Thursday, June 6, 2019

Day of Days

Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class (BM2) Ted Jackson had one eye on the beach and the other on the infantrymen huddled in front of him. His Higgins boat was pitching, rolling, and yawing a lot. Sure, he'd seen far worse seas in his three years in the Coast Guard, but for the soldiers he was ferrying to the beach this was probably the worst ride they'd ever been on. Most of them were vomiting, a number of them were praying, all were whey-faced and shivering, save one.

Near the ramp, facing his men, was an older man, grizzled-looking and dead-eyed. He was watching "his" boys. All the training, all the effort of the past year were about to come to fruition. This was old hat to First Sergeant Mendez, he'd made the landings in North Africa and Sicily before being wounded near a small Sicilian town he'd never got the name of. His wound wasn't bad enough to send him Stateside, but it kept him out of action long enough so that he missed his outfit moving from Italy to England to prepare for this: the invasion of Normandy.

Soldat Heinz Bäcker tossed away the remnants of the bitter ersatz coffee and wiped the sleeve of his tunic across his lips. Acorns, who makes coffee out of acorns, he thought. Only the bloody Deutsches Heer. I'll bet the Amis and the Tommies don't have to drink this swill.

"Bäcker, it's our shift, go get some chow. Cookie has more beans today!"

"Iss Scheiße Odo. We had beans yesterday. We'll probably have beans again tomorrow. What happened to all the Wurst cookie promised us, did you, Dicke Hermann, eat all of it yourself?"

Odo Meyer chuckled briefly, then his face went still as he saw the sergeant coming up behind Heinz. He thought it was funny that everybody called him Dicke Hermann, an unflattering nickname for Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, head of the Luftwaffe who had famously stated, "No enemy bomber can reach the Ruhr, if one reaches the Ruhr, my name is not Göring. You can call me Meyer." But Oberfeldwebel Georg Krebs did not.

Before the sergeant could chastise Bäcker for using Meyer's dangerous nickname (as the Gestapo would not find it funny at all), he paused and lifted his head, listening.

"Bäcker you're staying here we need every man on duty. Meyer, go down and sound the alarm, get the men to their posts! Every man to stand to!"

Before either of the young soldiers could say a word, they both heard the sound of big shells overhead. What the Hell? Someone is firing from the sea? Then it struck Bäcker, they're coming. The Allies are coming!

BM2 Jackson had to fight the wheel as they got closer to the beach. Seems to be a cross current pushing us away from where we're supposed to land. Why aren't the other coxswains seeing this? He had to wonder, was he the only man in the first wave who noticed that they were all off course. Dammit, I suppose I have to follow the crowd, makes no sense to land a platoon all by their lonesomes when everybody else lands elsewhere.

Crap, he thought as he spun the wheel to follow the boats ahead of him. That's when he noticed the rumbling of naval gunfire overhead. Sounds like the battlewagons are starting to hit their targets. Hope they know not to fire short!

First Sergeant Mendez yelled out at the men, "Get yourselves ready! Get off the damn boat as soon as the ramp drops and get your asses to the sea wall. Stay low, stay alert, and dammit, keep moving!"

Right after those inspiring words his lieutenant deposited his breakfast down the sergeant's leg. Before he could do anything else, he heard the boat's engine rev up and felt the bottom scrape over the sand. The whir of the ramp falling left no room for thought, time to unass the boat!

Second Lieutenant Saul Ginsberg was mortified that he'd puked on his sergeant, but he had never felt so miserable in his entire life. As the ramp of their boat dropped into the surf, the young lieutenant from Fresno, California took one step forward. He heard things in the air, which puzzled him, it reminded him of his time in the pits at the rifle range going through ROTC.

The ramp of landing craft PA-30-31 grounded, exposing the infantrymen who were beginning to move forward to get off the boat. At that point the German gunner who had been firing at their boat adjusted his aim.

Oberfeldwebel Krebs pushed Bäcker aside, "Dammit Junge, you always fire too high. Watch this!" Putting his shoulder into the butt Krebs lowered his aiming point to just in front of the Ami landing craft which was maybe 150 meters away. He pulled the trigger and walked his rounds from the sand into the boat itself.

He'd had the boys strip all the tracer ammunition out of their ready ammunition and most of the stuff stored in their bunker. When asked why he did that, he pointed out that the Amis could see the tracers just as well as they could, and that would pinpoint their position. He'd learned that the hard way, on the Eastern Front.

