Day of Days June 6, 1944

Submitted by ATC on June 6th, 2017 at 8:46 PM
On D-Day, the Allies landed around 156,000 troops in Normandy........ “Lieutenant Welsh remembered walking around among the sleeping men, and thinking to himself that ‘they had looked at and smelled death all around them all day but never even dreamed of applying the term to themselves. They hadn’t come here to fear. They hadn’t come to die. They had come to win.” -- Stephen E. Ambrose, Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne......... As evening colors approach, All Honor to their names.

Comments

Bando Calrissian

June 6th, 2017 at 11:28 PM ^

What blows me away about my grandpa was that he was already in his 30s when he went to war. I think about how messed up my body is right now at just about the same age, and the idea of fighting my way across Europe seems absurd. He made it home with a Purple Heart and a pile of crazy stories, which thankfully I got on tape.

Sam1863

June 7th, 2017 at 5:04 AM ^

How many times I wished I'd done the same thing. It hurts to think how much living history was missed.

I do remember one story from my step-father Ray, who was a forward artillery observer in the 87th Division in Patton's 3rd Army. He and his Lt. were advancing through some woods in Germany when he hears a twig snap. He turns to see a German soldier who's got the drop on him, and he figures he's dead - except the soldier is an old man in uniform, frozen with fear. When Ray realized what was happening, he said he couldn't shoot somebody's grandfather. But he was so mad that stormed over to the guy, tore the rifle out of his hands, spun him around, whacked him across the ass with it, and told him to run in very profane American English. Grandfather beat a hasty retreat.

xtramelanin

June 7th, 2017 at 5:48 AM ^

unbeknownst to any of us on father's day, 2011, dad was about to get sick and die in the next 6 weeks.   he had come to visit us and i had the kids all sit around him and i basically 'interviewed' dad about his life, growing up on the farm, WWII, basic training, flight training, college, etc.  i had heard the stories many times but loved hearing them and my kids listened very attentively.

while he talked i had a little ipod on my knee and basically filmed him as unobtrusively as i could.   a wonderful day.  flash forward a month and he's sick, and a not a month after that and he was gone.   

so i took that recording, put it on DVD's, and gave a copy to all 24 of his combined children/grandchildren for Christmas that year.  

mGrowOld

June 7th, 2017 at 8:33 AM ^

I so wish I had the forsight to do that with my father.  He served in Northern Africa and Italy in the Army Air Corp (pre-Air Force) as a mechanic working on P-40s and P-47s.  For a long time he didnt talk about his war expereiences much but as he got older (and especially after a gin and tonic) he'd open up.

I remember one afternoon vividly sitting on my dad's porch at this cottage in Sarnia on the shores of Lake Huron.  He started telling me stories that i had NEVER heard before and they were fantastic.  I try to retell them but I always get details wrong - I SO wish I had recorded that afternoon.  

BTW- I asked him if he would do it over again if he could.  He said "if you could assure me I wouldnt get killed I'd do again in a heartbeat.  It was the most fantastic adventure I've ever been on in my life."

Bando Calrissian

June 7th, 2017 at 7:44 PM ^

Pro tip for everyone: Even if it's with an extremely elderly person, even if you think you absolutely need to hear the stories you're getting and share them with others, it's generally poor form all around to tape the stories of elders without telling them you're taping them. When it comes to stories that may be painful or difficult to recall, people have a right to decide whether or not they want something on the permanent record. It's great you got those stories, but more often than not, people have reasons for being wary about being taped. It's your relative, but still--that's not cool. 

L'Carpetron Do…

June 7th, 2017 at 10:42 AM ^

My grandfather was born in 1912 so was in his 30s during the war, too. He talked a lot about his time in the CCC beforehand but spoke little about the war. He was in army intelligence in North Africa and wouldn't say boo about anything. Even 50-60 years later he wouldn't reveal any details about missions he went on - he took a lot of secrets to the grave! The man knew how to keep a secret!

My other grandfather served on subs in WWII, in the Pacific I think,  but I don't know a lot about that because he died when I was 10.  That was an amazing generation and an amazing time in history.

NFG

June 6th, 2017 at 9:06 PM ^

I remember watching Saving Private Ryan in theatres vividly. I was in 6th grade and my grandfather took me to the movie, who years later had a good chuckle with me about how that was a very bad idea to take me at a young age. Anyways, we were at the cinema in Escanaba and I remember all the old men walking out crying after the movie and never understood why till much later.

