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D-Day: June 6, 1944by Stephen E Ambrose
Chapter 25: "It Was just Fantastic" Afternoon on Omaha Beach
By early aferernoon a majority of the German pillboxes on the beach and bluff had been put out of action by destroyers, tanks, and infantry, suppressing if not entirely eliminating machine-gun fire on the beach. Sniper fire, however, continued. The Germans made use of the maze of communication trenches and tunnels to reoccupy positions earlier abandoned and resumed firing.
Worse, artillery from inland and flank positions kept up harassing fire on the beach flat, some of it haphazard, some of it called in by OPs on the bluff. Even the haphazard fire was effective, because the traffic jam remained — it was hardly possible for a shell or mortar fired on the beach flat to miss.
Capt. Oscar Rich was a spotter for the 5th Field Artillery Battalion. He was on an LCT with his disassembled L-5 plane. He came to Easy Red at 1300. "I'd like to give you first my impression of the beach, say from a hundred yards out till the time we got on the beach," he said.
"Looking in both directions you could see trucks burning, tanks burning, piles of I don't know what burning. Ammunition had been unloaded on the beach. I saw one pile of five-gallon gasoline cans, maybe 500 cans in all. A round hit them. The whole thing just exploded and burned.
"I've never seen so much just pure chaos in my life. But what I expected, yet didn't see, was anybody in hysterics. People on the beach were very calm. The Seabees were directing traffic and bringing people in and assigning them to areas and showing them which way to go. They were very matter-of-fact about the whole thing. They were directing traffic just like it was the 4th of July parade back home rather than where we were."
While the LCT circled offshore, looking for a place to go in, a mortar round hit it in the bow. The skipper, an ensign, nevertheless saw a likely spot and moved in. The beachmaster waved him off. He had forgotten to drop his sea anchor so "we had one heck of a time trying to get off the sandbar, but finally we made it," Rich said.
"I felt sorry for this ensign, who was really shook up after taking this round in the bow and forgetting to drop his sea anchor. And he asked me, 'Lieutenant, do you know anything about running ships?' and I said, 'Hell, man, I've been running boats all my life.' Actually, the biggest I'd ever run was a skiff fishing in the river, but he said, 'You want to run this?' and I said, 'I sure as hell do.'
"I got one of the sailors and told him, 'Son, you've got one job and one job only.' He said, 'What's that?' I said, 'When we get within 100 yards of the shore, you drop this sea anchor whether I tell you to or not.'"
The LCT went in again. Somehow the sailors managed to drop the bow, even as the craft took another hit in the engine room. Two jeeps ran off. To Rich's dismay, "They forgot to hook my airplane on and I didn't have a jeep." A Seabee came over with a bulldozer, hooked a rope onto the tow bar for the L-5, pulled it onto the beach, unhooked the plane, told Rich he had other work to do, wished him luck, and drove off. "So there I was with an airplane, no mechanic, no help, and no transportation."
Rich saw the beachmaster. "He couldn't have been over twenty-five years old. He had a nice handlebar mustache and he was sitting in a captain's chair there on the beach, and he had a radio and a half dozen telephones and a bunch of men serving him as runners and he was just keeping everything going. People came up to him and wanted to know this, that, or the other. He never lost his temper. He never got excited. He would just tell them and they'd go away. He was only a lieutenant, but these Army colonels and generals would come up and demand this and demand that and he'd say, 'I'm sorry, I haven't got it. You'll just have to take what you've got and go on with it.' They would shake their heads and go off and leave him.
"When he'd spot an open space, why, he'd say, 'Let's get a craft in there. Let's get a boat in there. Let's get that one out of the way. Get a bulldozer over and shove that tank out of the way. Make room for somebody to come in here.' He kept that beach moving. I have no idea who he was, but the Navy certainly should have been proud of him, because he did a tremendous job."
Rich told the beachmaster he needed a jeep to pull his 115 off the beach. "He said, 'There's one over there. There's nobody in it. Go take it.'"
Rich did, and wove his way through the congestion to the E-1 draw, his plane in tow. Then he drove up the draw. Rich was possibly the first to do so — it had just opened.
On top, Rich found the apple orchard outside St.-Laurent where he was supposed to be and began to assemble his plane. With no mechanic to help, he was not making much progress. From time to time he would get some help from a GI who could not resist the temptation to tinker with a machine. Sooner or later a noncom or officer would yell at the soldier to get the hell back to the battle and, Rich would be on his own again. Not until dark did he get his plane ready to fly.