2Lt Ginsberg felt something tug at his field jacket sleeve, "what was that?" he wondered. Then he heard his radioman behind him grunt and fall against his legs. 1Sgt Mendez shoved him off the boat and face first into the cold water. As he rolled over to yell at the older man, he saw his radioman's lifeless body on the ramp. He also saw that a good third of his platoon was already down, never having made it off the boat.

At that moment 1Sgt Mendez grabbed him by the collar and began to drag him forward.

"Dammit lieutenant, ya gotta move son. Let's go! Let's go!" Mendez's bellowed commands had the same effect here on Omaha Beach as they did in training. The troops began to move, with purpose, spreading out, hunched over and moving inland.

"Peters grab that BAR, Johnson ain't gonna need it!"

2Lt Ginsberg wondered how Mendez knew that was Johnson, the man was missing his head. Oh yeah, he had the only BAR in the platoon. They were supposed to get two more but...

"Dammit lieutenant, quit woolgathering and freaking lead us in!" Mendez was insistent, and Ginsberg was used to that. He'd learned to rely on the big Cuban sergeant and in the confusion of combat, the guy seemed to be a rock, nothing fazed him.

"Helm, left five degrees rudder, bring us in closer!"

"Five degrees left rudder, Aye! Sir, my rudder is left five degrees!"

The low, sleek gray destroyer moved closer in to the beach. The captain could see that the men in the first wave were being cut to pieces. He had to give them a chance, but he prayed there was enough water under the keel for this. Otherwise his next command might be a desk in the Aleutians!

The gunnery officer had his target, he adjusted the gun director to bring the two forward 5-inch mounts onto the target he had spotted. What appeared to be at least one machine gun and multiple infantry aligned along the top of the bluff. They were in prepared defenses but with no overhead cover.


The two forward mounts aboard USS Emmons (DD-457) barked once, then again, then a third time before the gunnery officer shifted them to a new target. In the judgement of Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Oliver Salliotte, the target he'd first spotted was destroyed.

Bäcker's head was ringing, his mouth seemed to be full of dirt and he couldn't see a thing. He seemed to recall an explosion just beyond their position, then another to one side which had wounded his friend Odo. (Soldat Meyer had actually been killed instantly by the impact of the 5-inch shell from Mount 52 of USS Emmons.)

"Ach mein Gott!" Bäcker thought, "I've been buried alive!"

"Get up Junge! You're not dead yet!" Oberfeldwebel Krebs struggled to get the young soldier on his feet, it was tough to do so with only one arm. His left arm hung useless at his side, the sleeve of his tunic shredded by the detonation of the 5-inch round so close by. As far as he could tell, only he and Bäcker were still alive. They had to get away from this place as fast as they could.

2Lt Ginsberg couldn't believe his eyes. He and Mendez with about seven other men had reached the seawall, as the big sergeant turned to get his men into action, a stray piece of shrapnel had torn into his face.

"Shit, shit, shit, that effing hurts! LT grab a bandage out of my first aid kit!"

Shaking, the lieutenant did so, he couldn't function without this man, he was the soul of the platoon. As he tore open the bandage, he pressed it to the sergeant's face. Who roughly tore it out of the lieutenant's hands.

"Jesus LT, a man could effing bleed to death while you fumble around. Don't look so sad dammit, the Krauts haven't killed me yet. Facial wounds always look nastier than they are. Hell, ain't you ever cut yourself shaving? Suppose not. You, Connors, lay down some fire on that spot up there, keep the Krauts' heads down while we figure out our next move."

2Lt Ginsberg settled down when he saw that Mendez seemed to be okay. The man's field jacket was a bloody mess but he was alive and meaner than ever.

Hell, he might just live through this yet.

Seventy-five years ago today, men from eight nations fought their way ashore on five beaches in Normandy: Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. 156,000 soldiers went ashore on that day to begin a campaign which wouldn't end until Adolf Hitler lay dead in the ruins of the capital city of the Third Reich.

Over 10,000 of those men would become casualties on that day, of whom 4,414 were killed.

Of the men who began the drive to liberate Europe from the Nazis, many are still there. Within sight of the beaches they came ashore on, their grave markers mute testimony to their courage, their honor, and their sacrifice.

Remember them always.



  1. Very well done Sarge. Saw a ninety seven year old do a tandem jump replicating the jump he did on this date. It looked like he could have jumped alone again.

