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
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
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
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 , 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
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
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.]
Then, Captain, Infantry (CE)
5th Ranger Infantry Battalion