Rich was lucky. German artillery and mortar fire concentrated on the exits; without spotter planes, the Navy could not locate the sources of the fire. As the afternoon wore on, the shelling got heavier. Adm. Charles Cooke and Maj. Gen. Tom Handy of the War Department, observing the action from the deck of Harding, decided they needed a closer look. They off-loaded onto an LCI, closed the beach, transferred to an LCM, and went in through a gap in the obstacles.
"The beach was strewed with wrecked landing craft, wrecked tanks, and various other vehicles," Cooke recalled. "It was also strewed with dead and wounded."
Handy went to the right, Cooke to the left. Shells burst all around them, throwing sand in their faces, forcing them to hit the, beach in Cooke's case inflicting some slight shrapnel wounds. After a couple of hours, they rejoined and decided to get out, because, as Cooke said, "the shelling was getting very much heavier, increasing the casualty toll and it appeared highly desirable to leave."
Lt. Vince Schlotterbeck of the 5th ESB spent seven hours on an LCT cruising just out of range of the German guns, waiting for an opportunity to go in. Like most others, the skipper had cut loose the barrage balloon — there were no German planes strafing the fleet, and the balloons gave the Germans a target to spot and zero in on. Schlotterbeck spent the time perched atop the landing ramp, watching whatever caught his eye.
"The underwater obstacles could be seen plainly, since the tide was not all the way in. The wreckage on the beach and in the water was greater than anything I had ever imagined. Tanks were strewn along the beach, some half submerged. We could see that there were only two or three tanks on which we could depend."
At 1830, the LCT tried to run in. "We headed for a likely spot but ran onto a sandbar and had to back off because the water was too deep. Just as we cleared, a shell threw up a spray in the exact spot where we had been grounded." The skipper tried again. He found a gap in the obstacles "but a big ship loaded with ammunition was grounded and burning fiercely. The almost continuous explosions made it too dangerous to land there, so we sought again." Finally the skipper saw a good spot at Fox Red and turned toward it, but an LCI raced him to the gap, cutting in front of the LCT and causing it to land on another sandbar. This time it was stuck, period.
"Our engines throbbed at top speed, and our craft seemed ready to disintegrate from vibration. The stern anchor had been dropped and was being pulled in, but instead of pulling us off the anchor just dragged along in the sand. The engines screamed with power, never ceasing."
Meanwhile, the LCI that had beat the LCT to the gap had lowered its ramps and men were wading into shore. "Suddenly, a shell burst in their midst and we never saw any of them again. Then the Germans sent a shell into the front of the craft, one in the middle, and one in the rear."
Schlotterbeck's LCT finally floated free on the rising tide. The officers on the craft held a conference to decide whether to wait until after midnight, when the tide would be full, or to continue to attempt to get ashore.
"Everyone was in favor of going in as soon as possible because we did not like the idea of hitting the beach after dark, so we kept on trying. And at about 2000 we found the right spot." Schlotterbeck waded ashore.
"My mind had already been made up to the fact that a horrible sight would greet me, and it is a good thing that I had prepared myself because the number of casualties was appalling. The number of dead was very great, but what struck us hardest was the boys who had been wounded and were trying to hitch rides back to the transports. Wounded were walking along the beach trying to pick up a ride. Those who were more severely wounded came in pairs, supporting each other, when they rightfully should have been stretcher cases."
Schlotterbeck had to walk on dead bodies to proceed up the bluff. "At one point I was ready to walk on a body face up when the soldier slowly opened his eyes and I almost twisted myself out of shape to avoid him. Luckily, I missed him."
Pvt. M. C. Marquis of the 115th Regiment had his own unnerving experience. On his LCVP going in that afternoon, he had of all things exchanged shoes with Corporal Terry: "We thought we got a better fit." Going up the bluff, Terry was in front of Marquis. He stepped on a mine. It split open his foot and shoe. "As I walked by," Marquis reported, "I said, 'So long, Terry.' I still wonder if he made it to the hospital."
As Marquis climbed, a dozen German prisoners guarded by a GI descended. "These were the first Germans we saw. They didn't look so tough."
An American went down, hit by a sniper. A medic hurried over to treat the wounded man. The sniper shot the medic in the arm. "Hey," the medic shouted angrily, "you're not supposed to shoot medics!"
Marquis got to the top and moved forward with his squad to join the fight in St.-Laurent. just as he arrived, naval gunfire came in. He got showered with bricks and mortar, but a helmet he had picked up on the beach protected him. The squad retreated and dug in beside a hedgerow.
