||Richard J. Ford
2nd Lt, K Company, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division
We loaded on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry)
which held one Company of Infantry (180 men and 6 Officers). The men were
not laughing. They had laughed and used to say we were in England to take
the place of the "home guard". They now knew the jig was up. They
had been briefed on what our job would be. We were just thankful that we were
not the first wave. This fell to the 116th Regt. which ended up being decimated
on the beach.
We loaded up in broad day light at "The
Hoe" in Plymouth on a nice sunny day. As you loaded on your craft you
called out your name, rank, and serial number. There was a fellow recording
this information. In 1975, I worked with a fellow who was an Officer in charge
of the recording mentioned above. He vividly remembered that process of loading
the troops and noting the number and type of craft they were put on. When
I told him the type of craft I loaded on he said, "You must have hit
that beach early."
We had one man who stabbed himself in the
foot with his bayonet during the crossing. There was no going back. The Navy
would not keep him on board and take him back after unloading us. He landed
with a bandaged foot.
During the crossing we heard speeches by President Roosevelt and Gen Eisenhower.
It was in this speech that Eisenhower coined the phrase " a great crusade"
and said God was with us.
We started out the night of June 4th, the
landing was to be on the 5th. As we sailed out the weather got stormy and
the seas rougher and rougher. Finally we put into Weymouth Harbor, and the
men thought it had been called off. We sailed again during the night. The
crossing was not too bad, but the seas were still quite rough. Luckily most
of the men were fishermen from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We were to land
at the Le Moulin draw. Primarily our job was to move through the 116th Regt.
who would have assaulted and cleared the beach. We would advance and secure
the towns of St. Laurent and Vierville and move on to a line which would run
from Trevieres through LaCambe. This was not to be too difficult a job "as
there were only labor troops in the area." Famous last words. They weren't
throwing shovels at us when we landed. Intelligence said the nearest German
fighting troops were at St.Lo about 60 miles back from the landing area. This
proved to be wrong as later we found out that the German 352nd Division had
moved up from St. Lo to practice counter invasion tactics. They knew we were
coming but not exactly when. I think they were a little surprised. In hind
sight, if we had landed at night, we might not have had as many casualties.
They would have had a harder time seeing us, but that would also apply to
us seeing them.
On our way toward the landing beach we
passed across the bow of the American Cruiser Augusta. It looked huge from
our perspective which was close to the water. The Augusta ended up later on
as our artillery support since the 110th Field Artillery, which was our Regimental
artillery support, had lost their guns in the channel. The Battleship Texas
was a little further beyond the Augusta and was firing its big guns.There
were big halos of flame around the muzzle of their guns when they fired. It
made you feel good to see this as it was kind of reassuring. "How could
they take this pounding by the Navy." Sad part was they did and were
waiting for us.
I felt sorry for some fellows in the crossing.
They were riding on huge flat barges loaded with fuel and ammunition. These
barges rode only a foot or two out of the water. As we went quite closely
by one of them, I waved and wished them good luck.
The weather was cold, gray and forbidding. The water was rough and cold.
As we approached our designated landing
sector, we knew the jig was up as there was so much noise, smoke and firing
of big guns. It was difficult to see the beach through all the smoke and haze.
We didn't land at our selected area but about 1500 yards to the North or left.
We were to land on Dog Red at the Le Moulin draw. Instead we landed in the
1st Div sector on one of the Green beach sites. This resulted in my Platoon
being mixed in with the 18th Regt of the 1st Division. At this spot the fire
was not too intense but there was enough artillery and mortar fire to make
you move. The LCI had a disembarking ramp on each side of its bow. There was
no loitering. I led my Platoon off the right side without too much difficulty.
The water was cold and rough and in my case chest deep. I was about 6 ft.
tall. Many days later, found out that the Navy changed our original landing
site because the original landing site was covered with corpses, under heavy
fire and littered with disabled equipment and the Naval Officer in charge
"didn't want to waste the men". A Naval Officer told me this about
a week after the landings. He said our craft had been hit and sunk and did
I know how many men were lost. I replied that I wasn't aware of this and that
I must have been off the craft and also my men when it was hit. My Platoon
was the first off the craft. I surmised the craft was hit and sunk after we
had departed it as the Company was pretty much intact.
Forty years later, I learned that things
were so bad on Omaha that they were thinking of abandoning it and not waste
anymore resources there and move the rest of the landing units to Utah Beach.
Southwick House, near Portsmouth, England, was the headquarters of Operation
Overlord . On one of the walls they have the whole operation painted on the
wall, showing the dispositions of all units in the operation.
As we were approaching the beach in the
landing craft, I saw a little dip , or niche, in the skyline of the bluff.
Forty years later, as my wife Vera and I walked Omaha Beach, she asked if
I could find where I had landed. As we walked north on the beach, I saw that
niche again, and told her,"this is the place." We went up a path
nearby that went up the bluff. Vera and I went up the path and it brought
us out near the present American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.
Below that niche, there was a small shelf-like
piece of land. I made this my first objective, and had as many men as were
about me to go with me.. Forget about the original plans, try to stay alive.
