VETERAN STORY
Landing at Omaha Beach...
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VETERAN'S PICTURE
PERSONAL RECORDS
Name
Nationality
Captain John C. Raaen Jr.
American
Date
Location
June 6th 1944
Omaha Beach, Normandy, France
Unit
5th Rangers Battalion
Wounded
Captured
Survived

The attached story was written shortly after the invasion and is the basis for my story "Intact". I can come close to reconstructing the time period in which it was written, but not exactly. Until July 1944, the battalion was pretty much on the move. Then we settled down at Flamanville. This may be the time I wrote the story. After Flamanville, there wasn't much opportunity to do any writing until Differt in October 1944. After that, we were on the move again.

There were three things that probably triggered my writing this story. First, shortly after the invasion, I was given the job of writing up the decorations for medals won during the invasion. Of course, I didn't write up my own Silver Star, nor did I write up Col. Schneider's Distinguished Service Cross. But most of the rest were my job. Second, I was given the task of writing the After Action Report for the invasion month. Third, I was made the contact for LTC Taylor and SGT Pogue, the War Department Historian Team, as they collected stories and documents for "Omaha Beachhead". This WD Pamphlet was printed in September 1945. However the team visited the battalion very shortly after the invasion. I'd guess in July 1944. That was also about the time I wrote young Phil Whitney (8 July 1944).

Putting all this together, I think that the attached story was most likely written in July 1944 or possibly October 1944. The story was written on GI yellow legal size paper, 8-in by 13-in and not on the legal size paper we use today. There were 16 pages. Since some words were not really legible, I decided to type it out, and while doing so, felt it appropriate to make a few editorial comments in brackets. Remember as you read it, it was a pencilled draft with many errors in punctuation, many abbreviations.

Landing at Omaha Beach
On the Normandy coast, near the point where the Vire flows into the Channel, is a small town known as Vierville-sur-Mer. It's a tiny town of relatively no importance, except for one thing. It was here that the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions and the 116th Infantry Regiment made their assault landing in the invasion of Europe. There were many other units engaged here, the 743rd Tank Battalion, the 58th Armored Field Artillery Battalion to mention two, but others have sunk into the mists of forgetfulness for me.

We knew what Vierville looked like from the maps, aerial photos and [terrain] models we had studied. We had a good idea of about what we'd meet in the way of German resistance. We didn't think many of us would be alive on June 7. We knew of the obstacles in the water, the narrow strip of sand enfiladed from the bluffs above, the sea wall, the coast road, the flat open field and the high steep bluffs. [What I called the "coast road" is probably better named the "beach road". The coast road was a highway about a mile inland, and was one of our early objectives.] We knew of the Vierville exit, that is to say, of the cut through the bluffs where a narrow road ran from Vierville to the coast road. There were minefields galore -- hedgerows. Yes, we knew what to expect, or thought we did.

I remember that night standing on the deck of HMS Prince Baudouin and watching the Normandy coast burn. I didn't get much time to sleep, for I took three tours of Officer of the Deck that night. It seemed the thing to do. Bill Wise, C Company had a rough job. [Major] Dick Sullivan had a rough job too. Me, I was Headquarters Company Commander, with my company split all over the place. Chances were we wouldn't set up a decent CP for a couple of days and till then, I would be just an amanuensis.

The whole setup was good. On another ship was Lt. Col. Rudder, who was both Ranger Group Commander and CO of the 2nd Rangers. If I recall correctly, he had his whole battalion with him on one ship. [Not so, the 2nd was loaded onto 3 ships.] C Company of the 2nd Rangers, under Capt. Goranson was to cross the beach west of the Vierville exit, and scramble up the bluffs and attack the enemy emplacements at La Pointe de la Percee. Three more companies of the Second Battalion, D, E and F were to assault the cliffs at the Pointe du Hoc.

If D. E and F were successful, the remaining two companies of the Second, A and B, plus the whole 5th would follow and advance on Isigne-sur-Vire. If they weren't successful, then we'd all go over the beach behind the 1st Battalion of the 116th Infantry. For communication with the 2nd at Pointe du Hoc, we had SCR-300s set up in the boat. If we had received no signal meaning success by H + 30 mins, it was over the beach instead of the cliffs.

The 5 th Bn was in two ships, one containing ½ HQ, A, C, F [Actually, it was ½ HQ, C, D and F] under Maj. Sullivan, the other containing ½ HQ, B, D, and E [1/2 HQ, A, B and E] under Lt. Col. Schneider. All our ships, by the way, were English.

At [0445], we loaded into the LCA (Landing Craft Assault - quite similar to LCPR). The Captain of the ship bid us a "Good luck Rangers and God Bless You" over the audio system. It sounds melodramatic now but we appreciated it then.

We saw the Texas open up and fire its first salvo as we sailed by it. It was a terrific roar. Runge's boat (1 platoon of F Co under Reville) began to ship water and dropped back.