Down on the beach men went about their work despite shelling. The demolition teams were making progress in their vital task of clearing paths through the obstacles. As the tide dropped in the afternoon, they methodically blew up Rommel's Belgian gates and tetrahedra, ignoring sniper fire. They completed three gaps partially opened in the morning, made four new ones, and widened others. By evening they had thirteen gaps fully opened and marked and had cleared about one-third of the obstacles on the beach.
The engineers, meanwhile, were opening the exits for vehicles. This involved blowing the concrete antitank barriers, filling in the antitank ditch, removing mines, and laying wire mesh on the sand so the jeeps and trucks could get across. By 1300, they had E-1 open to traffic.
Movement began at once, but within a couple of hours new trouble loomed; the vehicles coming up on the plateau were unable to get inland because the crossroad at St.-Laurent was still in enemy hands. For an hour or so vehicles were jammed bumper to bumper all the way from the beach to the plateau. At 1600 the engineers pushed a branch road south that bypassed the defended crossroad and movement resumed. At 1700, the Vierville exit (D-1) was opened, further relieving the congestion on the beach.
Tanks, trucks, and jeeps made it to the top, but almost no artillery did. By dusk, elements of five artillery battalions had landed, but they had lost twenty-six guns to enemy fire and most of their equipment. Except for one mission fired by the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, American cannon, the queen of the battlefield, played no part in the battle on D-Day. The two antiaircraft battalions scheduled to land never even got ashore; they had to wait for D plus one. Over fifty tanks were lost, either at sea or on the beach.
Planners had scheduled 2,400 tons of supplies to reach Omaha Beach during D-Day, but only 100 tons got ashore. A large proportion of what did arrive was destroyed on the beach; precious little of it got up to the plateau. Troops on top had to fight with what they carried up the bluff on their backs. They ran dangerously low on the three items that were critical to them — ammunition, rations, and cigarettes. Some did not get resupplied until D plus two; the rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc had to wait until June 9 for fresh supplies.
Despite the shelling, the congestion, and the obstacles, all through D-Day afternoon landing craft kept coming in, bringing more tanks and infantry. Lt. Dean Rockwell of the Navy, who had brought his LCT flotilla to Omaha Beach at H-Hour and landed the first tanks, made a return trip at 1400. His experience was typical of the skippers trying to get ashore in the follow-up waves.
"We cruised along the beach parallel for hundreds of yards," he recalled, "looking for an opening through the obstacles. One time we tried to nose our way through but made contact with one of the obstacles, which had a mine that detonated and blew a hole in our landing gear, which meant that we could not let our ramp down."
Rockwell finally made it to shore, but the damage to his LCT prevented him from discharging his tanks and trailers. "We were able, however, to put the poor soldiers ashore." They were from a medical detachment. "Let me say," Rockwell went on, "I have never seen anybody who liked less to follow through on an assignment than they. The beach was literally covered with military personnel backed up, held down by the fire from the enemy. The enemy was bombarding the beach from mortars back over the bluff. The Germans had predetermined targets, and bodies and sand and material would fly when these mortars went off. Anyway, we put the poor soldiers ashore and we felt very, very sorry for them, but we thanked God that we had decided to join the Navy instead of the Army."
Ernest Hemingway, a correspondent for Collier's, came in on the seventh wave, in an LCVP commanded by Lt. (jg) Robert Anderson of Roanoke, Virginia. To Hemingway, the LCVP looked like an iron bathtub. He compared the LCT to a floating freight gondola. The LCIs, according to Hemingway, "were the only amphibious operations craft that look as though they were made to go to sea. They very nearly have the lines of a ship." The Channel was covered with bathtubs, gondolas, and ships of all kinds, "but very few of them were headed toward shore. They would start toward the beach, then sheer off and circle back."
As Anderson's LCVP made its way toward shore, Texas was firing over it at the antitank barrier at one of the exits. "Those of our troops who were not wax-gray with seasickness," Hemingway wrote, "were watching the Texas with looks of surprise and happiness. Under the steel helmets they looked like pikemen of the Middle Ages to whose aid in battle had suddenly come some strange and unbelievable monster." To Hemingway, the big guns "sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky."
Anderson had a hard time finding his designated landing area, Fox Red. Hemingway tried to help him navigate. They argued about landmarks. Once Anderson tried to go in, only to receive intense fire. "Get her the hell around and out of here, coxswain!" Anderson shouted. "Get her out of here!" The LCVP pulled back and circled.
