And it lasted with his pencil notes intact as he led the disembarking men in France on D-Day, June 6, 1944, shouting into his megaphone: “Advance!
Joseph P. Vaghi Jr., a Bethesda architect who died in 2012 at age 92, treasured the map in the years after the war. His meticulous detail had saved his life, he told his family.
On June 27, Vaghi’s family officially donated the map to the Library of Congress, where it was hailed as a rare artifact of one of the most historic events of World War II.
“It’s a miracle of cartography,” said Robert Morris, the library’s cartographic acquisitions specialist.
It contains a rendering of the Normandy coast, showing topography, sand dunes, hedgerows, houses, cemeteries, mudflats, villages, orchards, water depths, tide maps and sector” Easy Red” from Omaha Beach where Vaghi landed.
It also includes a sketch at the bottom of what the terrain looked like of an approaching landing ship.
More than 2,500 Americans were killed that day, along with 1,913 British, Canadian and other Allied soldiers and sailors, according to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.
It seemed like a miracle that Vaghi survived, a Navy pal later told his son.
“It was almost like something was protecting him,” Vaghi’s son, Joseph P. Vaghi III, told his father’s friend. “He was a tall man. … He had a megaphone. He was going up and down the beach. … How he was not killed, no one knows to this day.
Vaghi, a Lieutenant Commander, was a Navy Beachmaster. Equipped with his map and other equipment, his job is to direct the traffic of thousands of men and tons of equipment that pour onto the beach under the fire of enemy artillery and machine guns. He was 23 years old.
The the military card he was carrying, based on low-level intelligence and reconnaissance flights, was labeled “TOP SECRET” in green letters.
The D-Day landing zone on the northwest coast of France, where the Allies attacked German occupying forces in 1944, was divided into five beach sectors named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Juno and Sword.
The Americans attacked Utah and heavily defended Omaha.
The beaches have been divided into smaller sectors such as Easy Red, Easy Green and Fox Green. The maps were designed to guide soldiers and sailors to appropriate landing areas and give them an idea of the lay of the land once they arrived.
Easy Red was defended by three German bunkers, two of which were made of stone and concrete, according to historian Peter Caddick-Adams.
“The Germans were in their pillboxes and bunkers above the beach on the cliff and had an unobstructed view of what we were doing,” Vaghi recalled in a later account for the U.S. 6th Naval Battalion website. “The atmosphere was depressing”
The map still has the pencil annotations he made.
“LCI will be beached here,” he scribbled in one spot, referring to the Landing Craft Infantry ship that was to land him and others, not far from where the American cemetery is today. Normandy.
Morris said, “All of these pencil notations are contemporaneous, and he would have made them before, probably just before, in preparation for the landing.”
The map is full color, printed on both sides, and is creased and tattered with age.
“He was a survivor,” Morris said as he recently examined the map “in a library safe. “And he is a survivor.
“We have a lot of maps relating to wars, obviously,” he said. “War is a big mapping business. But to my knowledge, we don’t have any that we can actually document until D-Day. That’s what makes this a particularly special piece.
“Luckily he was a columnist,” Morris said. “This guy knew he was part of something.”
Vaghi was one of nine children – six boys and three girls – of Italian immigrants from Bethel, Connecticut. After the war, he studied at Catholic University, became an architect, and lived in Kensington in a house he designed and helped build.
He and his wife, Agnes, raised four boys there.
Joseph P. Vaghi III said his father barely spoke about the war until the 50th anniversary of D-Day in 1994. ‘For 50 years he never told any of us’ what he had done , did he declare. “We had no idea.”
“Growing up, we never talked about the war, ever,” he said.
“When he came back, he wanted to continue his life,” young Vaghi said. But if he heard fireworks or a loud bang, “he would jump a mile”.
“He was a very religious man,” added his son. “He believed, ‘Okay, it’s the will of the Lord. This is what we must do and we are moving forward. ”
“The map was the only thing he said, ‘The most important thing in my life besides my wife and kids has been this map. It got me to this beach and got our band to this beach. safe that day,” young Vaghi said.
After his father died, his son kept the card in a bank vault. He had been wondering what to do with the map for years. A family acquaintance, Tom Liljenquist, a major Library of Congress donor, suggested the library as a home.
Vaghi said his father considered donating the card to several other institutions but could not make up his mind. He said his dad gave him the card and said, “Go ahead. At the right time, you will know.
“As fate would have it, there is no better place in the world than the Library of Congress,” he said.
The family also donates a special logbook that his father kept with detailed information about his men, as well as a large number of post-war letters, papers and memorabilia.
A few years before his death, the Elder Vaghi took out the old map and wrote a note on it:
“D-Day. Landed at 07:30 on June 6, 1944. I used this card during my stay on the beach.
Then he signed it: “Joseph P. Vaghi Beachmaster Easy Red Beach.”
Magda Jean-Louis contributed to this report.