We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
Our LCT left the harbor on the afternoon of June 4. It was terribly stormy weather with high winds and choppy seas. We gathered in a massive collection of minesweepers, fighting ships, assault crafts and barrage balloons. We spent a miserably cold and seasick night bobbing up and down moving slowly toward Normandy, but about midnight the ship reversed course and returned to Portland Harbor. Word is that we have been postponed because of the weather.
Then we left again on the afternoon of June 5. The rough seas kept us wet, cold and seasick. I have never seen so many guys puking all at the same time.
Then they read General Eisenhower’s message to us. “You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you.” It gets a fellow to thinking.
The seas were so punishing that two nearby LCT’s lost sections of their side rails and seawater was sloshing over the poor fellows aboard. I don’t know how they’ll keep from sinking.
In the dim light, there were boats as far as the eye could see. Some of the boys starting singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Others sang “Onward Christian Soldiers.” I was just doing a whole lot of remembering.
It was now early Tuesday morning, the 6th of June. They offered us a meal of wieners and beans, but I didn’t have much of an appetite.
In the dark at 0330, we picked up our gear and our rifles in their transparent waterproof plastic sleeves and moved over to the heavy rope nets. We said goodbye to everyone on the deck and scrambled down into our wildly bobbing LCM. We could hear but could not see many planes passing over us.
Our LCM took off, joined up with other landing craft and began circling in a big counterclockwise pattern. This circling pattern seemed to last forever and the puking started up again. Our boat was like a cork bobbing up and down. We were so miserably cold and sick that we were ready to land just about anywhere. It’s hard to feel scared when you are so sick.
My head was spinning with thoughts, with memories. I am a 29-year-old Corporal, Tech 5 of B Company of the 146th Engineer Combat Battalion attached to the Naval Combat Demolition Unit 137. And I honestly don’t know how I got here today, with the first waves on an invasion.
Suddenly we straightened out and headed for the beach. I tried to look forward toward where we were headed, most everything was obscured by the fog and the mist. Every 10 seconds or so a wave would slam against our steel ramp and make a loud crashing sound, spraying cold water down over the top of us.
Just as we passed by the bow of a huge battleship, I looked up and saw the name “TEXAS.” Moments later, without warning, she fired the first broadside of the invasion. The belching flame and brown smoke of her 14-inch guns was in itself quite a spectacle, but the concussion of the blast was unbelievable to me. It would have blown off my helmet had my chinstrap not been fastened.
All the other ships started firing over us. The sudden, slamming thud of naval gunfire, even though our own, was enough to cower the bravest of the men. It sounded as if they were shooting whole railway cars across the sky just above us.
As the first light began to streak the cloudy sky, we could see significant numbers of our bombers overhead all with the alternating black and white invasion stripes painted on the wings. Give ‘em hell Air Force!
A short distance west of us, the LCT’s let loose with several volleys of hundreds of rockets each. Once again, the sound of it made most of us duck down. Untold dozens of rockets leaped arching upward with great tongues of fire and making the ear-piercing scream of something unearthly.
Watching the flashing crash of the rockets on the hillside above the beach gave us some comfort. There were secondary explosions, probably some of their landmines going off, and grass fires started burning on the cliff. At the very least, they were all now awake.
As we came closer, our Navy gunner began hosing down the beach ahead with his .50-caliber machine gun. We then saw several dead GIs in the water face down, bobbing and rolling in the surf. This was unnerving as we were only a couple of minutes behind the first men to land and these poor guys aren’t even close to the beach.
As we approached the beach, I could see splashes in the water around us. These were coming from the Germans. I immediately lost interest in being an observer and ducked down behind the sidewalls. I tried to work up a spit, but could not.
The sounds of gunfire and the thump of explosions began to increase in volume and intensity. I looked at some of the fellows around me, their faces were white. I guess mine was too. An occasional bullet started to clank loudly against our steel ramp.
Some of the guys started to pray. Most of them were just teenagers or barely older. I thought to myself: this is really serious business. I may get myself shot today. I may even get myself killed today, but being one of the oldest men on my team, as scared as I am, I have to be an example to these boys.