Hemingway could see infantry working up the bluff. "Slowly, laboriously, as though they were Atlas carrying the world on their shoulders, men were [climbing]. They were not firing. They were just moving slowly...like a tired pack train at the end of the day, going the other way from home.
"Meantime, the destroyers had run in almost to the beach and were blowing every pillbox out of the ground with their five-inch guns. I saw a piece of German about three feet long with an arm on it sail high up into the air in the fountaining of one shellburst. It reminded me of a scene in Petroushka."
Anderson finally got to the beach. So did the other twenty-three LCVPs from Dorothy Dix. Six were lost to mined obstacles or enemy fire. Hemingway concluded, "It had been a frontal assault in broad daylight, against a mined beach defended by all the obstacles military ingenuity could devise. The beach had been defended as stubbornly and as intelligently as any troops could defend it. But every boat from the Dix had landed her troops and cargo. No boat was lost through bad seamanship. All that were lost were lost by enemy action. And we had taken the beach."
Capt. James Roberts, aide to General Gerow, went ashore at 1700 on Easy Red. "As we approached, we were hit with artillery fire, fragments were knocking us around," he remembered. "Several people were hit, including the skipper of our LCI. He was killed. Simultaneously we hit a sandbar and we were still a hundred or so yards from shore. There was mass confusion and fear and frankly I was in a panic. It is very difficult to dig a hole in a steel deck, and there isn't much cover on an LCI."
Roberts got off in chest-deep water and made his way to shore. "The beach was just a complete shambles. It was like an inferno. There were bodies everywhere and some wounded being attended to. As I went by a tank I heard people screaming for morphine. The tank was on fire and they were burning to death. There wasn't a thing that I could do about that and it was pretty nerve-shaking."
Shells were bursting all around. Roberts got off the beach as fast as he could. His job was to move up to St.-Laurent to set up a CP. As he climbed the bluff, a sniper opened fire. The bullet went over Roberts's head. Roberts tried to fire back, but his carbine was filled with sand and sea water and would not work, so he dove into a foxhole and cleaned it. When it was working, the sniper had gone.
Roberts got to the top of the bluff but could find no one from his HQ Company, nor any working radio, so "I didn't have much to do." He returned to the crest of the bluff and looked back at the Channel. "It was just fantastic. Vessels of all kinds as far as you could see."
Soon others from his HQ Company joined him, and Roberts set up V Corps CP north of St.-Laurent. Someone brought along tentage. Roberts set up a pup tent for General Gerow's first night ashore. When Gerow arrived, around 2100, his concerns were establishing communications and the possibility of an armored counterattack. V Corps had no contact with the British 50th Division on the left nor with the U.S. VII Corps on the right (nor, come to that, with the rangers at Pointe-du-Hoc). If the Germans did counterattack, V Corps was on its own.
Roberts's concern was his general's safety. The front line was only a half kilometer forward of corps HQ, "which is not the way the military planners like it to be."
As darkness fell, Roberts broke out one of his K rations and ate his first food of the day. Then he found a GI blanket and curled up in a ditch for the night. "Around midnight when things seemed to be fairly quiet I remember thinking, Man, what a day this has been. If every day is going to be as bad as this I'll never survive the war."
There was no German counterattack. Rommel's plans for fighting the D-Day battle were never put into motion. There were many reasons.
First, German surprise was complete. The Fortitude operation had fixed German attention on the Pas-de-Calais. They were certain it would be the site of the battle, and they had placed the bulk of their panzer divisions north and east of the Seine River, where they were unavailable for counterattack in Normandy.
Second, German confusion was extensive. Without air reconnaissance, with Allied airborne troops dropping here, there, everywhere, with their telephone lines cut by the Resistance, with their army, corps, division, and some regimental commanders at the war game in Rennes, the Germans were all but blind and leaderless. The commander who was most missed was Rommel, who spent the day on the road driving to La Roche-Guyonan — another price the Germans paid for having lost control of the air; Rommel dared not fly.
Third, the German command structure was a disaster. Hitler's mistrust of his generals and the generals' mistrust of Hitler were worth a king's ransom to the Allies. So were Hitler's sleeping habits, as well as his Wolkenkuckucksheim ideas.
