I was born in Salt Lake City,
Utah on 27 November 1921. When the USA entered World War II in 1941,
I was 20 years old and was hoping to serve as a full-time missionary
for my church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons),
but instead I joined the Army.
On June 6, 1944, I was a
2nd Lt. and an infantry platoon leader in the First Infantry Division,
18th Regiment, Company B. My unit was assigned to land on Omaha
Beach, in the section called "Easy Red", in the second
wave. We rushed down the ramp of the LCI [landing craft] into water
about knee deep and ran up to the beach to re-assemble there. There
were dead bodies floating in the water and many on the beach. Some
tanks had been hit by artillery. The confusion on the beach made
it impossible for me to get my bearings. Death and wreckage were
everywhere. German mortar shells were still hitting the beach. The
noise from the planes, boats, artillery explosions and gunfire was
There was a red-headed fellow with a very white face looking up
at me in a kneeling position on the beach. I stepped back from the
sight, and was given a push by a man kneeling on the ground behind
me. He yelled, "Do you want to get us both killed?" He
was in the process of disarming a land mine. I gestured and muttered
something about the red-headed fellow in front of me. The soldier
exclaimed, "Don't worry about him, he's dead! Just watch where
you put your feet." I then came out of my daze and was very
alert to everything around me.
We all lined up and started
up the hill, one after another, following the soldiers that were
removing the mines. There were explosions all around us but I couldn't
see anyone firing guns at us. There were uncovered land mines on
both sides of the path so we knew we had to watch our step. It seemed
to take a couple of hours to get up the hill.
Before we went over the top of the hill, I looked back and contemplated
the scene before me. Hundreds of ships and boats were circling in
the Channel. LCI's and LST's were landing men and tanks. With planes
soaring overhead, big shells bursting on land and sea, and the beach
littered with men and machines, I thought of the millions of dollars
and thousands of lives being spent to wage war and the tragic cost
and horror of it all. At the top of the hill we had to cross a mine
field, after which we dug in for a counterattack, which never came.
For the next several weeks
I led my platoon, moving forward during the day and digging foxholes
for the night. It was very tedious fighting from hedgerow to hedgerow.
After about six weeks, we dug in and held the line.
Finally, our unit was relieved from the front lines and allowed
to rest for a few days. I was able to take my first shower since
D-Day - it was wonderful! One day after I was relieved, the man
who replaced me in my foxhole was killed during a German counterattack.
At that time and following several other close encounters with death,
I felt that my Heavenly Father had blessed me and spared my life
for a reason.
On July 27, 1944, a few miles
to the west of St. Lo, my life changed forever. I was walking on
a narrow sunken road bordered with hedgerows, about one meter behind
a tank. Suddenly a horrible explosion occurred, which I learned
later was due to an anti-tank mine. Immediately everything went
totally black. I thought, "Something has happened to me and
I don't know what, but I will be okay in a second." There was
a steady, strong current of air hitting my face, chest, and legs,
and I seemed to hang suspended. There was a deafening sound that
just kept ringing and it seemed as if it would never stop. Finally,
however, the strong current of air and the explosion died out. I
started to get very weak all of a sudden and I collapsed on the
ground. It occurred to me that one of my legs might be blown off,
so I used my left hand, which later proved to be the only part of
my body that wasn't hit, to feel my legs. My right thigh was bloody,
my left knee was bloody, and my right hand which had been holding
my carbine was just numb. It was all bloody, and whether it had
some fingers missing or not, I neither knew nor cared right then.
My chest was starting to hurt and feeling it with my left hand,
I knew it was a bloody mess also. I couldn't see, so naturally I
felt my face. It was bloody also. I wondered if my lungs were punctured
as my chest was an aching mass of flesh. But after drawing a few
deep gulps of air, I decided they were all right. But everything
was black and I was getting scared. I had been stunned at first,
but now pain was engulfing me.
My aid man, Private Nonamaker,
was standing by me then, and how he got to where I was so fast,
I never knew. Someone asked him why he didn't give me morphine,
and he replied that he couldn't give it to anyone with a head injury.