The radios didn't look like they were going to work. The men were getting jittery and H-Hour was still a half hour away. The sea was running from 4 to 6 feet. A couple of men got sick. We were all soaked to the skin. We could hear the planes overhead, the ships bombarding the coast. What with the Air Corps and the Navy, Normandy's defenses would be a shambles by the time we hit the beach. And the minutes droned on. H-Hour. No word from the Second. A beach master's radio came through clearly to the effect "Omaha Dog White is clear. Troops meeting no resistance." No word from the Second. We shifted our course toward Dog beach. There would still be time to change our course for the cliffs if only the signal would come through. I'm not sure of this next, but I vaguely recall hearing a radio message from the Second. It was feeble and almost unintelligible. We weren't sure what it meant, but it didn't mean success. Col. Schneider has waited as long as he could and now we'd have to really move to land on time. The beachmaster on Dog White had stopped his talk. [A marginal note says at this point “Yellow Smoke”]. We soon saw the reason why.

We were still about a thousand yards out when A and B of the Second touched down. [Despite the words that follow, I did not see what happened to the A and B of the Second Rangers. I am myopic and it was nearly a mile in to the beach. I guess I was reporting on what I heard later.] The ramps dropped and the men were slaughtered by M.G. fire. You could see them drop as they tried to get out. In desperation, they went over the sides and lay half drowning in the water hidden behind obstacles. A scattered few made it up the beach. Others began to move out of the water.

Most made it now that they were dispersed Except for a few Rangers and smashed boats there in that hell of fire, the beach looked empty. Col. Schneider in the wave ahead of us watched the slaughter through his binoculars. I don't know what he thought, but I can imagine, when you remember that two months before, he had been Exec of the Second. He made a crucial decision as he watched. He shifted the whole two waves from Dog Green to Dog White where resistance seemed lighter and where, apparently, most of the 116 th had landed by mistake. To shift 1500 yards to the left when only a thousand yards from the beach was a problem the British did well. We didn't lose a single boat, we didn't get mixed up and as we came into touch down we still had perfect formation.

Schneider's wave hit first, we were minutes behind him and apparently to his right. By now the noise was deafening. An LCM or LCT was hit on our right by artillery and burst into flames. A minute or so later we were in the obstacles. LCI 91, 50 to 100 yds on our right was hit by artillery. The boat ground to a stop. The ramp dropped. Sullivan jumped out with me right behind him. The water wasn't as high as my boots. The coxswain had done well by us. Ten yards of shallow water amid the damnedest racket in the world. You could hear the bullets go screaming by. Somewhere a twenty or forty was beating out sixty rounds a minute. Rifle fire came from our right as did most of the MG fire. A DD tank let fly a round.

There was the beach. And then a runnel of water. An MG burst chewed the water as I jumped in. Then dry land again. The beach must have been about 30 yards wide at that time. I can't remember clearly, but I remember reaching the sea wall. It was packed with men two and three deep. You couldn't dig in because the rocks were 6 to 8 inches in diameter and piled deeply. The sea wall was made of wooden logs two to three feet high, with breakwaters running back toward the sea. Those breakwaters prevented good lateral communication on the beach though they gave us protection from the flanking fire that poured down the beach from our right.

I tried to get my life preservers off. They wouldn't come. I rolled over, still no luck. I couldn't go on like that so I stood up and still no luck. I looked around. It was my first look at men in combat. They were huddled in against the sea wall, cringing at every bullet. Artillery fire was churning the waters edge. To our left I saw LCI 92 touch down. Wham! An artillery round caught the starboard ramp. Must have hit a flamethrower there, for the whole side of the ship burst into flames that spread to the deck. I looked back at our LCA, men were still coming out. There was Father Lacy, the last man coming out. He wasn't ten yards from the boat when Wham! Our engine compartment was hit by artillery. I don't know what happened to the crew. They'd done their job well - too well, for the cox'n was too hard on the beach to back off.

By now my men were dropping around me and in the adjacent bays. I yelled to a radio man who stood up and cut my preservers off. "Anybody hit?" "Yea, [McCullough] got a slug in the back of his leg." One man, my messenger, only two men behind me was hit. Not bad for thirty-three men.

I called for Sullivan. "Over here, Red." He was in the next bay. I slipped over and made my report, one casualty and the rest of Hq dispersed in these three bays. [A marginal note adds here: "Sully, for God's sake do something. He was right, etc."] We passed the word for Col. Schneider. He was 50 yards to our left giving orders to the company commanders. However, I remained on the left [right?] while Sullivan went over to Schneider.

I began checking the men, making sure they still had their weapons and ammo, getting them more collected for the next move, while wondering what it was to be.

Apparently some infantrymen or Rangers [a marginal note, probably added later says: "Elements of A & B 2nd Rangers and Co C, 116th"] had worked their way off the beach and up the hill [side, for] there was a fire fight to our right, up on the bluff.

