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Invasion of Normandy, June 6, 1944
On the Beach
The Allied invasion of Hitler's "Fortress Europe" began in the early morning hours of June 6, 1944 when American and British paratroops dropped behind the intended invasion beaches to disrupt German communications. At dawn, the sea invasion began as an Allied Armada disgorged thousands of troops at five beaches along France's Normandy coast.
By the end of the day, the Allies had achieved a tenuous toehold that would be laboriously expanded over the next weeks and would lead ultimately to the Nazi defeat in the West.
"I screamed at Butch, 'Get up and run!. . .' "
Robert Edlin was a member of the 2nd Ranger Battalion that joined the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach. We join his story as he his assault craft becomes mired on a sandbar:
"Our assault boat hit a sandbar. I looked over the ramp and we were at least seventy-five yards from the shore, and we had hoped for a dry landing. I told the coxswain, "Try to get in further." He screamed he couldn't. That British seaman had all the guts in the world but couldn't get off the sandbar. I told him to drop the ramp or we were going to die right there.
We had been trained for years not to go off the front of the ramp, because the boat might get rocked by a wave and run over you. So we went off the sides. I looked to my right and saw a B Company boat next to us with Lt. Bob Fitzsimmons, a good friend, take a direct hit on the ramp from a mortar or mine. I thought, there goes half of B Company.
It was cold, miserably cold, even though it was June. The water temperature was probably forty-five or fifty degrees. It was up to my shoulders when I went in, and I saw men sinking all about me. I tried to grab a couple, but my job was to get on in and get to the guns. There were bodies from the I I6th floating everywhere. They were facedown in the water with packs still on their backs. They had inflated their life jackets. Fortunately, most of the Rangers did not inflate theirs or they also might have turned over and drowned.
I began to run with my rifle in front of me. I went directly across the beach to try to get to the seaway. In front of me was part of the II6th Infantry, pinned down and lying behind beach obstacles. They hadn't made it to the seaway. I kept screaming at them, 'You have to get up and go! You gotta get up and go!' But they didn't. They were worn out and defeated completely. There wasn't any time to help them.
I continued across the beach. There were mines and obstacles all up and down the beach. The air corps had missed it entirely. There were no shell holes in which to take cover. The mines had not been detonated. Absolutely nothing that had been planned for that part of the beach had worked. I knew that Vierville-sur-Mer was going to be a hellhole, and it was.
When I was about twenty yards from the seaway I was hit by what I assume was a sniper bullet. It shattered and broke my right leg. I thought, well, I've got a Purple Heart. I fell, and as I did, it was like a searing hot poker rammed into my leg. My rifle fell ten feet or so in front of me. I crawled forward to get to it, picked it up, and as I rose on my left leg, another burst of I think machine gun fire tore the muscles out of that leg, knocking me down again.
I lay there for seconds, looked ahead, and saw several Rangers lying there. One was Butch Bladorn from Wisconsin. I screamed at Butch, 'Get up and run!' Butch, a big, powerful man, just looked back and said, 'I can't.' I got up and hobbled towards him. I was going to kick him in the ass and get him off the beach. He was lying on his stomach, his face in the sand. Then I saw the blood coming out of his back. I realized he had been hit in the stomach and the bullet had come out his spine and he was completely immobilized. Even then I was sorry for screaming at him but I didn't have time to stop and help him. I thought, well, that's the end of Butch. Fortunately, it wasn't. He became a farmer in Wisconsin.
As I moved forward, I hobbled. After you've been hit by gunfire, your legs stiffen up, not all at once but slowly. The pain was indescribable. I fell to my hands and knees and tried to crawl forwards. I managed a few yards, then blacked out for several minutes. When I came to, I saw Sgt. Bill Klaus. He was up to the seaway. When he saw my predicament, he crawled back to me under heavy rifle and mortar fire and dragged me up to the cover of the wall.
Klaus had also been wounded in one leg, and a medic gave him a shot of morphine. The medic did the same for me. My mental state was such that I told him to shoot it directly into my left leg, as that was the one hurting the most. He reminded me that if I took it in the ass or the arm it would get to the leg. I told him to give me a second shot because I was hit in the other leg. He didn't.
There were some Rangers gathered at the seaway - Sgt. William Courtney, Pvt. William Dreher, Garfield Ray, Gabby Hart, Sgt. Charles Berg. I yelled at them, 'You have to get off of here! You have to get up and get the guns!' They were gone immediately.
My platoon sergeant, Bill White, an ex-jockey whom we called Whitey, took charge. He was small, very active, and very courageous. He led what few men were left of the first platoon and started up the cliffs. I crawled and staggered forward as far as I could to some cover in the bushes behind a villa. There was a round stone well with a bucket and handle that turned the rope. It was so inviting. I was alone and I wanted that water so bad. But years of training told me it was booby-trapped.
I looked up at the top of the cliffs and thought, I can't make it on this leg. Where was everyone? Had they all quit? Then I heard Dreher yelling, 'Come on up. These trenches are empty.' Then Kraut burp guns cut loose. I thought, oh God, I can't get there! I heard an American tommy gun, and Courtney shouted, 'Damn it, Dreher! They're empty now.'
There was more German small-arms fire and German grenades popping. I could hear Whitey yelling, 'Cover me!' I heard Garfield Ray's BAR [Browning automatic rifle] talking American. Then there was silence.
Now, I thought, where are the 5th Rangers? I turned and I couldn't walk or even hobble anymore. I crawled back to the beach. I saw 5th Rangers coming through the smoke of a burning LST that had been hit by artillery fire. Co!. Schneider had seen the slaughter on the beaches and used his experience with the Rangers in Africa, Sicily, and Anzio. He used the smoke as a screen and moved in behind it, saving the 5th Ranger Battalion many casualties.
My years of training told me there would be a counterattack. I gathered the wounded by the seaway and told them to arm themselves as well as possible. I said if the Germans come we are either going to be captured or die on the beach, but we might as well take the Germans with us. I know it sounds ridiculous, but ten or fifteen Rangers lay there, facing up to the cliffs, praying that Sgt. White, Courtney, Dreher, and the 5th Ranger Battalion would get to the guns. Our fight was over unless the Germans counterattacked.
I looked back to the sea. There was nothing. There were no reinforcements. I thought the invasion had been abandoned. We would be dead or prisoners soon. Everyone had withdrawn and left us. Well, we had tried. Some guy crawled over and told me he was a colonel from the 29th Infantry Division. He said for us to relax, we were going to be okay. D, E, and F Companies were on the Pointe. The guns had been destroyed. A and B Companies and the 5th Rangers were inland. The 29th and Ist Divisions were getting off the beaches.
This colonel looked at me and said, 'You've done your job." I answered, 'How? By using up two rounds of German ammo on my legs?" Despite the awful pain, I hoped to catch up with the platoon the next day."
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