Posted By McQ
Written in 2007 by a friend of mine, Dale Franks:
It actually started on June 5th. And it almost didn’t start then. The weather had turned bad. A great storm had blown in from the Atlantic. High wind and high seas had forced ships of all kinds back into bays and inlets. Low clouds made it impossible for aircraft to find landmarks. If the weather didn’t break, nothing would happen until at least July.
But the weather did break, and so, it began only a day later than planned.
There must have been about, oh, I don’t know, 15 of us there. Our two great men were there, Monty and Eisenhower. The poor weatherman had to talk first. Eisenhower asked Monty what he felt. ”Sure, I’ll do whatever you say, you know. We’re ready.” Then Eisenhower very calmly said, ”We’ll go.”
150,000 soldiers—American, British, Canadian, French, and many others—embarked on 5,000 ships, began moving towards places known today as St. Lô, Vierville-sur-Mer, Pouppeville, Arromanches, La Rivière-Saint-Sauveur, Pointe-du-hoc, Ouistreham.
The men on those ships, for the most part, didn’t know those names. They had simpler terms for the beaches where they would be spending the day—and for many, the rest of their lives. They called them Juno, Sword, Gold, Omaha, and Utah.
There were soldiers from many nations involved that day, all of whom deserve to be recognized and remembered. But as an American, it is the men from my country that I will write about.
Only about 15% of them had ever seen combat. But by this time, cold, wet, seasick, crammed into airless holds, or huddled on unprotected decks, many of them preferred combat to what they were going through on board ship.
Get us off these ships. I don’t care what’s waiting for us.
As it happened, though, it didn’t begin on the beaches, but in the air. On the night of June 5th, an armada of over 800 C-47 transport planes ferried the US 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions over the invasion fleet towards France. For them, the weather was still pretty bad. And it was dark.
It was going to be difficult. Everything depended on landing the pathfinders in the right place. Then the pathfinders had to light the dim beacons for the landing zones. The pilots carrying the airborne forces had to see the beacons, then they had to fly precisely, right over the landing zones.
And the Germans. Always the Germans, with searchlights and flares and the 88mm anti-aircraft cannon—the “flak” guns.
Getting everyone down alive, together, and ready to fight was going to be a chancy business. And the airborne troops knew it.
I lined up all the pilots. I says, ”I don’t give a damn what you do, but for one thing. If you’re going to drop us on a hill or if you’re going to drop us on our zone, drop us all in one place.”
But…they didn’t. The airborne forces were scattered. Almost no one landed on their programmed landing zone. Units from the two airborne divisions were scattered and intermixed, forcing officers and NCOs to create scratch units on the spot, with whomever they could find. The 101st Airborne Division commander, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor, found that his new “unit” consisted of himself, his deputy commander, a colonel, several captains, majors, and lieutenant colonels…and three enlisted men. He quipped, “Never have so few been commanded by so many.”
And still they fought. Gen. Taylor soon had gathered a force of 90 officers, clerks, MPs, and a smattering of infantrymen. With them, he liberated the town of Pouppeville. Elsewhere, American soldiers gathered into groups, and struck out for an objective. Even if it wasn’t their objective, it was someone’s, and they were going to take and hold it.
And when they took it from the Germans, the Germans tried to take it back. But the paratroopers held.
It was a terrible day for paratroopers, but they did terrible fighting in there and they really made their presence known.
By this time, the Germans knew something was going on, if not precisely what. Their responses were confused. Their commander, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had returned to Germany for a brief leave. He wasn’t the only one absent that night. The 21st Panzer Division’s commander, Lt. Gen. Edgar Feuchtinger, was spending the night in Paris with his mistress. Col. Gen. Freiderich Dollman, commander of the 7th Army, and many of his staff officers and commanders, were 90 miles away in Rennes, on a map exercise. Ironically, the scenario for that exercise was countering an airborne landing.
The Germans were surprised, yet subordinate commanders began to take the initiative, seeking out the paratroops and engaging them, trying to determine what was happening. Was it the invasion? A diversion from the expected landings in Calais? What was happening?
Then, as the black night gave way to the cold, gray dawn of June 6th, they began to find out. Looming out of the fog, a vast armada of haze gray ships and landing craft began to move ashore.
