Eight gathered at Cleburne’s Rosehill Cemetery Thursday morning to mark the 75th anniversary of the Allied Forces June 6, 1944 D-Day Invasion of Normandy, France and to honor four former Johnson County residents who participated in the invasion.
American Legion Auxiliary Past Texas State President Marty Peters through research determined earlier this year that three Johnson County men participated in D-Day. Earlier this week she learned that a fourth, Jack Altaras, was also there.
Peters said she learned about Jack Altaras from his son, Tommy Altaras, adding that Jack Altaras served in the U.S. Army’s Counter Intelligence Corps.
Jack Altaras graduated from Cleburne High School in 1936 and went on to graduate from the University of Texas Law School in 1941 where he was a fraternity brother of later Texas Gov. John Connally.
Altaras landed on Normandy Beach on D-Day along with J.D. Salinger, author of “Catcher In The Rye” and other works. Altaras and Salinger remained lifelong friends after the war and often corresponded, said Susan Altaras, wife of Tommy Altaras. Both he and Salinger worked undercover behind enemy lines, she said.
Jack Altaras later worked as a federal agent for Indian Affairs in New Mexico and a federal investigator in New Orleans before returning to Cleburne where he served as county attorney and district attorney as well as president of the Cleburne ISD School Board. Altaras also performed the legal work necessary for the Lake Pat Cleburne project in the early ‘60s.
Altaras passed away Dec. 11, 1994 and is buried in Rosehill Cemetery.
State Rep. DeWayne Burns, R-Cleburne, and Sons of American Legion 6th District Commander Ken Peters Jr. placed a wreath on Altaras’ grave as Tommy and Susan Altaras looked on.
“Susan and I thank each one of you for coming out today to honor my father,” Tommy Altaras said. “We love you and we thank you. Dad was a lot of fun also. He never forgot where he came from. He loved Cleburne and Johnson County and he experienced life to the fullest. He was very active in civic affairs and if someone wanted to make an improvement in Cleburne he was right on the front lines of doing it.”
Following the wreath placement the group moved to the other side of the cemetery to place another wreath, this one on the grave of Lem Almon Morgan who though born in Weatherford grew up in the Godley area.
Morgan enlisted in the Army in 1942 and served as a medic. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, he jumped on Utah Beach on D-Day and was later declared missing in action that same day. He was located shortly after but wounded and hospitalized. Morgan’s military honors include the Purple Heart, the Combat Medic Badge and the Bronze Service Arrowhead. Morgan passed away May 26, 1971.
“Only 57 when he passed away, Morgan had no children as far as we’ve been able to determine and no siblings,” Marty Peters said.
American Legion 6th District Chaplain Ronald Shultz said it’s sad Morgan has no family to remember him. Burns agreed.
“Although Staff Sgt. Morgan doesn’t have descendants to remember him we are here some 48 years after his passing and 75 after he dropped behind enemy lines that day to save our guys. We’re here to do that because of the efforts of the Cleburne American Legion, Legion Auxiliary and Sons of the American Legion. So I thank the Legion for that because we’re able to honor Morgan, Altaras and the others today because of what you guys put together.”
Shultz called Morgan a hero.
“Medics are only second to God in combat,” Shultz said. “They’re there to risk their life to help others.
Lorin Storey, a member of the Military of the Purple Heart Burleson Chapter, agreed.
“I was always in awe of medics and couldn’t imagine doing what they did,” Storey said. “Now those are heros. I have all the respect in the world for combat medics.”
Lana Wade was on hand for the honoring of her uncle, Roland Martin Hibbitt.
Hibbitt attended Grandview and other Johnson County schools and enlisted in the U.S. Army paratroops in 1942. A member of the 101st Airborne Division, Hibbitt jumped onto Utah Beach on D-Day but was killed in action two days later. He is buried in Normandy American Cemetery.
Morgan, Marty Peters said, apparently visited Hibbitt’ parents, who lived in Burleson, when he returned from the war.
“He told his parents that Hibbitts was shot in the head, not the chest as military records indicated,” Peters said. “And that he was near or with him when he passed away. They were Johnson County boys, maybe they knew each other before they joined the military or perhaps they met each other while they were over there.”
The group also paid tribute to Woodrow W. Cowart who enlisted at the office of the Johnson County Selective Service Board #2 in Alvarado. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Cowart also jumped on Utah Beach on D-Day. He passed away on April 9, 1999 and is buried in the Fort Gibson National Cemetery in Muskogee County Oklahoma.
Shultz in his prayer to open the ceremony thanked God for such men who answered the call and fought to “help keep the cause of liberty going” and requested God’s continued blessings on their memory and their descendants.
Burns reflected upon the definition of a hero.
“There are a lot of definitions for that word but I have a couple I want to share,” Burns said. “One is one I found and another is one I’ve written added on to that first one.
“True heroism is remarkably sober, very undramatic and it isn’t the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost. But it’s the urge to serve others at whatever the cost. I built from that definition to add that a hero is one who builds faith within others and provides the foundation for success that teaches, that puts words into action that leaves no doubt that they love you.
“A hero is selfless among the selfish. They seek the betterment of others. They keep their word and they glorify God and draw people into his kingdom. They have an uncanny patience to deal with failure in others yet know the importance of accountability.
“The men we’re honoring today were heros and they fit that definition. Today we honor, memorialize and remember them and I’m thankful for their sacrifice and service so that we can be free.”