    1. I saw that as well - he said that the jump he made at 97 was a lot smoother than the one he made back in '44. Evidently his arm got hung up as he was exiting the plane, and he got banged against the fuselage. He didn't mention the incoming AAA fire, but I bet that the fact he wasn't getting shot at yesterday also smoothed things out a bit!

      We are indebted to these men, more than we can ever repay - God bless all of them forever!

    2. I heard that he said this jump was easier- no one was shooting at him this time!

    3. It was also during the day!

  2. Those were men. And are men. Worthy of admiration and emulation. We can do no more than our duty, and should strive to do no less. Those men exceeded that I think.

  3. Great post.

    When I was born there were a couple of veterans from the American Civil War still living, and a bit later in my life veterans from World War One weren't uncommon.

    Not only remember them, but take time to talk to them while we still can.

    Not a very long time ago I was visiting a family member in the hospital, and on the way out I looked at an older gent's ball cap and asked him what he did in the army.
    He replied that he spent a couple of years in Europe during the war and then we had a great time talking.
    He surprised me when he looked at my Navy ball cap and said, "You're crazy for joining the Navy!" Then he went on to explain that even when a guy next to him got killed, he survived, and to quote him, "You sailors die in wholesale bunches."

    The father of a friend was a medic with a tank destroyer unit in Europe, and our friend told us of his Dad's answer when his father was asked what he thought of Germany during the war, our friend said that his Dad thought just a bit and then said that in many ways it reminded him of Pennsylvania, and if the Germans hadn't been trying to kill him he would have enjoyed it.

    More about the USS Emmons (DD-457).

    Again, great post and thank you.

    1. Before I went into the Air Force I worked in a factory. Many of my co-workers were WW2 vets. One had been on Guadalcanal. Another had been a B-17 gunner on the Schweinfurt raid. Yet another still remembered the cold of the Ardennes in 1944. Great men all, simple guys, just doing their jobs, then returning to home and peace. But never forgetting their buddies who didn't come home.

      Great men. I miss them.

    2. Having had the privilege to also know many WWII vets, I was always amazed at how humble they all were. To a man, they always said they were not anything special, that they only did what anyone else would have done, they just were doing their job, their duty, and they were grateful to be able to come back to their families and live the rest of their days in the country they sacrificed so much for. I miss them as well!!

    3. Not sure we'll see their like again. More's the pity.

    4. Let us hope we don't need to see the likes of them again. But...

  4. Back in the late 70's I went to Letterman Army hospital in San Francisco (or was it PHS?), I was in my CG uniform. Out front there was an old guy on crutches with an Army ball cap indicating WWII, Korea & Vietnam. As I walked by he said "I don't like the Coast Guard". I stopped & looked at him, not really sure what was up, then he says "every time I saw a coastie they were driving a boat taking me someplace people tried to shoot me". Then he smiled.

    1. great story, Rob - thanks for the laugh!

    2. Too many Coasties died piloting and crewing landing craft, invasion spotting boats, bumboats and other small craft, and most importantly minesweepers.

      To the Coasties! Semper Paratus! And to their unofficial slogan, "You have to go out!"

    3. But you don't have to come back...

  5. Went to Normandy --and the cemetery behind Omaha --a couple of years ago. Astonished that we could actually do that against opposition. Impressed with the craters (still there) of Naval Gunfire. Proud of the way French schoolchildren were quietly and respectfully touring the cemetery.

    1. It's hard to believe what those guys went through.

  6. When I was in high school, the dad at the next farm over was a tanker in Europe. One of the pilots at the local crop duster outfit was Rollie Rhinebarger (sp?) who flew with Pappy Boyington and the Black Sheep.

    In my younger years, when asked why I ever enlisted, I would struggle for words. It wasn't until I was older that it finally crystallized. Now, I say this: When you come of age, able to stand a post and toe the line, how can you stand in front of all those perfect white crosses that go on forever, and say "It's too hard" or "I have other plans" or some other BS. How do you not say "Rest easy. I got this."? I sure as hell couldn't.

  7. Lt. T.F.Barton (wife's father) was piloting his P-47 fighter over Normandy 6/6/1944.

  8. If you haven't already, visit Insty and read the "If you read nothing else" link. Holy Mother of God. We spent 3 month's studying that Operation in SAMS. Never in that chilling a detail. I agree...If you read nothing else today. Read that.