The coxswain yelled out “30 Seconds!” Our C.O. shouted, “This is it, boys!” Pulling the plastic sleeve off my rifle, I said over and over, “I can do this. I can do this.”
Our Navy coxswain ran the LCM hard into the sand and the ramp dropped suddenly with a great splash. In an instant, I was down the ramp and running in water that was just over my boots. We were still 400 yards from the seawall and at least 100 yards from the outer most row of obstacles.
There was a fortified house up on top of the seawall and I began to see the wink, wink of gunfire from the windows. We hurried inland, zig-zagging through the ankle deep water toward the first line of wooden pole obstacles.
I could see no DD-tanks or infantry up in front of us as was the plan. It was 0638 and we were on Easy Green beach all by ourselves. We were it!
The German machine guns opened up on us and the bullets starting hitting the water like so many raindrops, making a “sip-sip” sound. We began taking casualties and there were cries of “Medic!” heard from several different directions.
Another Texan in our unit named Ivey took a bullet through the wrist, but he refused medical attention, telling the medic to help someone else. He kept firing away as fast as he could - with his wrist obviously broken. I spotted a dark figure move on the seawall and fired off several shots.
Sprinting in short dashes, hitting the ground and staying low was the only means of survival. We all spread out and took cover behind the wooden poles and work began in earnest in tying our C-2 package onto each obstacle. A 12-inch pole didn’t really offer a whole lot of protection, but it sure felt better than being exposed out in the open.
Most of the poles had a German Tellermine attached to the top of it and we tried our best to place our C-2 package close to the mine. Some of the boys required a boost on someone’s shoulders in order to reach the mines.
One of the younger fellows was down on his back, his head pointed toward the beach, his blood streaming out on the wet sand. He was crying out, “Mother! Mother!” There was nothing I could do.
I raced frantically through the wounded from one obstacle to the next, placing the package. The German MG-42 machine guns were tracking our every move. Bullets were hitting the pole above my head and showering me with splinters and larger chunks of wood. My hands were shaking so bad I could hardly tie off the C-2.
We starting rolling out the Primacord to every one of our charges. The din of battle was really picking up now. We had to scream into each other’s faces just to be heard.
Without warning, a terrible blast came from a big gun just behind me. I dove from the shock of it in behind a wooden pole. I turned just a little to see our tank dozer just feet behind me. I had no idea it was there and the blast of its gun nearly blew out my eardrums. Now all I could hear was a loud ring.
Kneeling there, trying to clear my rifle and regain my senses, I turned to see two unknown faces of young GIs huddled in behind me. Their eyes looked at me as if pleading for help. I shouted, “Get out of here! We’re fixin’ to blow! Get off the beach!” It was the only help I could give.
I struggled to my feet and tested my legs, to see if they would hold me up. They did, and I moved forward to rejoin the effort.
Within minutes, everything was set to blow with all the Primacord tied together. Purple smoke canisters were thrown to each side of our gap. The 45-second detonator was set and we all moved a short distance inland as the blast went off. It made quite a mess of poles and firewood bouncing in the surf.
I noticed a soldier sitting on the sand with his back to the Germans. Small-arms fire was kicking up sand all around him. We yelled for him to take cover but apparently, he didn’t hear us. When I looked back over there, he was slumped over in the sand and the water sloshing around him was slowly turning pink.
The only way to describe this place: Someone has opened up the gates of hell, and we have run straight into the jaws of it.
Now we moved toward the steel hedgehogs. They were next in line and a little closer to the seawall. The German fire only increased in intensity as we worked closer to the shoreline. The striking pop of “clank-clank-clank” grew louder as the bullets were now hitting the steel hedgehogs in front of us.
The tide was already starting to come in and our time was already running out. There were lots of troops and tanks due to pile up behind us here at any minute. I could see the landing craft approaching in the distance.
Keep moving! Got to stay low! I ran past Tom Wilkins, who was in behind a hedgehog tying on his C-2. He screamed at me to take cover.
I yelled back, “I’ll still be going when you’re dead and gone!”
Somebody has to clear this path! And I will do it!
I felt something strike my neck and I was spun around.
My job is done now.
Remember us… For we were soldiers once, and young.