The only high-command officer who responded correctly to the crisis at hand was Field Marshal Rundstedt, the old man who was there for window dressing and who was so scorned by Hitler and OKW. Two hours before the seaborne landings began, he ordered the two reserve panzer divisions available for counterattack in Normandy, the 12th SS Panzer and Panzer Lehr, to move immediately toward Caen. He did so on the basis of an intuitive judgment that the airborne landings were on such a large scale that they could not be a mere deception maneuver (as some of his staff argued) and would have to be reinforced from the sea. The only place such landings could come in lower Normandy were on the Calvados and Cotentin coasts. He wanted armor there to meet the attack.
Rundstedt's reasoning was sound, his action decisive, his orders clear. But the panzer divisions were not under his command. They were in OKW reserve. To save precious time, Rundstedt had first ordered them to move out, then requested OKW approval. OKW did not approve. At 0730 Jodi informed Rundstedt that the two divisions could not be committed until Hitler gave the order, and Hitler was still sleeping. Rundstedt had to countermand the move-out order. Hitler slept until noon.
The two panzer divisions spent the morning waiting. There was a heavy overcast; they could have moved out free from serious interference from Allied aircraft. It was 1600 when Hitler at last gave his approval. By then the clouds had broken up and Allied fighters and bombers ranged the skies over Normandy, smashing anything that moved. The panzers had to crawl into roadside woods and wait under cover for darkness before continuing their march to the sound of the guns.
"The news couldn't be better," Hitler said when he was first informed that D-Day was here. "As long as they were in Britain we couldn't get at them. Now we have them where we can destroy them." He had an appointment for a reception near Salzburg for the new Hungarian prime minister; other guests included diplomats from Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary. They were there to be browbeaten by Hitler into doing even more for the German war economy. When he entered the reception room, his face was radiant. He exclaimed, "It's begun at last." After the meeting he spread a map of France and told Goering, "They are landing here — and here: just where we expected them!" Goering did not correct this palpable lie.
Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels had been told of the Allied airborne landings at 0400. "Thank God, at last," he said. "This is the final round."
Goebbels's and Hitler's thinking was explained by one of Goebbels's aides, who had pointed out in an April 10, 1944, diary entry: "The question whether the Allied invasion in the West is coming or not dominates all political and military discussion here.
"Goebbels is afraid that the Allies dare not make the attempt yet. If so, that would mean for us many months of endless, weary waiting which would test our strength beyond endurance. Our war potential cannot now be increased, it can only decline. Every new air raid makes the petrol position worse." It had been galling to the Nazis that the Allies had been able to build their strength in England, untouchable by the Luftwaffe or the Wehrmacht. Now they had come within range of German guns.
But Hitler was more eager to hit London than to fight a defensive war. He had a weapon to do it with, the V-1. It had first been flown successfully on Christmas Eve, 1943; by June 1944, it was almost ready to go to work. The V-1 was a jet-powered plane carrying a one-ton warhead. It was wildly inaccurate (of the 8,000 launched against London, only 20 percent even hit that huge target), but it had a range of 250 kilometers and flew at 700 kilometers per hour, too fast for Allied aircraft or antiaircraft to shoot down.
On the afternoon of June 6, Hitler ordered the V-1 attacks on London to begin. As was so often the case, he was giving an order that could not be carried out. It took six days to bring the heavy steel catapult rigs from their camouflaged dumps to the Channel coast. The attack did not begin until June 12, and when it did it was a fiasco: of ten V-1s launched, four crashed at once, two vanished without a trace, one demolished a railway bridge in London, and three hit open fields.
Still, the potential was there. Fortunately for the Allies, Hitler had picked the wrong target. Haphazard bombing of London could cause sleepless nights and induce terror, but it could not have a direct military effect. Had Hitler sent the V-1s against the beaches and artifical harbors of Normandy, by June 12 jammed with men, machines, and ships, the vengeance weapons (Goebbels picked the name, which was on the mark — they could sate Hitler's lust for revenge but they could not effect the war so long as they were directed against London) might have made a difference.
On D-Day, Hitler misused his sole potential strategic weapon, just as he misused his tactical counterattack force. His interference with his commanders on the scene stands in sharp contrast to Churchill and Roosevelt, who made no attempt at all to tell their generals and admirals what to do on D-Day, and to Eisenhower, who also left the decision-making up to his subordinates.
Eisenhower was up at 0700 on June 6. His naval aide, Harry Butcher, came by his trailer to report that the airborne landings had gone in and the seaborne landings were beginning. Butcher found Eisenhower sitting up in bed, smoking a cigarette, reading a Western novel. When Butcher arrived, Eisenhower washed, shaved, and strolled over to the tent holding the SHAEF operations section. He listened to an argument about when to release a communiqué saying that the Allies had a beachhead (Montgomery insisted on waiting until he was absolutely sure the Allies were going to stay ashore) but did not interfere.
