Brig. Gen. Hugh Cort, left, and Capt. Robert D. Rae are the subjects of an exhibit at the Mobile Public Library commemorating their involvement in the D-Day invasion in 1944.
In commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Allied forces’ invasion of France, the Main Branch of the Mobile Public Library is displaying a small exhibit dedicated to two soldiers with ties to the Port City who played vital roles in “Operation Overlord” or D-Day.
Images of soldiers storming the beaches of Normandy during the invasion are etched into history and into the minds of most Americans, but a lesser-known, equally brave group of men parachuted down behind German lines that day. One of them was Capt. Robert D. Rae.
Rae served in the 82nd Airborne Division, United States Army, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and on D-Day, his troop was tasked as a reserve unit for what was supposed to be a simple but vitally important mission: Securing La Fière Causeway.
The causeway was one of the Merderet river’s only viable crossing points that could support armed troops, and capturing it, would help block off German reinforcements coming from the south and provide troops landing on the beaches with a route to progress inland.
Because of its strategic importance, La Fière was heavily protected by German forces, and the battle for the position spanned four days and led to massive casualties.
As reserves, Rae and other paratroopers dropped into close-quarters combat to support pinned ground troops.
“Kicking, pushing and manhandling men out of the way,” the 82nd Airborne was credited with breaking the log jam and helping to secure the vital access point. Rae was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for Bravery in the field by Gen. Omar Bradley for his efforts.
Some of the items in the exhibit at Mobile’s library include pieces of Rae’s military history as well as photographs from his service in World War II.
One depicts Rae writing a letter a few days before D-Day, supposedly to his mother, who he is said to have written before each operation.
After the war, Rae moved to Mobile, where he lived with his wife and children in D’Iberville Apartments. Two of his children, Robin and Janet, were born in Mobile, but his third daughter, Nancy Rae, was born after the family had moved to Birmingham.
“Nancy was actually born on the anniversary of D-Day 12 years later,” Charles Cort, a Spanish Fort resident who helped bring the exhibit to the library, said. “Her father used to say that June 6 was one of the worst days of his life, but it turned out to be one of the best days of his life.”
Cort said the exhibit focuses on Rae, but also on his grandfather, Brig. Gen. Hugh Cort, who was involved in ground operations in France on D-Day.
He was also integral to “deceptive” missions ahead of the actual invasion meant to throw off German forces, who knew an Allied invasion had to be imminent but didn’t know when it was coming or from where.
During a pivotal point in the war, Cort served as Chief of Staff and Deputy Commander of “The Advance Section, Communications Zone” or ADSEC — a logistical agency for the Army tasked with getting ammunition and equipment to ground troops during the D-Day invasion.
“I feel like my grandfather thought both of those jobs weren’t particularly noteworthy, but in retrospect, I think both were critical to the Allies’ success,” Cort said. “Hitler was indeed fooled by plots to disguise the actual landing sites, and I am very proud of what they accomplished.”
During the war, Brig. Gen. Cort was honored in ceremonies held by the Brittish government and the royal family.
In 1943, he was honored by Prime Minister Winston Churchill, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth and their daughters, Elizabeth and Margaret, at Buckingham Palace.
Part of Cort’s contribution to the exhibit includes a litany of service medals and a detailed log book showing all of the operations he was involved with throughout his decorated career.
At the very top of the page displayed, Cort had written: “Normandy Invasion, 6/6/ – 7/28/44.”
The pieces commemorating Rae and Cort’s service will be on display at the Ben May Branch of the Public Library through July 8 via the main entrance on Washington Street.
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