The first twenty minutes of that movie as graphic and real as it was, still probably does not do justice to what actually occurred. Those boys and citizen soldiers went through hell. If you weren't going to die from enemy gunfire, land mines or mortars, drowning or friendly fire was also an option to many.

Unless something very wrong happens, with our technology today, an event like Normandy just won't happen again IMO. Nor do I think my current generation would be up for such a task.

Logan88

June 7th, 2017 at 6:14 AM ^

I cried in the theater at the conclusion of Saving Private Ryan. Oddly, the most moving scene of the whole movie for me was the one where you see the room full of women typing up death notices to soon-to-be-devastated families informing them that their son wouldn't be coming home again. It was so...impersonal. Hundreds of women impassively typing at blinding speed, each cranking out one more missive of death.

Haunting.

Oh, and as to D-Day...yeah, there is no way I would have even made it off the boat. My commander probably would have had to shoot me in the head to clear the way for those who weren't petrified in terror.

MadMatt

June 7th, 2017 at 8:15 AM ^

Logan88,

Historians have looked into the dynamics of small combat units.  Two observations:

1) The strongest motivator was fighting to protect each other.  It'd be trite if it wasn't 100% true.  (BTW, one of the best illustrations of the idea is Flags of Our Fathers.  Clint Eastwood's best work.  And remember to watch Letters from Iwo Jima within 24 hours.  I like the second movie a little bit better, but together they are sublime.)  This is why combat veterans describe their experiences as pure hell (if they can even talk about them; psychologists says that talk therapy actually makes PTSD worse), but say the comeraderie with their squad mates was something they miss dearly.

2) In most groups there is one lunatic who truly doesn't care and will rush out into grave danger.  The rest of the group feels fear (hence the observation that being brave is being afraid, but doing what you have to anyway), and is primarily interested in not getting shot, but they will follow the lunatic for the group's sake.

So, I'm betting you would have been in the afraid, but did what you had to do anyway camp.  We are all braver than we know.

MadMatt

LCDR, JAGC, USN (ret)

denverblue

June 7th, 2017 at 9:18 AM ^

Pretty sure talk therapy about PTSD doesn't explicitly make it worse. It brings up a lot of shit, which is why before any trauma work is done, there needs to be good grounding and coping skills in place before you dig into the trauma, which yes may in the short term increase PTSD symptoms, while also decreasing them in the long-term, you know. So to generally say talk therapy makes PTSD worse is missing the point.

L'Carpetron Do…

June 7th, 2017 at 1:24 PM ^

I've never seen Saving Private Ryan but I've seen parts of it and its intense. But I remember when it came out that dudes who were there in Normandy on D-Day and went to see the movie were like in shock because of how real it was. Some of them were like 'this is exactly what it was like', which always freaked me out.  

George Pickett

June 6th, 2017 at 9:13 PM ^

I can't comprehend how a man could muster the courage to land on a beach lined with thousands of people trying to kill him. I would poop my pants and swim as fast as I could in the other direction.

LSAClassOf2000

June 6th, 2017 at 9:24 PM ^

My family involvement on D-Day is....complicated.

One grandfather was in the 3rd Division, 7th Infantry, Royal Army at Sword Beach.

One grandfather was in the 5th Panzer Army.

World War II is an interesting discussion in my family.

 

SalvatoreQuattro

June 6th, 2017 at 10:39 PM ^

Men at war regardless of the side they are on deserve a modicum of respect just for serving. Granted, this depends on their conduct in the war, but most soldiers served honorably. People forget that the Germans and Japanese were people. They had loved ones as well.

freelion

June 6th, 2017 at 9:31 PM ^

Great HBO series and the book was even better. The greatest generation for sure.  They didn't need safe rooms back then.  Basically teenagers storming the beaches of Europe and fighting for freedom from fascism.

macdaddy

June 6th, 2017 at 9:33 PM ^

A worthy thread. I went to Normandy 7 years ago with my dad (daddymacdaddy) to see the D Day beaches and cemeteries. We were at the American cemetery on the 66th anniversary of D Day. There were flyovers of vintage aircraft and veterans everywhere - many in uniform and some in wheelchairs. They came from near and far to pay their respects to their fallen brothers all of whose gravestones face west - towards home. If you think watching it in a theater is moving (and it is) then try walking the immaculate grounds of this small patch of American soil in France. It is almost overwhelming. Do this trip sometime in your life. Go with your dad or your son or anyone you love. You will be humbled and thankful for the freedoms we enjoy in this country.

xtramelanin

June 6th, 2017 at 9:37 PM ^

“When we were on the beach, there were two other Rangers and myself running, and a German machine gun was firing at us. We hid behind an anti-tank obstacle. The three of us ducked behind it. We then headed towards the front again. It was terrible; there were bodies all over the place. They wiped out almost the entire 116th Infantry Regiment; they just murdered them. They were floating all over the place, there was blood in the water—it was just dark.”

and this one:  

We went up on toeholds and by digging our fingernails and bayonets into the ninety foot cliff. . . . When we got up on top we had only nine men left in my platoon,” recalled my dear friend Lt. Sid Salomon.

