Friday, June 28, 2019

Reporting the D-Day Landing-- Part 5: German Counter Attacks

"During the night,  German snipers infiltrated our lines and made life uncomfortable.  The troops were wet from wading through the surf and the bedding of most troops was lost in vehicles swamped on the beach.

"Big guns of our warships are standing offshore and belching flame and smoke.  Small craft are shuttling troops and guns to the strip of beach.  Big bulldozers are gouging out a road.

"Along the beach are still the khaki-clad bodies of the boys who gave their lives in the United Nations bid to crush Germany's armed might.  But there were not so many as I had expected to see, and I patrolled this strip from end to end.

"Canadians reported that German parachute troops were being dropped on a small scale behind American lines.

"American parachutists took one village."


Thursday, June 27, 2019

Reporting the D-Day Landing-- Part 4: Two Prisoners Didn't Want to Fight Anymore

Two young Germans were supposed to man the weapon (88-millimeter gun) but were in quarters when the naval bombardment began and a shell ripped squarely through the gunport.

"They ran out of their tunnel and hid under a bridge where Lieut. Carl W. Oelze, Cleveland, found them and took them prisoner.

"One was 17 years old and the other 18 and both said they were glad the invasion had come and that they were prisoners as they did not want to fight anyway.

"On the other side of the draw was a similar position and further inland above the exit from the beach was another concrete blockhouse with its 88-gun pointing down the approach.

The prisoners coming back to the rear looked rather small and scrawny.  They looked with wonder at the bigger and stronger American boys."


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Reporting the D-Day Landing-- Part 3: Some Really Strong German Defenses

"In the matter of a few hours the engineers had roads built from the beach and heavy equipment was pouring across.

"Along the beaches were underwater barriers, barbed wire, emplacements, concrete houses with 88-mm guns covering the beach approaches.  The walls of houses were of reinforced concrete four to six feet thick.

"Two hundred yards from the beach on the side of a steep bank the Germans had built one strong-point and had another under construction.  This blockhouse was about fifteen feet square with one opening through which was poked the snout of an 88-mm. gun.

"Behind the thick walls were cases of ammunition.  Behind the blockhouse the gun crew had tunneled into the side of a hill and installed living quarters."

Fortress Europe, the Vaunted Atlantic Wall.  --GreGen

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Reporting the D-Day Landing-- Part 2: The Beach Pile Up and Breakout

"When we landed behind the assault troops the enemy still was pouring a heavy machine-gun mortar and artillery fire into the boat as they drove ashore and had our troops pinned behind a gravel bank just above the water's edge.


"Troops, supplies and vehicles began to pile up on the beach at an alarming rate.  The enemy controlled the exits with accurate fire and the time schedule was being disrupted.

"One unforeseen difficulty here was that three fresh regiments of German infantry moved onto the beach area just before the landing for anti-invasion maneuvers.  They were sitting in their positions when the armada arrived offshore.

"But under the urging of a soft-spoken brigadier general the organized enemy positions were silenced and the great surge inland began."


Monday, June 24, 2019

Reporting the D-Day Landing, June 6, 1944-- Part 1: " With American Forces in France"

From the June 7, 2019, Chicago Tribune  "Reporting the D-Day landing in 1944" by Don Whitehead, AP>

A technical glitch delayed war story of historic invasion.

This story was first published on June 8, 1944, after AP journalist Don Whitehead landed on Omaha Beach in Normandy on D-Day with the 1st Infantry Division.  His story was delayed by more than a day as the Army's communication system for the war correspondents broke down, and journalists weren't able to get the news out for more than 28 hours.

This is his report:

WITH AMERICAN FORCES IN FRANCE --  Fighting as American troops did in Tunisia, Sicily and Italy, doughboys have smashed through the outer crust of Hitler's fortress in a gallant display of courage and skill.

Never before has an army attempted to land such vast numbers of men and materials in such a short time, but the job is being done after a shaky start.


D-Day +75 Years-- Part 14: "The Battle Belonged That Morning To..."

Troops poured through the opening and by nightfall, the Omaha Beach beachhead was secured.  However, the Allies held only a few miles of shoreline.  Their front lines wouldn't reach the hard-pressed parachutists until June 10.