He said, "How are you, Lieutenant? It's not so very bad, you'll
be okay; it always seems worse than it really is." He kept
talking to me in this same manner all the time he was sprinkling
sulfa powder and dressing my wounds. The pain seemed lessened when
the sulfa powder was administered. He was the best aid man I ever
I guess I had lost a lot of blood by now because I suddenly became
very cold, and asked for a blanket which was immediately taken off
the tank and thrown on me. The pain which had been getting worse
stopped a little as my body started to get cold and my arms and
legs became numb. I kept wondering why I didn't pass out, and I
sincerely wished I would.
When my aid man was dressing my wounds I remember thinking, 'Golly,
maybe I am going to die. Do I want to live? If I can take a deep
breath without something breaking or blood rushing to fill my lungs,
I'll be OK.' When I found out that I could still breathe well, I
knew I wanted to live. I was filled with hope that I wouldn't die
because I could still breathe.
I remember spitting quite a bit when my aid man came up. There seemed
to be a fine gravel in my mouth. And after a few seconds of thought,
I decided it was my teeth. It was very hard to say anything because
there just seemed to be a small hole for my mouth, and I couldn't
breathe through my nose. My tongue and face were pretty badly swollen,
what was left of them. I remember pleading, "Don't cover my
mouth with a bandage, or I can't breathe."
When no one seemed to be around me, I said "Somebody say something,
keep talking." The last thing I remember was calling out my
concern about the mines. Then oblivion came.
I woke up in a field hospital
on the Normandy coast. The realization that I was permanently blind
came slowly over the next few days. I asked the doctor, "Please,
tell me what chances there are of my left eye being all right?'
(my right eye had already been declared inoperable). He hesitated,
then said, "With my experience I would say about one chance
in fifty thousand." Then I knew he had been trying to let me
have it slowly.
They told me my right eye would be removed, both legs cleaned out,
shrapnel removed from my chest, my chest sewed up, and my hand fixed.
I asked for some Mormon elders (from the Church of Jesus Christ
of Latter-day Saints) to come to visit me so I could receive a blessing
before the operation. None were available so I asked for some olive
oil. Due to wartime shortages this request was impossible also.
They brought me some mineral oil and I anointed and blessed myself
as best I could. This brought me much needed peace of mind.
In addition to blindness, I had lost the right side of my chest,
my calf and thigh muscles from one of my legs, and I had shrapnel
over my entire body. Some of the shrapnel has been slowly working
its way out of my body over the past 50 years! I still occasionally
get a painful boil on random parts of my body; when it pops they
invariably find a fine metal speck, like a grain of sand. To this
day, I consistently trigger the airport security devices.
Following the injury, I spent
the next two years in a variety of hospitals and rehabilitation
centers, recovering from my wounds and adapting to life as a blind
person. In July 1946, I was hired in Baltimore by the Division of
Vocational Rehabilitation in the Maryland State Department of Education
as a Rehabilitation Counselor for the blind. In this capacity, I
visited factories and demonstrated to both factory managers and
blind people that a blind person could perform a particular task.
Often the blind person was more difficult to convince than the factory
manager! Once I had proven to all concerned that a blind person
could do the job, I was then replaced by one of my blind clients,
and I went on to the next "opportunity." Over the course
of the next several years, I qualified many jobs for the blind and
was told that I was "leading the nation" every year for
10 years in terms of the number of jobs qualified by a blind rehabilitation
After gaining the personal
self-confidence that I could hold a job and support a family, I
proposed to my college sweetheart, Sarah Bagley, by saying, "If
you'll sort the socks and read the mail, I can do the rest."
She accepted, even though her parents tried to discourage her from
marrying a blind person. Ironically, in later life my father-in-law
became blind himself and I helped him adapt to his new circumstances.
We were married on 1 September 1948 in the Mormon temple in Salt
Lake City, Utah. In our religion, marriage is not just for this
life only, but for all eternity. It gives me great comfort to know
that in the next life I will be with (and see!) my wife, our eight
children, and our 40 grandchildren.