The Invasion of Normandy on D-Day helped propel the Allies to victory over Germany in World War II.
It was an effort involving not only the soldiers who hit the beaches, but those working behind the scenes to support them.
Palatine resident Ray Martz was among them, serving in the London-based Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force — known as SHAEF — under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Martz, now 99 years old, sat this week next to a table covered in traces of his service — the patch he earned as a member of the SHAEF, a picture of Eisenhower, and a letter from a superior officer commending him for his work at the headquarters.
“You responded nobly. Day after day, week after week, in spite of incessant pressure, you carried on tirelessly; showed real courage during those times when you were threatened by danger from sky raider or from flying bombs,” Col. E.C. Boehnke, SHAEF adjutant general, wrote in the letter dated Oct. 12, 1944. “And while the boys who were out there may never know the part you played in this so important phase of human history, I, who was your Chief during those months, know only too well how cheerfully and efficiently you performed your every task.”
A native of Youngstown, Ohio, Martz was drafted into the Army and underwent basic training in Kansas and Colorado, before embarking for Liverpool, England. The plan was for him to head over to the continent as a replacement for troops that took part in the D-Day invasion.
Fate would intervene through an interview with a lieutenant colonel, who later offered him a post at the headquarters.
Martz initially declined, saying he wanted to fight in the cavalry.
“He said, ‘You’ll get shot,'” Martz said.
When he told the lieutenant colonel he’d also like to join the armored infantry, he replied, “That’s just as bad.”
Eventually, Martz was convinced to take a job working for Eisenhower, the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, and served a valuable role in supporting the Normandy invasion and ensuing battles.
He later would join Ike in France and Germany. Though he had little direct contact with the future president, he recalls a memorable occasion in Reims, France, where Eisenhower happened to catch him sampling some free champagne.
“He stared at me and just shook his head,” Martz said.
He also recalls serving in Germany in the aftermath of the Allies’ onslaught. Things were so desperate for the Germans as they faced partition into East and West Germany that one man gave an American major a Mercedes, telling him, “I will give it to you, because the Russians are going to take it from me.”
Martz was discharged with the rank of sergeant in January 1946 and returned home to complete his education at Youngstown College. He married Sally — now his wife of 72 years — and the two moved to Mount Prospect after Ray accepted a job in sales with Detroit Steel. He later became sales manager and president of Minerallac Electric, a firm manufacturing metal parts.
The couple eventually moved to a home in Palatine, where they have lived for the last 50 years. They have two daughters, Karen Notaro and Susan Vitello, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Later in life, Ray would return to Europe, including visiting a military graveyard in England and Hitler’s former residence near Berchtesgaden.