Volume V: D-Day and Beyond/The War in France—The Things Our Fathers Saw [2019]

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From the bloody beach at Omaha through the hedgerow country of Normandy and beyond, American veterans of World War II—Army engineers and infantrymen, Coast Guardsmen and Navy sailors, tank gunners and glider pilots—sit down with you across the kitchen table and talk about what they saw and experienced, tales they may have never told anyone before.

363 PAGES.

Volume 5 in this series is really the book I had in mind to write as I began to collect and process WWII interviews after being inspired at our veterans' return to Normandy for the 40th anniversary of D-Day.

— “I had a vision, if you want to call it that. At my home, the mailman would walk up towards the front porch, and I saw it just as clear as if he's standing beside me—I see his blue jacket and the blue cap and the leather mailbag. Here he goes up to the house, but he doesn’t turn. He goes right up the front steps.

This happened so fast, probably a matter of seconds, but the first thing that came to mind, that's the way my folks would find out what happened to me.
The next thing I know, I kind of come to, and I'm in the push-up mode. I'm half up out of the underwater depression, and I'm trying to figure out what the hell happened to those prone figures on the beach, and all of a sudden, I realized I'm in amongst those bodies!” —Army demolition engineer, Omaha Beach, D-Day


— “My last mission was the Bastogne mission. We were being towed, we're approaching Bastogne, and I see a cloud of flak, anti-aircraft fire. I said to myself, ‘I'm not going to make it.’ There were a couple of groups ahead of us, so now the anti-aircraft batteries are zeroing in. Every time a new group came over, they kept zeroing in. My outfit had, I think, 95% casualties.” —Glider pilot, D-Day and Beyond


— “I was fighting in the hedgerows for five days; it was murder. But psychologically, we were the best troops in the world. There was nobody like us; I had all the training that they could give us, but nothing prepares you for some things.

You know, in my platoon, the assistant platoon leader got shot right through the head, right through the helmet, dead, right there in front of me. That affects you, doesn’t it?”
” —Paratrooper, D-Day and Beyond


— “Somebody asked me once, what was the hardest part for you in the war? And I thought about a young boy who came in as a replacement; the first thing he said was, ‘How long will it be before I'm a veteran?’


I said, ‘If I'm talking to you the day after you're in combat, you're a veteran.’


He replaced one of the gunners who had been killed on the back of the half-track. Now, all of a sudden, the Germans were pouring this fire in on us. He was working on the track and when he jumped off, he went down, called my name. I ran over to him and he was bleeding in the mouth…

From my experience before, all I could do was hold that kid’s hand and tell him it’s going to be all right. ‘You'll be all right.’ I knew he wasn't going to last, and he was gone the minute that he squeezed my hand…” —Armored sergeant, D-Day and Beyond


TABLE OF CONTENTS


AUTHOR’S NOTE 11
THE GREAT CRUSADE 23


THE GYRO MAN 27
ELECTRICAL SCHOOL 31
THE GYRO MACHINE 32
TWO MEN GONE 34
‘NORMANDY WAS A HORROR’ 39
MEETING ERNIE PYLE 41
‘I’LL TEAR THAT SHIP APART’ 42


THE MASTER MECHANIC 49
‘SOLDIERS ARE NOT REPAIR PEOPLE’ 53
WATERPROOFING SCHOOL 56
WHEELING AND DEALING 58
THE CONCENTRATION CAMP BOY 62


THE DRIVER 67
GUARD DUTY 72


THE PATHFINDER 73
THE DISASTER 74
NORMANDY 75
AIRBORNE 83


THE PARATROOPER 85
THE JUMP 88
WOUNDED AT CARENTAN 91
HOSPITALS 93
‘HE SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN THERE’ 94


THE GLIDER PILOT 97
OVERSEAS 100
THE LAST MISSION 103
PRISONER OF WAR 105
LIBERATION 108


THE ‘GREAT WALL OF HITLER’ 115


THE CRYPTOGRAPHER 119
CROSSING THE ATLANTIC 122
OMAHA BEACH 125
THE FLAGSHIP 126


THE COMBAT ENGINEER 129
H-HOUR 136
THE TANKERS 138


THE DEMOLITION MAN 141
DEMOLITION TRAINING 146
LOADING UP FOR THE ‘REAL MCCOY’ 150
STARTING IN 153
THE BELGIAN GATES 156
THE VISION 157
OMAHA BEACH 158
THE TANKER 159
THE MEDICS 160
THE FIRST NIGHT 162
THE SECOND NIGHT 165
‘THIS WAS A SUICIDE MISSION’ 167


THE TANKER 171
THE LANDING 176
‘THROWING MARBLES AT A CAR’ 177


THE COAST GUARDSMAN 179
‘THE SHADOW’ 184
THE ‘BLAST FURNACE’ 185
THE ‘SUICIDE NAVY’ 187
THE INFANTRYMAN 193
‘MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!’ 196
‘BODIES FLOATING IN THE OCEAN’ 197


THE MILITARY POLICEMAN 199
THE LANDING 201
THE ‘VENGEANCE’ ROCKETS 204


THE NAVY SIGNALMAN 207
‘A UNIQUE SITUATION’ 209
HUNDREDS OF BODIES 210
THE MULBERRY HARBORS 210
THE GREAT STORM 214

FIGHTING INLAND 221


HEDGEROW COUNTRY 223
COBRA/MORTAIN 233
SHOWDOWN AT MORTAIN 235


ASSAULT ON BREST 241
PRISONERS 243
‘KEEP YOU THERE UNTIL YOU GET KILLED’ 244
‘GOT NO JOB HERE FOR YOU’ 249


THE ARMORED SERGEANT 255
THE FOXHOLE 259
OVERSEAS 260
BREST 264
THE ‘SUNDAY SCHOOL PICNIC’ 266
SILVER STAR 268


THE HÜRTGEN FOREST 273
THE BATTLE OF SCHMIDT 274
‘PEOPLE CANNOT MAKE THE SAME MISTAKES AGAIN’ 276


THE FORWARD OBSERVER 277
TOUGH GUYS 278
CONVOY 282
BRITISH COMMANDOS 284
LANDING IN NORMANDY 288
GERMAN TANKS 289
THE HEDGEROWS 293
THE HÜRTGEN FOREST 297
FLASHBACKS AND NIGHTMARES 303
THE COMMON BOND 306


THE MILITARY POLICEMAN 313
THE BULGE BREAKS 313
INTO GERMANY 314
BUCHENWALD 315
THE RUSSIANS 316


THE ARMORED SERGEANT 321
BATTLE OF THE BULGE 321
WOUNDED 324
BUCHENWALD 327
THE HARDEST PART 329
‘WHEN THE SHOOTING STOPS’ 330
‘YOU DON'T OWE ME A THING’ 331


THE HIGH PRICE TAG 335