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Richard J. FORD
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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

Richard J. FORD

Page 1

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 shot at.

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 me.

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.

 

Copyright: Laurent Lefebvre