At 5:50am, the warships began shelling Utah and Omaha Beaches. In the exchange of fire with German artillery on Utah Beach, one of the landing control ships was sunk. As a result, when the first wave came ashore on Utah beach at 6:30am, they were 2,000 yards south of their designated landing point.
It was a blessing in disguise. There was almost no enemy opposition. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. made a personal reconnaissance past Utah beach, and found the beach exits almost undefended. He returned to the beach to coordinate the push inland. By the end of the day, 197 Americans were dead around Utah Beach, but the landing force had pushed inland.
At Omaha Beach, the story was much bleaker.
At around 6:30am, 96 tanks, an Army-Navy special Engineer Task Force, and eight companies of assault infantry went ashore, right into the teeth of withering machine-gun fire. Despite heavy bombardment, the German defenses were intact. Because the landing was at low tide, the men had to cross 185 yards of flat, open beach, as the well-protected German gunners cut them down. Tanks were sunk in their landing ships, or blown up at the edge of the water.
Them poor guys, they died like sardines in a can, they did. They never had a chance.
The men from the 29th Division’s 116 Regimental Combat Team (RCT) and the 1st Division’s 16th RCT were pushed off course in their landing craft by strong currents, and landed with machine gun bullets spanging off the gunwhales of their LCT’s. When the bow ramp dropped, men were riddled with bullets before they could even move. Others, jumping off the sides of the ramp, burdened with their equipment, drowned as they landed in water over their heads. Many more died on the beach, at the water’s edge.
You couldn’t lay your hand down without you didn’t touch a body. You had to weave your way over top of the corpses.
The first instinct for many was to crouch behind the steel anti-tank obstacles, to take cover behind the bodies of fallen comrades, to try and scrape shallow trenches with their hands. And yet, they couldn’t. More assault waves were on the way, and the volume of fire was so great that to stay where they were meant certain death. The beach had to be cleared for the incoming waves of infantry, but to move across that open beach also seemed like a death sentence.
He started yelling, ”God damn it, get up. Move in. You’re going to die, anyway. Move in and die.”
And so they did. They crossed that empty expanse of beach to the only cover to be had, a narrow strip of rock shingle at the base of the cliffs, below a short, timber seawall.
Those who made it to the shingle in those first hours…just stopped. Behind them was a carpet of bodes, and a tide that ran red with blood, making the spray from the curling waves a sickly pink. Ahead of them were intact and well-armed German defenders. Those men cowering on the shingle behind the low seawall had seen their units decimated, watched successive waves being slaughtered as they hit the beach. Shocked and disorganized, they stayed beneath the seawall, in the only narrow strip of safety they could find.
Meanwhile, at Point-du-hoc, at 7:00am, the men of the 2nd Ranger battalion came ashore beneath the cliffs. Their mission was to climb the steep cliffs with grappling hooks and ropes, to capture the German heavy artillery threatening the Omaha and Utah landings.
Under heavy fire from the cliffs, they fired back with the small mortars that launched the grappling hooks. With their fellow rangers dying on the beach beside them, they grasped the ropes and climbed. They climbed until German riflemen picked them off. They climbed while they watched their buddies arch in pain, and then fall headlong to the rocky beach below. They climbed as the men above them plummeted into them while falling, threatening to tear their fragile grip from the rope. They climbed and climbed.
And when they got to the top, the Germans were ready for them. But the Rangers were ready, too. So they fought their way through the pillboxes and trenches surrounding the gun emplacements. Pushing through the Germans, killing them to capture the guns.
And when they did, they discovered that the guns weren’t there. The men of the 2nd Ranger battalion had captured empty concrete emplacements, at the cost of half their number.
Back on Omaha Beach, the carnage continued.
Confusion, total confusion. We were just being slaughtered.
And as for the men (Huh. “Men.” Most of them hadn’t yet seen their twentieth summer.) who had survived the holocaust on the beach, and who now hid behind the tiny cover of the shingle? Well, who could have blamed them if they had just quit? Decided that this one taste of violence and death was enough for a lifetime? Decided that they didn’t want to face what must have seemed like inevitable and horrible, painful death?
And yet…they didn’t. Somehow, they gathered whatever courage was left to them, and began to try and figure out how to get off that beach, and move inland.
We were recreating from this mass of twisted bodies a fighting unit again, and it was done by soldiers, not by the officers.
