SHIRLEY: A recollection of D-Day

Lyn Nofziger understood the meaning of sacrifice

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Ronald Reagan was not one to generally bestow nicknames on staff. He had nothing against nicknames, and in fact, over the years had himself picked up “Dutch” from his father and “the Gipper” from his portrayal of the dying George Gipp in “Knute Rockne, All American.”

Nancy was “Mommy” (but only after his own mother had passed away), daughter Maureen was “Mermie,” and son Ronald Prescott was “Skipper,” which he hated.

To Reagan, Peter Hannaford was always “Pete,” Edwin Meese was always “Ed,” Richard Allen was always “Dick,” and James A. Baker III was always “Jim.”

But for Franklyn C. Nofziger, to Reagan, he was always “Lynwood.” Lyn never knew how or why Reagan conferred the nickname on the disheveled and plain-spoken but beloved aide. One thing was for sure though. Reagan was always a sucker for war heroes, and Nofziger was a war hero.

They had, beginning in 1966, a relationship that few penetrated, one in which they told each other ribald jokes or discussed politics, and as Lyn was “Lynwood,” Reagan was often “Ron” when it was the two of them alone. Nofziger was as important in the rise of Ronald Reagan as any one individual, but years before that, he was doing something slightly more risky than politics.

Sixty-nine years ago today, as a 19-year-old Army Ranger, Cpl. Nofziger was in an LST landing craft on its way to Omaha Beach, as part of the first invading wave to liberate Europe from Hitler. He told his friend Vic Gold he wasn’t scared, though, because at that age, most boys thought they were indestructible.

Nofziger did not make it on the beach at the planned time, but almost nothing happened according to plan that day. His landing craft encountered heavy seas and only landed later in the day. By that time, the bottom of the craft had filled with the vomit of the seasick troops. He was a part of the “Bastard Batallion.”

When the battallion did land, there was plenty of action. Nofziger was stunned that the beach was so littered with the bodies of dead troops, but he was reassured to see “generals and colonels on the beach with us,” as he related to Mr. Gold 19 years ago, on the invasion’s 50th anniversary.

On and around Omaha Beach was Teddy Roosevelt Jr., Strom Thurmond, J.D. Salinger, James Doohan and Alec Guinness. They were all just “boys” then, as Reagan said.

German shrapnel tore off two fingers from Nofziger’s right hand, but he never made much about it. He’d seen a lot of death, so to him, losing two fingers was no big deal. That was Lyn. Indeed, in his autobiography, he barely discussed his service to America. In that book, he told of how Reagan asked him and his wife, Bonnie, to fly over with him on Air Force One for the 40th anniversary speech, elegantly crafted by Peggy Noonan. Nofziger, true to form, turned Reagan down. He wanted the freedom to move around and not be “trapped” in the presidential bubble. Instead, he and Bonnie visited old haunts and battlefields on their own in France and England.

Lyn was an important man and a talented man. He was a writer and a poet and adviser to presidents. He was a great quipster and an awful punster. But he was always his own man, unafraid to upset conventions, even down to refusing to wear a pass when he worked in the White House. He passed away in 2006 at the age of 82 of cancer, unrepentant, beloved and an American hero.

Lyn marked his 20th birthday on June 8, 1944, in the muck and terror of the Second World War. There are rumors of a mysterious “Lyn Nofziger Society” that meets periodically, made up of friends and associates of Lyn‘s. For those remaining friends, they are today saying a silent “thank you” to their friend Lyn Nofziger for all that he did, for all the sacrifices he made, for the patriot he was, and for all the principles he stood for.

Craig Shirley, president of Shirley and Banister Public Affairs, is author of “Reagan’s Revolution” (Thomas Nelson, 2010), “Rendezvous with Destiny” (Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2011), and “December 1941” (Thomas Nelson, 2011).

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