5th Special Brigade, Engineers
As a 21 year old Corporal with the 5th Engineers
Special Brigade I first saw France from the second wave attacking
dog white sector of Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. Our orders were
to let the Infantry take the clifts while we took out the mines.
We took our German S anti personell mines and German Teller anti
tank mines and spent the night dug in on the beach.
We witnessed a specticle when German planes bombed
the Fleet and every ship sent up a wall of tracers. The next morning
we walked up that draw and by chance some combat photographer took
a picture of me and my Seargent. I discovered that pictue I a book
on D-Day in 1975 and obtained a copy that convinces me that I am
the second soldier in that picture. We went on to fill in as infantry
fighting in the hedgerows . Then we were called back to take out
a minefield located in a field of grass and flowers atop those clifts
on Omaha Beach.
This field contained the German S anti personnel
mines that were buried with only three small wires above ground.
When stepped on it ignited a black powder chage in the bottom of
the outer cannister that propelled the inner cannister up about
waist high where it exploded and sent out 365 pieces of jagged metal
(shrapnell) killing or wounding all with in their approximately
fifty yard range. Normally we would have detected them and placed
charges to blow them out or called in a tank equipped with a flail
that rotated some chains that beat the ground and exploded them
but the Brass was concerned that explosions might blow the top of
those clifts down on the supplies below on the beach, so we were
ordered to take them out by hand.
I was using a mine detector that made a sound
indicating a mine and I reached down and picked up a large piece
of metal, thinking that was it I stepped forward and heard a "pop"
that told me I had stepped on a mine. Our mine squad had determined
after seeing the carnage caused by these "bouncing betties"
had decided that if we stepped on one we would stand on it and try
to keep it in the ground to try to save our lives and those around
us. So with only seconds to think I decided to stand on that mine
hoping it might be a dud. The mine exploded and seemed to lift me
up in a white cloud of smoke and when I hit the ground my right
leg was blown of below the knee and my left leg was riddled with
My buddied found a barn door and carried me to
our truck where a medic gave me a shot of morhine. I was taken to
a nearby field hospital and on to England where in the 186th General
hospital my left leg was amputated above the knee because of "gas
gangrene" I woke up and found that both my legs were gone but
I looked acrosss the room and saw a soldier with most of his face
missing and felt lucky, I had survived.
Later someone came in and tossed a Purple Heart
Medal on all our beds and we all joked about our million dollar
wounds that got us out of hell. We were put on a ship the USS Dogwood
and I thought I was in heaven when ask how I would like my eggs!!!
The hospital ship landed us in South Carolina (I had hoped we would
land in New York Harbor so I could salute that beautiful Statute
Of Liberty again) where we were taken to a hospital and from there
loaded on a train with all the curtains drawn (I guess they did
not want to expose us and ruin Home Front moral!)
I was susequently sent to an Amputation Center
near Ogden, Utah where I spent almost a year being fitted with artificial
limbs. I was discharded on May 31, 1945 and at that time discovered
that I had been awarded the SILVER STAR MEDAL for Gallantry in Action
for standing on that mine and saving those around me. I told them
that I stood on that mine hoping to save my life but the award had
been made so they mailed me the medal.
At age 80 I still feel lucky, I survived!
The shoulderpatch of the Engineers Special Brigade
Robert is the soldier in the back
This is a German anti personnel mine
This is a German anti tank mine that would blow hell out of a jeep
and blow the track of a tank. To disarm these we unscrewed the cover
and removed the fuse as shown here.
After I got back in the States
I read in a Army Newspaper that some of these were booby trapped
to blow up when the cover was unscrewed. Scarred hell out of me!!
Fortunately we did not run into any of those.