I felt lucky, I survived ..
Soldier:
Corporal Robert Wallace
Date: 1944
Location: Normandy, France
Unit: 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 shrapnel.

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!

Robert Wallace

Personal Photographs

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.

 

 

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