"The ground troops have finally reached us," recalled Fayette Richardson.  "We've been surrounded for nearly five days, almost out of ammunition, with rumors that the invasion has failed, that we were done for.  Now, we are saved."

Tough battles lay ahead before Germany surrendered the following spring.  But after Operation Overlord, the end was never in doubt.

On June 6, 1944, 2,499 Americans and 1,915 soldiers of the Allied nations were killed.  Many of the GIs are buried under white crosses and Stars of David in a U.S. military cemetery on a bluff above Omaha Beach.  In the visitor center there is a quote from Gen. Bradley that, with simple eloquence, tells the D-Day story.

"The battle belonged that morning to the thin, wet line of khaki that dragged itself ashore on the channel coast of France."

Fitting.  --GreGen

Sunday, June 23, 2019

D-Day +75 Years-- Part 13: Rangers "Get Up There and Lead the Way"

General Norma Cota, born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, was told that one of the groups huddling on the shoreline were Rangers.  he went over to them and yelled "(Damn) it, if you are Rangers, then get up there and lead the way!"

Spotting an abandoned bulldozer, Cota asked for a volunteer to drive it.  A hand went up, and James Gilligan, a combat engineer, helped the redheaded GI load the bulldozer with explosives to blow a hole in the walls the Germans had built across an exit from the beach.

"The last I saw of (the volunteer) he was hightailing along the beach toward the draw, coolly sitting erect on the dozer, still with the complete load of TNT, seemingly protected by magic from harm,"  Gilligan recalled.  "By the time I got there walking, the mines were gone and the walls were down."


Friday, June 21, 2019

D-Day + 75 Years-- Part 12: "There Are Two Kinds of People Who Are Staying On This Beach"

John Raaen, of Arlington, Va., said he witnessed an unforgettable act of compassion when his Ranger unit landed.  Others ran for cover, but not the Rev. Joseph Lacey.  "He stayed right at the water's edge, pulling men who were dying out of the water so that perhaps they could live a bit longer."

At his command post on the cruiser USS Augusta, General Omar Bradley considered aborting the Omaha Beach landings, but U.S. destroyers moved in perilously close to shore and provide fire cover on German positions and a few officers slowly got the troops to moving off the beach.

"There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die," said Col. George  Taylor from Flat Rock, Illinois.  "Now, let's get the hell out of here!"

A Great Quote.  --GreGen

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

D-Day +75 Years-- Part 11 "Fire Rained Down On Us"

In heavy seas, only a handful of tanks made it to the beach, and the bombers who were to take out German batteries dropped their bombs too far inland.  Such was the situation at Omaha Beach.

"The plans made back in England just didn't exist in reality when we hit the beach," Sergeant Harry Bare of Philadelphia told an interviewer.  "Fire rained down on us, machine-gun, rifle, rockets from the bunkers on top of the cliff."

Frank Colacicco, a major in the 1st Infantry Division, saw the slaughter from a landing craft that was taking his unit in.

"We could see it all," he told Max Hastings, author of the book "Overlord" that takes interviews from men who were there to p[ice together the story.  "We knew that something was knocking the tanks out, but we kept asking, 'Why don't they clear the beach?  Why aren't our people getting off?' "

A Mess on Omaha Beach.  --GreGen

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

D-Day + 75 Years- Part 10: American Reaction to the News, Success, But...

In the United States, Americans woke up to the news of D-Day.  A prayer service was held in Chicago at the corner of State and Madison streets.  In Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell rang.

Rushing to put out an extra edition, pressmen in Griffin, Georgia, put three pages of the Evening News on the press upside down.  Send them out as is, the publisher ordered.

For awhile, it seemed that subsequent editions would bring dreadful news.  Theodore Roosevelt Jr.'s men fought their way through the German defenses at Utah Beach and were moving inland.  British and Canadian troops were advancing their own sector of the shoreline, but a disaster was unfolding on Omaha Beach.