Eisenhower wrote a brief message to Marshall, informing the chief of staff that everything seemed to be going well and adding that the British and American troops he had seen the previous day were enthusiastic, tough, and fit. "The light of battle was in their eyes."
Eisenhower soon grew impatient with the incessant chatter in the tent and walked over to visit Montgomery. He found the British general wearing a sweater and a grin, Montgomery was too busy to spend much time with the supreme commander, as he was preparing to cross the Channel the next day to set up his advance HQ, but the two leaders did have a brief talk.
Then Eisenhower paid a visit to Southwick House to see Admiral Ramsay. "All was well with the Navy," Butcher recorded in his diary, "and its smiles were as wide as or wider than any."
At noon Eisenhower returned to the tent, where he anxiously watched the maps and listened to the disturbing news coming from Omaha. He called some selected members of the press into his canvas-roofed, pine-walled quarters and answered questions. At one point he got up from his small table and began pacing. He looked out the door, flashed his famous grin, and announced, "The sun is shining."
For the remainder of the day he paced, his mood alternating as he received news of the situation on the British and Canadian beaches and on Omaha and Utah. After eating, he retired early to get a good night's sleep.
The supreme commander did not give a single command on D-Day. Hitler gave two bad ones.
As dusk descended on Omaha Beach, intermittent shellfire continued to come down. Men dug in for the night wherever they could, some in the sand, some at the seawall, some on the bluff slopes, some behind hedgerows on the plateau. There were alarms caused by overeager troops, occasional outbursts of firing. There were no rear areas on D-Day.
Still, things had quieted down considerably. Lt. Henry Seitzler was a forward observer for the U.S. Ninth Air Force. He was taking "a lot of heckling and ribbing from the guys" because of the failure of the air forces to bomb and strafe the beaches as promised. "Of course, I had nothing to do with it; they just wanted to needle somebody.
"My biggest problem was to try to stay alive. My work didn't really start till D plus three, and here I'd gone in at H plus two hours on D-Day and I had been in the thickest and hottest part of it, and I had no real work to do, no assignment, except as far as I could see to stay alive, because I had no replacement."
Late in the afternoon, Seitzler and some members of a beach brigade decided they were hungry. "So we went out and climbed on a burned-out LCI. We broke into the pantry. Boy, that was really something. It hadn't been damaged. We brought a lot of stuff out and ate it on the beach under the seawall. The Navy really lived fine. We had a boned chicken, boned turkey, boned ham. We had everything you could think of, and we made pigs out of ourselves because we were half starved by that time."
When they finished, they decided they needed to top off their picnic on the beach with some coffee. They built a small fire behind the shingle seawall, using wood they had scavenged from one of the blasted-out vacation homes, and made Nescafé.
For Seitzler, that turned out to be a mistake. When it was full dark, the rule was that every man should stay in his foxhole. Anything that moved would be shot. But the Nescafé had a diuretic effect on Seitzler.
"So it was quite a problem, I'll tell you. If I made any noise or anything, I could very well get shot. All I could do was get up, ease up on the edge of my foxhole, roll over a couple of times, use an old tin can to do my business, throw it away, and roll back, very slowly and quietly. I called it 'suffering for sanitation.' I have never been able to drink Nescafé since."
The next morning, Pvt. Robert Healey of the 149th Combat Engineers and a friend decided to go down the bluff to retrieve their packs. Healey had run out of cigarettes, but he had a carton in a waterproof bag in his pack.
"When we walked down to the beach, it was just an unbelievable sight. There was debris everywhere, and all kinds of equipment washing back and forth in the tide. Anything you could think of seemed to be there. We came across a tennis raquet, a guitar, assault jackets, packs, gas masks, everything. We found half a jar of olives which we ate with great relish. We found my pack but unfortunately the cigarettes were no longer there.
"On the way back I came across what was probably the most poignant memory I have of this whole episode. Lying on the beach was a young soldier, his arms outstretched. Near one of his hands, as if he had been reading it, was a pocketbook (what today would be called a paperback).
"It was Our Hearts Were Young and Gay by Cornelia Otis Skinner. This expressed the spirit of our ordeal. Our hearts were young and gay because we thought we were immortal, we believed we were doing a great thing, and we really believed in the crusade which we hoped would liberate the world from the heel of Nazism."
Copyright © 1994 Ambrose-Tubbs, Inc.
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