The terrain was different from the maps. The high steep hill was 100-150 yds in front of us, covered with smoke and flame from a grass fire to our right. The terrain was flat from the foot of the hill to the coast road in front of us. With a battered little stone wall and then the wooden sea wall. Wooden sea wall!! Christ!! It was supposed to be stone! We were on the wrong beach! We couldn't be to the right of Vierville because there'd be cliffs in front of us and the Pointe de la Percee on our right. Therefore, we must be to the left. The next sea wall was Omaha Dog White. I looked around more carefully. The sea wall ended three or four bays to my right. I could see farther down to the right one, perhaps two D.D. tanks of the 743rd backing down to the water and then slowly coming across the beach, each time giving five or six men cover to cross the beach. Back and forth, but that was 200 or 300 yds away.

Not ten yards to me right a grizzled old Engineer Sergeant set a heavy MG tripod down in a hole in the stone wall [stone breakwaters or retards]. He then went back to my left. A moment later he returned with a heavy gun. A thin Engineer Lieutenant in a green sweater was carrying ammunition. Together they very calmly set up their gun in that exposed gap in the wall. The Sergeant very methodically began to traverse and search the hill to our right where the fire fight appeared to be. The Lt., and I'll always remember the disdain he showed, turned around with his hands on hips, surveyed the men huddled at the sea wall, and spat out something to the effect, "and you men call yourselves soldiers." He tried to organize his men. Then the 116th. But to no avail.

By now, Col. Schneider had given the word to advance. The gap in the wire was to our left, Hq to follow one of C Company's MG sections. Van Riper [1st Lt. Howard E. Van Riper, my Exec and Commo Platoon Leader] and I drifted to the left with the Company, leaving the Engineer Lt. with his hands still on hips looking disgusted. (I heard he was killed a half hour or so later.)

We found the gap. A line Company was going through. Some Heine was firing from the right along the coast road. There was a shattered stone building, probably a pill box just across the road. C Company was moving through now. I tagged on, rushed across the road. Lying stomach down on a stone slab on the left side of the pill box was little Vullo, the smallest man in the Battalion, having general repairs done on his buttox. He hadn't crossed the road fast enough. We trotted down a little path and then the column stopped, hit the dirt. It was[n't] to[o] comfortable there in the opened [open?] so I shifted my men to the left into a small gully or ditch. The column moved again, stopped, moved. There was heavy brush at the base of the hill and a flagstone path leading through. About six stone steps, and then a path leading up and right. The column stopped as I reached the last step. I sat down and looked back toward the beach. Men were still coming through the gap in the wir

The column moved on, up the steep slope, the smoke was getting bad. After about 50 yards we were gasping for breath and gulping in smoke, our eyes were watering and we couldn't see ahead. I passed the word for gas masks. We had the new assault masks with the canister on the face piece. Mine wouldn't come out. I put my helmet between my legs. Finally got my mask on - took a deep breath and almost smothered. I had forgotten to take the covering plug out of the canister. I felt like I was smothering to death, I couldn't get the plug out. I ripped off my mask, my helmet slipped from my legs and started to roll down the hill. Sgt. Graves stopped it. Now I was choking with smoke. I finally got the mask and helmet on, took three steps and was out of the smoke. I was so furious, I kept the mask on for fifty feet more just to spite myself.

We'd left the path now (it curved back to the left past a little shack) a[nd] continued to the top of the hill. We saw our first German, a dead one. He was lying in a little hollow just below the crest. We'd never seen a dead man before. He was sort of greenish yellow, looked like wax. Before we knew it, we thought he was a wax booby trapped dummy. It wasn't till much later that we realized that that was the first dead enemy we'd seen. In the hollow, we paused for breath before crossing a tiny stone wall into the hedgerow country.

At the top of the hill we paused, looked over the scene again, etc., and then moved to the right (WEST), parallel to the beach. C Company's 81 mm mortars and a light M.G. section were emplaced in the far western hedge row prepared to fire parallel to the beach. I dispersed Hq behind in the field behind the mortars and left a non-com in charge, Just as I left Van Riper came up with the rest of Hq and dispersed them in the same field. There was scattered S.A. fire to the WEST and south of us and some low velocity artillery was passing close overhead heading for the beach. Captain Bill Wise, C Co, C.O., told me I'd find Maj. Sullivan and Col Schneider at the southern end of the hedgerow but not to go into the open field beyond because the enemy was to our front. I found Sully & Col. Schneider at the gate at the end of the field.

Unfortunately there was no known situation for Sullivan to give me. All he could say was that he had seen a patrol move off to the SW along the fence toward the far hedgerow. He had me move out along the fence to see if I drew fire, because that would be the best route to move the portion of the battalion that had not displaced along the crest. I zig zag[ed] about 75 to 100 yds before I reached cover. I had drawn enough fire to mention most of it friendly anyway. There was a dead German in the hedgerow.

[The story fragment ends here, with me and a dead German soldier in a hedgerow about five hundred yards from the beach.]

John C. Raaen, Jr.
Then, Captain, Infantry (CE)
5th Ranger Infantry Battalion

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PERSONAL PICTURES
 
Unit Identification Patch
John's shoulderpatch of the 5th Rangers Battalion.
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John Raaen on the left and Chaplain (Father) Joseph Lacy taken in Normandy shortly after the invasion.
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