Memories of D-Day From the Men Who Fought

American Soldiers on Normandy beach after D-DayOccasionally, when we are enmeshed in historical discussions about the D-Day invasions, we tend to gloss over the most important part of the Allied war machine that led us to victory in Europe in WWII: the soldiers who made it happen.

To remember the heroic deeds of those men, we would like to share some segments from Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There, by Ronald J. Drez (LSU Press, 1994). Ron is Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours’ chief historian and has led numerous tours to study D-Day. He worked with Dr. Stephen Ambrose and has interviewed over 4,000 WWII veterans showcasing their stories in many of his writings.

Ken Cordray
“After getting my seat in the plane, it finally struck me that this was it; that in a few minutes I’d be behind the German lines—that is, if we made it to our drop zone, and if I made the landing without being hit, and if I was able to find some of our men after landing. It was a terrible sinking feeling, realizing that within a few minutes I might not even be around on this old earth anymore.” [1]

LeGrand Johnson
Johnson, a North Carolinian, was a company commander in the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. He was concerned about his overloaded plane even getting airborne:

“So we did take off. . . . we were so grossly overloaded that I didn’t think we were going to make it, either, ‘cause I was standing up in the cockpit behind him and boy, he was praying and cussing and pleading, and—it got up okay.” [2]

Bob Brewer
“When we hit the coast of France. . . . we hit such flak as I had never seen, and that’s why the planes broke up. When we came out of the clouds, there was one plane on our left wing, but just before we jumped, that plane blew up in a great orange flash. That was the plane that had the company commander of E-Company, Lieutenant Meehan.” [3] Lt. Thomas Meehan

Lt. Thomas Meehan of Easy Company had written a brief letter to his wife just prior to takeoff and passed it to a comrade on the ground. This is what he penned:

Dearest Anne:

In a few hours I’m going to take the best company of men in the world into France. We’ll give the bastards hell. Strangely, I’m not particularly scared. But in my heart is a terrific longing to hold you in my arms. I love you Sweetheart-forever.

Your Tom

Carwood Lipton
Lipton was also a member of Easy Company. He took part in the attack on the German guns at Brécourt Manor planned by Lt. Dick Winters.

“There was no time for a reconnaissance as he outlined his attack plan to us. When Ranney and I got out to our position, we found that heavy brush and ground cover prevented us from seeing into the gun positions or seeing any of the enemy positions there. . . . So I decided to climb into the trees and see if I could get fire into the enemy positions from there. . . . It gave me a ringside seat, looking right down into the German positions that were only seventy-five yards away. I could see about fifteen of the Germans, some in prepared positions and some prone in the open, all of them firing towards the frontal attack. I was in plain view of the Germans out in front of me, but they were concentrating on that frontal attack rather than looking in my direction so they didn’t see me.”

Coming in to Omaha Beach

Bob Slaughter
“It was a terrible ride into the beach. . . the battleship Texas was firing into the cliffs, and everytime that big fourteen-inch gun went off, a tremendous tsunami swamped our boat, and the water would come over the side and just soak us and make our seasickness worse.

“As we go in to one thousand yards offshore, we started taking some mortar shells and some artillery. They were just over our bow and exploding off to our side, and we could also hear the small arms as we got in a little closer—the small arms were firing at us.”

Roy Stevens
“We were sick and wet as we headed for shore. We were about one thousand yards from shore and I could see the beach pretty well, when I looked and saw a hole in front of that boat and the water pouring in . . . and we went down. Out of thirty men on that boat, we lost one—he drowned. We were in the water about an hour, and boats came along and picked us up and got us back to the ship.”

Warner Hamlett
“After we jumped into the water, it was every man for himself. . . . As I was going straight toward the beach, I saw Lieutenant Hilscher go down on his knees as a shell exploded. He fell into a hole caused by the explosion. He died there on the beach. . . . We were supposed to wait at the seawall until wire cutters could cut the tremendous web of wire that the Germans had placed on top of it. During this time, Lieutenant Wise of F company was directing his team behind the seawall, when a bullet hit him in the forehead. He continued to instruct his men until he sat down and held his head in the palm of his hand before falling over dead.”

[1] Voices, p. 71.

[2] Voices, p. 81.

[3] Ibid. p. 84. We visit the “Stick 66” crash site memorial, where the plane went down, on BoB and on many D-Day tours.

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