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When Joel Johnson is not busy helping his clients as a financial advisor in Aiken, South Carolina, he can usually be found in his library studying and researching World War II history and his collection of Official State Highway Maps, specifically South Carolina. His interest in World War II began before he was five when he received his first Marx Army set for Christmas, and has grown to an extensive collection of WWII weapons, WWII memorabilia, and, of course maps.
Over the years, Joel focused his research and study to the European theater of operations of WWII, specifically D-Day and the invasion of Europe though Normandy. Joel and his wife Ute, who is from Germany, have traveled extensively in Europe to WWII sites and museums. Ute, started out reluctantly at first, but now has become an avid follower/navigator of his quests. They have explored and conducted research in England, France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Northern Africa.
Joel made it his mission to visit all the United States World War II cemeteries in Europe to pay his respects and honor those who gave all during the European Theater of Operation.
As the 70th Anniversary of D-Day approached, Joel made plans to once again visit Normandy. At this time his research led him to Omaha Beach at 6:30 AM and placed him 1,000 feet out in the English Channel at the rising tide. He was able to make a video and replicate almost exactly the timing of the actual conditions (tide, sunrise and lighting) that occurred on June 6, 1944 and show what the soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division, 116th Infantry saw as they approached and landed in the first wave. That video received a copyright from the United States Library of Congress.
Joel made a second video during the 70th Anniversary of D-Day from the Colleville Draw, D-3, where the 1st Infantry Division landed. This video is almost an exact duplication of the sunrise, low and rising tide, and the full moon that occurred on June 6, 1944 at 6:30 AM. He started this video about 1300 feet out in the English Channel with the sea nearly chest high and proceeded to the shingle in front of him. This video was also issued a copyright by the Library of Congress.
Although the purpose of being in Normandy during the 70th Anniversary of D-Day was to capture and film the actual conditions of what occurred on Omaha Beach, Joel gathered sand from each of the five invasion beaches. While flying home, Joel came up with the concept of putting this sand onto a map. Putting his interest in maps and D-Day together led Joel to create the plaque of the Final Overlord Plan with the actual sand from the invasion landing beaches. It is meant to honor all those that lived, and died, on D-Day. It represents a part of history to have and to hold, forever.
The design of the plaque took many, many months until the final product was ready. It too, received a copyright from the Library of Congress.
With the interest shown in the Final Overland Plan Map, Joel created a map with sand from all the US Army Invasion Beaches in the European Theater of Operation. This new plaque also honors all the US Army Combat Divisions in the European Theater of Operation. It too, was granted a copyright from the Library of Congress.
A portion of the proceeds of the plaques will be donated to the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.
Joel and Ute live in Warrenville, South Carolina.