Salomon was one of the first Rangers on the beach. C Company of the 2nd Ranger Battalion landed at 0645. Dodging mortar and machine-gun fire, the men scaled ninety-foot cliffs of Pointe-et-Raz-de-la-Percée. Under fire, the Rangers made it to the top and attacked the Germans in an effort to deny them crucial high ground over the Charlie sector of Omaha Beach.

“We had two platoons, each in its own landing craft,” Salomon said. “I was in charge of one, and the other platoon leader was in charge of the other. Our goal was to cross the beach, climb the cliff, and neutralize the mortars and machine guns that were positioned on top of a beach that intelligence had indicated could threaten the landing at Omaha Beach.”

The fight began even before the Rangers reached the shore. “The trip was tough coming in,” Solomon said. “Keep in mind, it was postponed due to rough seas. The men started getting sick. We were issued paper bags, like you get in airplanes. The men filled them up and threw them over the side. Some men started using their helmets. We could hear the ping of the machine gun bullets hitting the side of the landing craft, and mortar shells were landing near the landing craft. I could see the concentric circles formed by the shells hitting the water. It was quite something, of course. One of the men joked, ‘Hey, they’re firing at us.’ It added a little humor to the situation.”

When the landing craft hit the beach, Solomon was the first to exit the vessel. “When I jumped off, I held my tommy gun over my head. I jumped into not-quite-chest-high water, and it took a few seconds to get my feet on the ground. In the meantime, the second man, Sergeant Reed, jumped off to the left. I always figured that the first man out would be hit. Fortunately, the Germans didn’t know when the ramp would lower. But they had us zeroed in with their machine guns, and the second man, Reed, was hit. He had fallen down, wounded, and had slid underneath the ramp.”

Solomon dragged Reed to the water’s edge and told him, “Sergeant, this is as far as I can take you, I have to get along.”

Then he took off running. “A mortar shell landed right behind me and killed or wounded all of my mortar section. I got some of the shrapnel—it hit my back and I landed right on my face. I fell down in the sand and thought I was dead.” Solomon remembered.

But he refused to give up. “Right then and there, I said to myself that I wasn’t going to die. This was no place to be lying, so I took my maps, I got up, and ran toward the overhang of the cliff,” he recalled.

“An aid man came over to me and took my field jacket and shirt off and started digging shrapnel out of my back. These were the days before penicillin, and each man carried a sulfa pack, and he put it on my back.” The medic told him. “That’s all I can do for you now.”

Despite the pain, Solomon began to climb the ninety-foot cliff. “Each man had a six-foot piece of rope that had a noose at the end of it and, ideally, we were to link the ropes together and scale the cliff,” he explained. “We didn’t bother with that since, of course, so many men had gotten killed and wounded. . . . We went up on toeholds and by digging our fingernails and bayonets into the cliff.”

But of the 37 men in the company, only nine would survive the climb.

Those nine had overcome tremendous odds, but the fighting — and the dying — weren’t finished yet. Salomon and a fellow platoon leader lay in a shellhole from where they could see the German trench they next needed to assault. “We were there only a minute or two and all of a sudden Bill Moody, the 1st Platoon commander, fell over on my shoulder. He had been killed by a bullet hole through his eyes,” Salomon recalled.

Without pausing to mourn, Salomon grabbed another of the Rangers who had made it to the top and said, “Let’s go!” They ran and jumped into the trench, following it until they came to a dugout. “I threw a white phosphorous grenade through the entrance and waited a minute,” Salomon explained. “We then sprayed the entrance.” With no one inside, they continued moving through the maze of trenches.

“We went a little further around a curve and were face to face with a German soldier. We were both equally stunned, but I grabbed him, and I figured this might be a good time to have a prisoner instead of killing him right then and there. I said, ‘Let’s send him down to the company commander,’ who was down at the beach with dead and wounded men maintaining order.”

“I sent the prisoner down the cliff,” he said. “I don’t know if he got down on his own or if they pushed him down—that was immaterial to me.”

It quickly became obvious that it would be silly to move much farther inland with so few men, Salomon said. “We proceeded to knock out a machine gun section and a mortar section. . . . We knocked out the German position and figured that we were doing our best by still holding our ground.”

