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Her husband survived D-Day. She had him tell his story before he died

 Eleanor Monninger
Eric Stock
Eleanor Monninger holds up a Normalite newspaper article in which her now late husband wrote about his experience serving during the D-Day invasion.

A woman from Normal is marking the anniversary of D-Day by sharing her late husband's story.

The story of Bob Monninger is partly told by his wife Eleanor. Bob Monninger was part of the second wave of U.S. and allied forces that stormed the beaches at Normandy 79 years ago today.

Eleanor said she encouraged him to preserve his recollections for future generations. “He never did talk much about it, but I said you’ve got to write this down so someone will know what you went through,” she said.

Bob Monninger wrote about the so-called "longest day" many years later. The Normalite newspaper published his account in 2021.

Monninger recalled how difficult it was to climb down the rope ladders as they got off their ship “with all the equipment I was carrying and the sea being so rough." He noticed one soldier got his leg and foot smashed between two ships that were “bobbing around like a cork in the ocean.”

Monninger was part of a team that had to find a position for more than 150 howitzer artillery weapons once they reached landfall. When the fighting began, Monninger said he saw several wounded soldiers on the beach and bodies in the water. He also watched a truck fail to negotiate a steep hill. The truck rolled and bodies spilled out. He said he wondered if he had shared the same shelter on the beach with one of them that morning or maybe had a beer with one of them the month before.

“There were some German bodies in the truck also, and I wondered if one of them could have been shooting at me a few hours ago,” he wrote.

Eleanor Monninger said her husband later acknowledged the fear he felt that day, but it did not overtake him.

“Somebody asked him once (when) we were on a your (of Normandy), ‘You much have been terrified.’ He said ‘I wasn’t really terrified. I’d been through two other invasions, so I know what was going to happen. It was scary, but I wasn’t terrified,” she recalled.

Monninger survived D-Day and went on to fight several more battles during World War II before several bouts of malaria took him off the battlefield.

“He went to a hospital in Paris and then he went to one back in London and he was there for about six weeks and then in January he wrote to his mom and dad and he said, ‘Get out of my bed, I’m coming home.’ I bet he liked writing that to his mom,” Eleanor recalled.

Bob Monninger said he considered himself very lucky to come home with no injuries after 440 days of combat. He returned home to Macomb. He and Eleanor both grew up there. Eleanor was working on the family farm at the time. Eleanor said she received updates in the mail about how Bob was doing and she waited for his return, though not in the storybook way wartime reunions are often portrayed on TV and the movies.

“I knew him before he left, but it wasn’t really one of those big romances. We just got to writing each other and he wanted to know if I’d be hanging around waiting on him. I guess he didn’t have anybody else,” she quipped. “We got married about a month after he was home.”

The Monningers both worked for Illinois State University. She was in food service. He worked at the university heating plant for 25 years. The Monningers have three children. One of them served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. All are retired now.

Bob Monninger died in 2002. Eleanor is now 98 and says she wants to make sure the heroism of her husband and so many others who liberated Europe from Nazi occupation is never forgotten.

“He took part in one of the biggest military operations in history and lived through it. He said ‘I’m glad I took part in it, but I wouldn’t want to do it again,’” she said.

Monninger said she once had her car's license plate number JUNE 6 44 to mark the anniversary of D-Day. She said someone saw that and thought her name June. She's concerned many no longer know what the day represents.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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