It was C Company of the 116th RCT, accompanied by men from the 5th Ranger Battalion, that began the push. At the top of the seawall was a narrow road, and on the other side of it, protecting a draw, was a mesh of barbed wire. Pvt. Ingram E. Lambert jumped over the wall, crossed the road, and set a Bangalore torpedo in the barbed wire obstacle. He pulled the igniter, but nothing happened. Caught in the open, Pvt. Lambert was cut down by machine gun fire.
His platoon leader, 2d Lt. Stanley M. Schwartz, crossed the road, fixed the igniter, and blew the torpedo. The men of C Company and 5th Rangers began crossing through the gap, some falling to enemy fire. As they left the beach, and assaulted through the draw, others followed. Those men shivering behind the seawall grabbed their rifles, stood up, and began leaving the beach, moving toward the Germans.
Other breaches in the German defenses followed. Company I of the 116th RCT breached the strongpoints defending les Moulins draw. The 1st Section of Company E, 16th RCT, who had come ashore in the first wave, along with elements of two other companies, blew their own gap in the wire, and moved inland. Company G, 16th RCT, needed four Bangalore torpedoes to cut a single lane in the wire and anti-personnel mines that were set up with trip wires.
The breaches were narrow, and tenuous. Follow-on waves still faced murderous fire from the bluffs overlooking the beaches, and there was still confusion as the timetable was set back by the initial fury of German defenses. The 18th RCT was originally scheduled to land at 10:30am, but didn’t get on the beach until 1:00pm. The 118th RCT was delayed even more.
By the end of the day 3393 Americans were dead or missing, 3184 wounded, and 26 captured. But the breaches in the German defenses had been made. The Americans were ashore, and they were moving inland. The “Atlantic Wall” had been broken, but at a heavy cost.
When I was relieved and I walked by, oh God, the guys that died that day — all those beautiful, wonderful friends of mine, the day before, the night before, kidding and joking.
Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt was the German Army’s Commander in Chief, West. He was a crusty old soldier who disdained the flashy accouterments of rank that a German field marshal usually wore. He was content to attach his batons to the shoulders of his old regimental colonel’s uniform. He was also a realist.
Knowing what D-Day meant, he called the Chief of Operations for the German Armed forces, Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl. “What do you suggest we do now, Herr Feldmarschall?” Jodl asked.
“End the war, you fools! What else can you do?” replied the old warrior.
All quotes taken from the PBS documentary, D-Day.
Posted By Laughing_Wolf
I had plans for a different post today, but yesterday afternoon I was asked to be the pinch speaker at a local event. I thought I would share instead the remarks I plan to make shortly.
This Story Shall The Good Man Teach His Son
I speak today in place of Dylan, a young veteran who was scheduled to be here. He sends his sincere regrets, but his band of brothers is now smaller, and this day he and those closer in many ways than family, gather for a different ceremony of remembrance. I hope you will understand and forgive Dylan his absence.
Unlike him, I can’t speak on what it is like to serve in the modern armed forces. As a civilian, I have been fortunate to spend some time with our armed forces in Iraq. I can tell you that from the limited training and exposure I had back when Carter was President, and I declined commission, that they no more resemble the forces of that time than I resemble Ann Margaret.
The all volunteer force that we have today is professional, and does things with a precision that truly can’t be appreciated by those here at home. They have equipment that can honestly make me feel old, and even a touch envious, and for all the usual gripes, is so far beyond what was in place even 30 years ago as to seem like Mr. Spock’s phaser.
That is not to say that all is perfect, for it is not. The SNAFU fairy and, worse yet, the Good Idea Fairy, still strike. Yet, when that happens, those men and women serving today find a variety of creative and interesting ways to adapt and overcome.
I do not wish you a Happy Memorial Day, for this is not a happy day. Many things it is, but happy: No. When greeted with such, I tend to just simply say “to you too” though I long to say more.
For far too many, this is just another holiday. The joke told in the military is that they are at war, and America is at the mall. For those at the mall, those with no real connection to the day, this is a time for sales, vacations, and parties.
In many ways, it is not their fault. For far too many the reason for the day is abstract at best because they have no personal connection to the day. Nor are they taught any connection, much less taught its meaning.
For a good part of my life, Memorial Day was a day of the past. It was when I remembered my several times removed ancestor who died somewhere southeast of Nashville in a very uncivil war, and who lies there in an unmarked grave. It was a day I remembered my Uncle Foster, lost in one of the last naval attacks on mainland Japan, who’s casket is his plane which lies somewhere on the bottom of the sea.