We were under Artillery and mortar fire. When wading in through chest deep
water, some shells exploded nearby. I thought "good thing we're in the
water" but realized that shrapnel travels through water as well as through
the air. An LCT (Landing Craft Tank) was backing off the beach and he offered
to take us in to the beach. I declined the offer thinking it would take too
long for us to scramble up into that craft, and when doing so we would be
a good target, standing still in the water. Some of the men near me didn't
like my decision and the craft moved on. There were runnels under the water
and when you stepped in one you could be in water over your head. That is
why men wearing their life belt too low would up- end and drown. When finally
got to the beach there were some men with me. The beach was flat and it looked
like a mile to the base of the bluff. I remember saying, "Follow Me"
and thought at the time "how corny", I sound like John Wayne. I
never looked back to see what the rest of the Company was doing or where they
were. It would be certain death to stand or wait on that beach for the rest
of the Company.
The beach was wide and flat and there were no craters for us to take cover,
so we made for the bluff and that little "shelf". The artillery
and mortars were giving us a fit. On the way to the bluff we went by a little
marshy area with cat-tails in it and a sign saying "Minen" which
told us the area was mined. By the time we got to the "shelf" we
were tired and we sat there to rest. It was discouraging to make our way up
the bluff (about 200 feet) and not be able to see who was firing at you and
you had no target to fire back at, just take it and keep going. I had looked
at my watch as our craft touched down and it was around 9:30 am. As we rested,
there was an enemy artillery emplacement to our left. We could see it and
they could see us. I think they had communication with the people on top of
the bluff as every time we moved a little it would bring fire from above.
This wasn't too effective so they began to drop hand grenades at us. As I
sat there and looked down on the beach, I was shocked to see the number of
bodies and the amount of material that was littering the beach. At this point,
I didn't think I would ever see England again, let alone the United States
I thought my number was up.
We watched as suddenly one of our Destroyers
come straight toward the beach. I thought it was going to run aground. It
suddenly turned broadside to the beach and began pumping rounds into that
artillery emplacement. After about five rounds the artillery piece ceased
to function and we resumed our ascent of the rest of the bluff. We were ascending
the bluff along a trail of dead men, who had given their lives to make it
safer for us. I speculated that they had set off personnel mines as their
bodies were quite mutilated and mangled and reminded one to be cautious. Walking,
in a crouch position, along their bodies it was safe, but the goriness was
very sobering to say the least. I passed one fellow who had been blown in
half. You could see the organs hanging out of the upper half of his body.
Moving up the bluff, the most frustrating thing was not being able to see
who or from where you were being fired on. When we got on top of the bluff,
we rounded up as many of our men as possible. I had no idea where the Company
was. By this time it was early evening. It was light until 11:00pm at this
time of year. I remember lying behind the rear wheels of a truck and being
One of the things that made this landing
so disastrous was the fact that we had no place to take cover on the beach.
The Air Force was to have bombed the beach creating craters for us to use.
They missed the beach by three miles. Their explanation being they were afraid
they might hit the landing craft, as the water was full of ships. How ever,
this bomb preparation was to take place long before we got on the beach. As
a result, that beach was as smooth and flat as a road and looked about two
miles deep. As a result the Germans were in a "shooting gallery"
and we were the "ducks."
I have talked to a fellow who was in the
Pacific. He had gone to Normandy and was surprised that so many houses near
the beach were not damaged. He said, in the Pacific they bombed the hell out
of the beach area in preparation for a landing.
It was getting dark and I didn't know where
the rest of the Company was. Had a Sgt. round up what men we had and put them
inside a walled courtyard. Then set out to find the Company. Found one of
my brother Officers, but he didn't know anything either. At least we were
in an area with some of our Company so didn't feel too alone. I remember,
when doing this wandering around, a lone German fighter plane came over the
road so low, I felt like I could reach up and grab his tail wheel. During
this wandering I fell into a ditch with a dead horse. I ran across the road
and jumped into the ditch only to land on a dead German. That poor sucker
must have been there all day as he was beginning to smell ripe. My introduction
to "war". The odor was very unpleasant but in the days to come you
got used to the stench of dead bodies, human and animal, and to eating in
such perfumed air. To this day, France has an odor of "death" for
One of our Officers, a Catholic, just had
to go to Confession. He was the first Officer of our company killed on D-Day.
Somebody said he had entered a building and was cut in half by a German "burp"
gun, actually it was a Schmeiser Machine Pistol. We named this weapon a "burp"
gun because it fired so fast that a burst from it sounded like a "burp".
The thing that really struck me was that
I had never seen so many dead and dismembered human bodies in my life. For
a kid of my upbringing this was a real shocker. However, before I left combat,
it was "old hat". The amount of abandoned and ruined equipment on
the beach was staggering.
Recalling how we were equipped for this
operation, in my opinion we were overloaded. The men had close to 60lbs on
their backs. We were loaded with ammunition each man carrying a couple extra
bandoleers of ammunition and several grenades. Our clothing , impregnated
against gas, was hot and smelly. We wore a Navy type gas mask, almost under
our chin, to keep our head above water if wounded while in the water. We had
a CO2 operated life belt around and above the waist. Some fellows wore them
too low and when they got in deep water and expanded the belt, they floated
upside down and drown.
Richard J. Ford (May