Tuesday, June 11, 2019

D-Day + 75 Years-- Part 9: "D-Day Has Come"

The first report of what was taking place in Normandy came from Berlin.  But it said that the invaders landed farther up the French coast which vindicated the Allies' disinformation campaign.  To throw the Germans off scent, they flipped German spies who spoon-fed false information to Berlin and also dropped dummy parachutists on D-Day.

The first bulletin from London was terse:  "D-Day has come,"  a BBC announcer said.  It mirrored the mood of his audience:  hope mixed with trepidation.

In 1940, the French army had collapsed in the face of Hitler's invasion, and the British army barely escaped by being evacuated through the port of Dunkirk.  So it was natural to worry, lest British soldiers be headed to a similar disaster when they were mobilized for D-Day.


D-Day +75 Years-- Part 8: Theodore Roosevelt Jr. and An Accidental Shooting

Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. was a World War I veteran who walked with a cane, started striding up from the beach.  Meanwhile, a detachment of paratroopers attacked the de Valleville farm, where the Germans had stationed an artillery battery.

There was a firefight between the Americans and Germans.  In the confusion, Louis de Valleville's older brother Michel was shot by an American soldier who mistook him for a German.

"We cannot explain in French," Louis said.  Somehow, his family got Michel to a hospital and he survived.


Monday, June 10, 2019

D-Day 75 Years Later-- Part 7: "We'll Start the War From Here!"

General Theodore Roosevelt was aboard a landing craft heading toward Utah Beach,  The son of President Theodore Roosevelt, he was confronted with a colossal snafu upon stepping ashore.

"About ten minutes later, after we got ourselves protected, General Roosevelt got us together --  battery commanders, battalion commanders -- and told us we weren't where we were supposed to land,"  Joe Blaylock, who served in the 20th Field Artillery, recalled to an interviewer for the University of New Orleans.  "He gave us coordinates of where we were, and everybody checked it on their map, and he said, 'We'll start the war from here!' "

Wrong Place,  Oh Well, We'll Start Anyway.  --GreGen

D-Day +75 Years-- Part 6: "We Believed It Was A Joke"

Now, there was an armada of some 4,000 ships off the Normandy coast, and landing craft were ferrying tanks, infantry units and combat engineers toward the shore.

Louis de Valleville, a teenager who then lived on a farm near Utah Beach, could scarcely believe that France's liberation was at hand.

"Some person came through the flooded area out at about six in the morning, coming through this swamp, and said all of the sea is covered by boats," said de Valleville.  "And we believed it was a joke."


Sunday, June 9, 2019

D-Day + 75 Years-- Part 5: The Enemy Soldiers Were Alive, Then, Suddenly, Dead

The mission Fayette Richardson and the 82nd and 101st Airborne units were on was to stop any German attempts at counterattack and reinforcing the beaches where the Allies were landing.

Richardson very quickly realized that real-life combat is infinitely more brutal and tragic  than Hollywood's version.  At dawn, he and a few others set off on their assignment only to encounter a German staff car.

The Americans froze, then Richardson yelled, "Shoot!  Shoot!"  Three Germans were killed in a hail of fire, and the GIs moved on.  Yet Richardson couldn't stop thinking about the incident.

"It could not be that these ordinary men, riding along an ordinary road on an ordinary day could be shot like that, killed," he wrote.  These men who had been alive and going about life's business a moment before could be dead.  I could not accept it."


Saturday, June 8, 2019

D-Day +75 Years-- Part 4: "I'd Like To Volunteer, Sir"

These are the stories of those beaches on June 6, 1944, as told by those who were there -- the voices of D-Day.


As a boy in Machias, New York, Fayette Richardson was fascinated with airplanes and ear movies.  At 17, he enlisted but didn't qualify for pilot training.  Instead, he was asked to join a parachute regiment's Pathfinder team: those who jump first and guide those who follow.  It was strictly a voluntary thing according to his commanding officer.

"I think of Errol Flynn and how he and David Niven volunteered to do things in 'Dawn Patrol,' " Richardson recalled.  he told his commanding officer: "I'd like to volunteer, sir."   This is according to Richardson's personal story in an oral history story "I Wouldn't Want to Do It Again" by Joel Baret.