L'Carpetron Do…

June 7th, 2017 at 1:38 PM ^

This is the most riveting thing I've read in months.  This is wmy I love mgoblog - of course its the go-to spot for Michigan sports and the best fan-run blog anywhere on the internet but I love the mgocommunity.  And the scope of things I've read here - the stuff beyond sports, can be inspiring and moving.

SpinachAssassin

June 6th, 2017 at 9:44 PM ^

I did a report on D-Day in middle school. It was moving then and it is moving now. Normandy is 100% on my bucket list, perhaps even this year. The least I can do to honor bravery and sacrifice is stand in solemn silence on that shore.

MGoWV

June 6th, 2017 at 9:47 PM ^

Visited there last summer. It is truly remarkable to think of the sacrifices they endured. The cliffs aren't nearly as much as what they were then yet they are still insane.

Definitely something I think you should cross off your bucket list soon!

Seth

June 6th, 2017 at 10:09 PM ^

My maternal grandpa was on a ship coming back from fighting in Africa and missed it, but my paternal grandfather flew a bunch of missions that night/morning. He was the radio op for a lead plane and they were bombing up and down the coast so the Germans wouldn't know which beaches would be hit specifically. They kept flying over, dropping their payload, and coming back, then getting sent out again.

Years later I visited France as a high schooler and went to Point d'Hoc, where you can still see the bomb craters from the allies' bombers. I took photos and brought them home to my grandpa, who said those couldn't possibly be from his plane. I said why, did you not bomb that particular beach and he said no he did for certain*, but by that point they were taking so much anti-aircraft fire that they were dropping their bombs in the water and turning back around again.

 

*Against regulations he kept tags from all of his bombing missions--the paper tags they pulled off the nose to arm the bombs. He'd write the mission and date on each. They really weren't supposed to do that because if he ever got captured German intelligence might be able to learn important things about the allies' planes and how often they're used. But it made it through the war. When he died we donated it to the B-24 museum.

A2YpsiBlue

June 6th, 2017 at 10:20 PM ^

I had a final project in eigth grade which was a series of six 1-2 page papers which I did on D-Day and I got lost in the stories while doing research.  I'm 33 now yet still remember many of the stories vividly.  

This was the central quote from the project, spoken by Colonel George Taylor to rally the men who were understandably shell shocked back into action:  "There are two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are dead and those who are going to die. Now let’s get the hell out of here."

Here is more information about him if you'd like.

stephenrjking

June 6th, 2017 at 10:23 PM ^

The finest men our nation produced. Not because they were patriotic, flag-waving heroes, but because they were ordinary farmers and factory workers and salesmen and they did it anyway.

Their light is fading now and we are poorer for it.

Imagine: The men that died on those beached, and throughout Europe and Africa and the Pacific. Some would still be alive today. Almost all would have lived to see my lifetime. They would have seen freeways and computers and desegregation and everything we take for granted. Wives, families, children and grandchildren. Houses and hobbies and friendships.

And they gave all of that up on beaches and jungle floors and snowy foxholes in Belgium.

We can't repay that.

Gucci Mane

June 6th, 2017 at 10:31 PM ^

So impressed and thankful for these men. Especially for my 2 grandpas and one great uncle who participated in WW2.
Reading about a few mgo poster's relatives is amazing. My uncle was shot down over Germany during his 13tg bombing mission. He spent the remainder of the war as a POW. He promised to God if he survived he would spend the rest of his life promoting Christianity. He followed through on that promise. Proud of him as well as my grandpas.

1VaBlue1

June 6th, 2017 at 10:32 PM ^

My grandfather wasn't at D-Day.  And thank God for that.  But he did have the awful opportunity of landing on Okinawa as a corpman.  I don't think the particular beach matters, its something that only that generation of men could do.  The Greatest Generation, indeed...

stephenrjking

June 6th, 2017 at 10:33 PM ^

The soldier, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training -- sacrifice.

I enjoy good oratory. In my opinion, MacArthur's "Duty, Honor, Country" address to West Point is one of the finest speeches ever given. This is a good day to read it. It is unflinchingly pro-soldier, but then, it would be, wouldn't it?

And here's Eisenhower's D-Day message.

 

SalvatoreQuattro

June 6th, 2017 at 10:46 PM ^

who landed seeing as they made up roughly half of the force that landed.

 

D-Day was not an American affair. It was an Allied effort.

 

Whoever negged this can eat a dick. Without Britain US does not participate in ETO much less win it.