and getting to hear stories of World War II makes me feel honored. [The World War II era soldier] didn't have any of the armor that [modern soldiers] have, and had a weapon that was twice as heavy. At night time, all they had was their eyeballs.

"To talk to these people who went through World War II and learn what they had to work with ... words can't describe it," Stubbs said.

The noontime program was attended by more than 100 visitors to the Frank Bailey Senior Center. Mindy French, the center's manager, said the program lifted the spirits of center members, many of whom are veterans.

"We do have so many seniors here that have represented different branches of the military," French said. "Seeing their pride makes us proud. It probably brought back some memories and made them proud of the people who represented them in the wars. That's a part of history that both young and old need to know."