Richardson and others of the 82nd and 101st Airborne dropped inland on Normandy just after midnight the day of the invasion.


D-Day +75 Years-- Part 3: Oral Histories Are Setting the Record Straight

Stephen Ambrose is a historian and an author, best known for his books "Band of Brothers" and "Citizen Soldiers.  He has a knack for convincing veterans that every thing they have to say about their experience is worthy of being preserved.

'He knew that the voices of those who fought at Gettysburg are long gone, but thanks to recorded oral histories, those of the D-Day veterans will be with us long after they are gone.

Leonard Lomell was a sergeant in th 2nd Ranger battalion explained why he participated in Ambrose's D-Day oral history project at the University of New Orleans.  "I've kept a low profile for fifty years as have most of my men.  We weren't heroes, we were just good Rangers, as we believed the record would forever show.

But, inaccurate accounts by those who were not there, Lomell realized that time was running out to set the record straight, so he did.


Friday, June 7, 2019

D-Day +75 Years-- Part 2: Thank Goodness for the Oral Histories

Seventy-five years have passed and the ranks of men have thinned even more than they did that day.  They braved machine gun, rifle and cannon fire on the French beaches that were marked on the American maps:  Omaha and Utah.

Fayette Richardson died in 2010, but fortunately for us and future generations, he and other veterans kept diaries, wrote memoirs or recorded their memories.

Oral history as a study was in its infancy when Stephen Ambrose began tape recording D-Day veterans according to Toni Kiser, assistant director for collections management at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

Kiser told the Tribune:  "Ambrose, who began collecting the oral histories housed in our archives, was a distinguished historian.  He recognized that official accounts couldn't capture the subtleties of a historic event like D-Day.  They are bound to reflect the generals' perspective.  He wanted to know how it looked to the GIs, who were on the beaches or dropped by parachute.  What was it like to see a buddy you have trained with for months get killed minutes after they rushed out of a landing craft?"

Thursday, June 6, 2019

D-Day +75 Years Today: "What Am I Doing Here?"-- Part 1

From the June 6, 2019, Chicago Tribune  ' I'd like to volunteer, sir' : Memories of D-Day live on through oral histories" by Ron Grossman.

"Just before parachuting into Nazi-occupied Europe, Fayette Richardson asked himself an existential question: 'My God Most Powerful, what am I doing here? '

"The thought had to be on the minds of myriad soldiers on June 6, 1844.  It was D-Day, the launch of a  long-awaited campaign by the U.S. and British armies to free the nations of Western Europe that Hitler had conquered.

"Mounted from airfields and ports in Great Britain, it was the largest amphibious assault in history.  Code-named Operation Overlord, it dramatically changed the course of World War II."


Monday, June 3, 2019

Three Days to D-Day +75 Years

Today is three days from D-Day, plus 75 years.  Three quarters of a century.  The youngest of the Allies storming Fortress Europe that day would be 93 now, if they were 18 at the time.

Hoping people will be putting their flags out to commemorate it.  What those men faced, going up the famed Atlantic Wall of the Germans had to have been frightening, but on they came, and as you're reading in this blog, jumping into it.

I will write about D-Day in all my blogs June 6.

The Greatest Generation.  --GreGen

Dropping Into Normandy-- Part 5: It Was Like the 4th of July Only They Were Up There With the Fireworks

WILLIAM DUNFEE, 82nd--  "Then, looking down, I saw C-47s flying below us.  That scared the hell out of me, and I started cussing them.  I didn't want to be turned into hamburger by our own air force....  While descending, I regained my composure, since it appeared we were going to make it down in one piece."

CHARLES MILLER,  82nd--  It looked like a great big Fourth of July celebration.  The whole sky was lit up like a big show."

ROY ZERBE, 101st--  "The sky was filled with fire, and it looked like the Fourth of July.  I would guess we were low, at about 500 feet.  I could see fires off in the distance."

GUY REMINGTON, 101st--  "The black Normandy pastures tilted and turned far beneath me.  The first German flare came arching up, and instantly machine guns and forty-millimeter guns began firing from the corners of the fields, stripping the night with yellow, green, blue, and red tracers.  I pitched through a wild Fourth of July.