    1. Thanks for that link juvat....... mind-numbing to read......just....just....

    2. Thanks juvat, I'll have a look tonight.

    3. One of the most momentous things the US Army did after the war was to realize that all knowledge of what had happened, the logistics, the planning, the implementation, the screw-ups, the successes and, more importantly, the failures, would eventually be lost. So they (the US Army) commissioned a number of top-notch historians to compile as complete a record of what had just happened as possible. Pictures, plans, maps, everything. And published them.

      The book on the seizure of the Gilberts and Marshals is one I own. Reading the assault on Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa, reads like this. Men drowning in shell holes and small canyons in the coral, blown up in the assault boats, machine gunned while struggling to breath. Trapped behind the seawall for hours, not able to move because to move was to die.

      The first wave at Omaha, horrible as it was, achieved the goal that all first waves are, unfortunately, designed to do. Soak up the damage. Survival is a second goal. One can plan for the first wave to achieve success, but to bank on it is to lose.

      All these histories are available from in either .pdf format or actual book format for purchase.

    4. Reading about the prep for the Marshals invasions actually helped me plan for camping trips. Such things as extra ammo and guns, okay. Extra uniforms including underwear, shoes, socks, comfort items like gum and candybars? Whodathunk that a half-roll of toilet paper with a candy bar inside would become a morale booster?

    5. You don't know that you need it, until you need it.

  9. Great telling of the beginning of a great Crusade. Very chilling, but very good.

    The lessons learned in the Pacific at Makin and at Tarawa, Bloody Tarawa about naval gunfire support echoed all around the world via the US Navy. Get in close. Slow or Stop. Fire point blank, in the enemy's face. Fire until you are sure the target is gone, then fire again. Move to next target. Keep an eye on previous target. Kill it until the dirt is gone. Kill it until the very air is destroyed.

    Lessons reaffirmed at Kwajalein and Roi-Namur in late January and early February of 1944.

    The USS Emmons and the other naval fire support ships practiced this lesson very well on this day 75 years ago.

    The will of the soldiers and the people to complete the task was incredible. 4 years of inevitability, of crushing material weight, of spirit. A nation almost completely united (for all intensive purposes 99.99%.) We almost saw that same will after 9-11. But we lost it so quickly.

    For those who fought on this day and every D-Day, Huzzah and Godspeed!

    (And you really neeeeeeeed to get to the D-Day Museum down in New Orleans, if only to hang with Murphy in a really cool museum. juvat is close enough, and so is OldNFO and a handful of others. Make it a Chant weekend (after checking with the museum to make sure it's open, of course, Demon Murphy being Demon Murphy (the demon, not the one with the two dogs...)) Their presentation on the Pacific was, when I saw it, extremely good.

    1. Naval gunfire support is pretty important. Too bad the current flags don't (or can't) understand that.

  10. Thanks so much. Marvelous!
    When are you going to finish/publish the whole thing?

    1. A work in progress. The spirit is willing but finding the time to write is often the big problem.

      And thanks Dave.

  11. Well done Sarge.
    Salute to all those poor SOBs who worked hard to make the other guys die for their country.

    "[T]he soldier, above all other people, prays for peace, for he must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." General Douglas MacArthur in his Duty, Honor, Country speech.
    John Blackshoe

  12. Deep respect, and thankfulness to all involved.
    There were DDs that suffered bottom damage, they got so clise, to support the troops.

    1. The tin can sailors did their jobs that day.

    2. They definitely did. The rocky/sandy beaches, perfect for shelving 11th century ships, were too shallow and dangerous for deep draft vessels, yet they came in, and came in close. Thank God they did.

      In the Pacific, after the Gilberts, the battlewagons got as close to the reef edges as they could. People just thought we stopped doing point-blank fire from capital ships after Manila Bay in 1897...

      And, in the Pacific, even the attack transports provided shore fire, when they weren't shooting at planes, of course. If it had a gun, then it was to shoot. The movie and book "Away All Boats" does a good job of telling the story of these wonderful ships.

    3. Every ship was a combatant to one extent or another. Had to be.

  13. President Trump's speech at Normandy today was... moving/brilliant/awe inspiring/emotional/(insert your word here).


    And he even mentioned "There were the fighting Poles,..." and other countries.

    Transcript and video here:

    (Sorry for the loooong link, but this was the first site that I could find that had a transcript.)


Just be polite... that's all I ask. (For Buck)
Can't be nice, go somewhere else...

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