For me, change began with the Marine Barracks in Beruit and truly changed on 9-11. I was lucky that day, the people I knew in the Pentagon and at the World Trade Center got out alive. Their friends and colleagues, however, were not as fortunate. It was then that this day truly ceased being a thing of the past, and became a thing of the present.
In America, we are far more fortunate than we can truly appreciate. When the drum has sounded, when freedom and liberty have been threatened, a select group of men, women, and even children in times past, have stood forward and answered the call. They have watered the tree of liberty with that most precious of gifts, their blood, their lives.
On this day of memory, I want to introduce you to some of the most recent, who have special meaning to me.
Major Mathew Schram gave his life this day in 2003. He was the colleague and friend of someone I give thanks to be able to call friend. On this day, he led a convoy in Iraq and when it came under attack, he and his driver personally counterattacked to a plan they had worked out in advance. Their action caused the enemy to flee; however, Major Schram was killed in the process. It is worth noting that aside from him, no one else died because of his plan and prompt action. Two other soldiers were wounded, one of whom, his driver, continued the mission. It is also well worth noting that the convoy was being followed by a vehicle with a reporter for a major weekly magazine. When the ambush broke, they turned to flee and did so – something that would not have been possible if not for Major Schram’s action and sacrifice. It is also worth noting that the reporter and magazine never reported on this, as it wasn’t news that a good and better man died to save his life. From all I have heard of Mat Schram, I do wish I could have met him and known him. I remember him this day.
Specialist Marieo Guerrero, Captain Anthony Palermo, Private First Class Damian Lopez, and Specialist Ryan Dallam died in 2007 in West Rasheed, Iraq. They were part of the catalyst for my first embed to Iraq, and also the reason that Combat Outpost Ellis became the lynchpin for bringing the Anbar Awakening into the area southwest of Baghdad – and into Baghdad itself. Their colleagues and friends shared some of their stories with me, and I wish I could do more to bring them to life for you this day. Captain Palermo inspired the men who served under him, including those that stepped up when he fell to enemy action. The stories I heard of all these men brought forth smiles, laughter, and some tears. Specialist Guerrero died in March, and the rest on one dark day in April to a massive IED.
Lance Corporal Jeremy W. Burris is someone I particularly want to remember this day. His story, to my mind, exemplifies the special people we are here to remember. I can’t say I knew him, for I met him only in passing out at Al Qa’im on the Syrian border. Like most Marines I’ve met, he was full of – life.
He was one of a small horde of Marines to whom I was introduced in a blur of faces and names. He went out on a patrol, one on which I wanted to go on but couldn’t. While out, his vehicle was hit by an IED. Like any good Marine, he responded and got his buddies out to safety. There, he treated them for their injuries. Realizing that there were items in the vehicle that would make his brothers more comfortable and otherwise help, he went back. It was then that the second IED was detonated.
Afterwards, I learned more about him, those things I did not get a chance to learn from him. He had a love of music, an appreciation of the opposite sex, drive, and energy. He was in many ways, a very typical young man, who very atypically volunteered to serve his country in time of war. He, like all who currently serve, knew what they were doing, knew the risks, and still stepped forward and chose to join. I think of him often, and am glad I can share that very small bit of him I have learned with you this day.
Today is a day of remembrance. It is a day to honor those that paid the ultimate price for our freedom. It is a day to give most profound thanks to whatever God you worship, that such have walked and do walk among us and, stepped up to the call.
They are our parents, our children, our husbands, our wives, our friends. They fight for us this day, as generations before did for them. Next year, we will have more to remember, but we should not remember in sorrow, but with pride, thanks, and appreciation for them and for their sacrifice. One they have chosen to make, by knowingly volunteering in time of war, and we should do nothing to belittle that choice and the costly gift they have willingly laid on the altar of freedom.
No, this is not a day of sales, vacations, and parties. That said, in my far to brief journeys with them, I have met none that would find it wrong to be remembered in the happy setting of a barbecue or cook out. In fact, many of them would appreciate it, for they would know that you have the freedom to choose what to eat, when to eat, and to live your lives with liberty because of them and their sacrifice. So, eat a bite of good food for them, and raise a toast to them with your libation of choice.
Let us remember them, and give thanks for them, this day.