"Fire licked through the sky and blazed around the transports heaving high overhead.  I saw one of them go plunging down in flames.  One of them came down with a trooper, whose chute had been caught in the tailpiece, streaming out behind.  I heard a large gush of air: a man went hurtling past, only a few yards away, his parachute collapsed and burning.

"Other parachutes, with men whose legs had been shot  off slumped in the harness, floated gently toward the earth."

Only, They Were Up There With the Fireworks This Time.  --GreGen

Dropping Into Normandy-- Part 4: "The Staccato Sound of Machine-Gun Fire Broke My Trance"


RAY AEBISCER,  101st--  "The jolt from the opening shock was more intense than usual.  At the same second the chute opened, my leg pack broke loose from the straps around my leg.  All of my equipment, except one trench knife and a canteen of water went plummeting to the ground, never to be seen again."

TURK SEELYE, 82nd--  "As the prop blast forced air into my chute, I got the strongest opening shock ever.  The chute opened with such a violent jolt that a Beretta pistol I took from an Italian naval officer was torn loose, along with my new safety razor."

LESLIE P. CRUISE, 82nd--  "The chute tightened in my crotch as the planes droned overhead, and I knew my chute had opened though I could hardly look up to see it.  I had suddenly slowed as the chute fully opened and I floated in space....  The staccato sound of machine-gun fire broke my trance.  It was to the left.  No, it was to my right as I kept turning in my chute.  I couldn't tell where it was coming from."

ROY KING,  82nd--  "I was fascinated by the sight of the tracers flying around everywhere when I saw a huge explosion blossom directly below me....  A plane between me and the ground.  No, it was not in trouble, I was!  I was above the stream of airplanes that had just dropped their troopers and equipment.

"My immediate concern was that I could be chopped to pieces by the propellers of the oncoming planes.  I was trying furiously  to turn and face the oncoming planes in order to see how to safely maneuver through them.  I dropped safely through them in spite of my near-hysterical struggles."


Sunday, June 2, 2019

Dropping Into Normandy-- Part 3: Last Man Out

RICHARD GLEASON,  101st--  "As I stood near the door, a shell exploded under the left wing, and the old '47 did a handstand on the right wingtip, and I was thrown back across the cabin.  There was a mad scramble to get out the door, but I was able to get there first, so I didn't get tangled in any static lines."

HAROLD CANYON,  82nd--  Just as I approached the door the top of the airplane opened up.  It had been hit by some type of explosive shell.  As I turned into the doorway, the plane started a right wing dip going into its death spiral.

"It took everything I had to get over the threshold.  It seemed to me the threshold was just a little more than chest high as I rolled over and got out.  I was the last man out of the plane."

CLARENCE McKELVEY--  "We din't know how high we were, but I felt three things in succession -- my helmet popped off my head, I felt my chute open, and I looked down and there was ground."

ELMER BRANDENBERGER, 101st--  "The opening shock (of the parachute) tore the rifle from my grasp.  I can still remember the thought flashing through my mind that it would hit some damned Kraut and bash in his head."


Dropping Into Normandy-- Part 2: Of Puke and Hit Planes

Reminiscences of Paratroopers.

Getting out of the planes proved problematic as well.

LESLIE KICK, 82nd--  "Then we were going out, slipping on puke but keeping our balance by holding tight to the static line snap."

ED BOCCAFOGLI, 82nd--  "I fell out.  I slipped on vomit.  Some guys were throwing up from nerves, and as we pivoted out my feet went out from under me, and I went upside down."

VIRGIL DANFORTH, 101st--  "As we stood in the door, ready to jump, our plane took a close one, which threw men down in the door in such a way that my head was outside and my shoulder was inside and I was wedged in this position so I couldn't get up.  With the help of the man behind me, I finally managed to dive head first out of the door."

JACK SCHLEGEL, 82nd--  "I recall that I was the ...last to leave the plane ... the plane was going down.  I moved out as fast as I could to get out and, after bailing out, saw the plane go up in a ball of flame."

Mighty Scary (And Messy).  --GreGen