I landed with my unit (Company K, 335th Infantry, 84th Division) on Normandy Beach in early November 1944, well after D-Day. The following excerpt is from my memoir, "Dear Captain, et al.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory'' . . .
"At daylight the next morning, Thursday, November 2, Omaha Beach stared back at us. Except for wreckage of burned out tanks and vehicles it was empty and peaceful. A few hulks of sunken landing craft emerged here and there through the breakers. The cliffs, so familiar from newsreels of the invasion, curved menacingly through a light mist, and the concrete ramparts of abandoned German pillboxes emerged from the jagged line of the horizon along the roof line of the beach. At one point we could see the slightly winding egress up the cliff where, on June 6, the invading infantry of the First Division had wound their way toward escape from the gunfire that raked the landing area. The scabrous rock walls fronting toward the sea to which GIs pressed, desperately, to try to avoid the deadly fire were clearly in view. It seemed incredible that while all this was happening we were playing war games in the Louisiana woods and believing that we were destined only for MP duty when the war ended.
"We had almost a whole day to ponder our fate as landing craft ferried troops from several ships to the shore. Our turn finally came at 1500. We climbed down the side on a rope ladder, jumped from there to the deck of an LSTâ€”not easy as it required perfect timing as the smaller craft undulated with the surf. When the landing craft reached the beach we piled out in water to our waist struggling to keep our footing and our weapons and gear dry. It was like the invasion save for the absence of bullets and shellfireâ€”a vast distinction."
The 84th Division was in almost continuous combat from that time in the Rhineland, Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge), and Central Europe campaigns, finishing on the west bank of the Elbe River, forty-five kilometers from Berlin at war's end. Company K-335, during six months of combat from November 10, 1944 to May 8, 1945 participated in seven major battles: Lindern in the Siegfried Line; the counter-reconnaissance patrol involving the villages of Tellin, Bure, and Grupont, Belgium and Givet, France in defense of Rochefort and Marche-en-Femenne during the Battle of the Bulge; Devantave and Ourthe, Belgium during the Bulge counterattack; the crossing of the Roer River, the battle of Hoven, and the breakthrough to the Rhine; the crossing of the Weser River and the battle of Eisbergen; and the last battle of the war at Restorf-Pevestorf near the Elbe River forty-five kilometers from Berlin.
More than fifty years later when I researched Company K's history for my memoir, I found that I was one of only 17 men who fought in every battle during our combat period without being killed, wounded, captured, or evacuated for illness. I was lucky, indeed. More than five hundred men, including replacement, saw combat action with the company at one time or another.
The company suffered 414 casualties. Forty-two men were killed in action or died of wounds, 166 were wounded, 116 were evacuated for illness, and 90 were reported missing in action (most became prisoners of war). Of 191 men who left the Port of New York in September, 1944, only eighteen fought in every battle and made it to the Elble unscathed. Although all except the ill-fated forty-two came home, our psyches were forever altered. For most of us the war has never ended. Reader's of "Dear Captain, et al." will gain some understanding of why we can never forget.
The story is told in my memoir, "Dear Captain, et al.: the Agonies and the Ecstasies of War and Memory" (Exlibris, 2000). For information click here!