Written by Rick Archer
One day my daughter Sam noticed I was
watching The Longest Day, the famous movie about the
Normandy assault. She was about 11 at the time.
Curious, Sam watched the TV for a while.
Horrified by the violence, Sam asked me a question.
"Dad, what does D-Day stand for?"
"What do you think it stands for?"
"Uh, does it stand for Death Day?"
I smiled. "That's a good answer."
This cemetery next to the infamous Omaha Beach holds 10,000 graves.
As I was growing up, I
always thought "D-Day" stood for "Decision
Day". However, after checking it out, I learned that General
Eisenhower himself clarified the meaning. He called it
"Departure Day", the day the ships departed to begin the
assault—including those in the Pacific, in North Africa, in
Sicily and Italy—had its own D-Day. However, for most
of us, D-Day will always refer to the most
important battle of our lifetimes, the Normandy Landing on
June 6, 1944.
I was born in
1949, a prime Baby Boomer year. World War II was over
and the world had settled into the Cold War Era. With
the notable exception of Korea and Vietnam, the Cold War Era was more about threat
of conflict than actual fighting.
Since there have been no wars even remotely rivaling the
scope of World War II, I have never served in the military.
My father saw
brief action in the latter days of World War II. Dad was 19.
He was part of a
large force of reinforcements that had just arrived from the States
to give the war-weary veterans some relief. Unfortunately....
or fortunately depending on how you look at it... my father was shot in the hip
by a sniper while on a patrol. This occurred just before the Battle of the
Bulge, the last major battle of World War II in December 1944.
Dad and I had many talks
about World War II. He always said that injury was the
luckiest thing that ever happened to him. He had only been in
Europe for a week when he was hit. While Dad recuperated in the
safety of a hospital, many of the men in his company were killed
during the ferocious winter fighting in Belgium's Ardennes Forest.
The Battle of the Bulge
was Hitler's last ditch gamble. Despite its early success due
to the surprise attack, once the weather cleared, Allied air power
was able to push the Germans into a major retreat. Five months
later, the war was over.
While he was
recuperating, my father had the opportunity to talk to some of the
men who were still recovering from wounds suffered during D-Day five months earlier. To a
man, they agreed this attack was terrifying beyond explanation.
Almost everyone had been certain there was no chance they were ever going
to survive. How in the world were they supposed to cross those
barren beaches with thousands of machine gun bullets peppering the
air from the bluffs above? How were they supposed to scale
those near-vertical hills without being hit? How were they
going to cross the minefields?
Consequently the night before the attack every man had written a
letter to be sent to their wife or girlfriend and parents in case
they didn't make it back. The guys my father talked to
obviously were among the ones who survived, but every one of them
saw dozens of men die right beside them that day. Every man
had a bad case of "Survivor's Guilt". Why did the guy next to
them die while they were spared?
The Fates were indeed
fickle that day. Some unlucky paratroopers landed in the middle of a German
company at St. Mere Eglise. These men were shot to death
in the air before they ever landed. Yet other paratroopers landed in
deserted cow pastures. During the daylight
assault, 2,500 men died at Omaha Beach while 14 miles away only 200
Americans died landing at Utah Beach. Doesn't seem fair, does
After listening to some of my father's stories about the
bravery of the men who risked their lives, I began to suffer from a
sort of survivor's guilt myself. I have lived a long
and secure life all because a bunch of teenagers had the
guts to fight for freedom over 60 years ago. How is it
fair that I have never seen action while so many unfortunate
men died young that day?
I have long
wondered why they always send in kids to do the fighting.
That doesn't seem right. The young men have their
entire life to lose before they even get started. Interestingly, I
found comments on this exact question. Stephen Ambrose
in his book D-Day said,
"Inexperienced troops are often preferable to veterans.
For a direct frontal assault on an enemy position such
as D-Day, men who have never seen what a bullet or land
mine or exploding mortar round can do to a human body
are preferable to men who have seen the carnage.
Men in their late teens have a sense of invulnerability.
Their zeal and daredevil attitude far outweigh their
wonder why they
don't send old guys like me across that beach.
I know a lot
of men my age would be more than willing to go to war if
another monster like Hitler threatened our country.
Nothing could possibly be more important than stopping a man
Marv Levy was a
football coach who took the Buffalo Bills to four
consecutive Superbowls. One year he was asked if he
was facing a "must-win" situation in the upcoming Superbowl.
Levy, a World War II veteran, just smiled.
“World War II was the only ‘must win’ situation I have
ever been associated with.”
None of us want
to die before our time, but doesn't it make more sense to
send people in the sunset phase of their life into risky
situations than those with their whole life ahead of them?
Furthermore, some of the most committed people on earth are
people with a lifetime of experience. Old guys aren't
fast and we don't see too good, but if we believe in what we
are fighting for, guys my age... and gals too! ... are
enough to fire a weapon.
One of my heroes
of D-Day is Teddy Roosevelt, Jr, son of the President. At
age 57, he was the only General to go in with the first wave
at Utah Beach. One of his major contributions that day
was to get American troops and tanks directly into the
French countryside before the Germans could react.
Sadly, Roosevelt died of a heart attack one month later.
He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously for his work.
His grave at the Normandy Memorial gives strong testimony to
my suggestion that old guys can contribute as well as the
I deeply respect and admire
the men who charged into the face of death at Omaha.
allowed an entire generation of kids like me to enjoy a life of
Greeks have their heroes from Thermopylae and the British
have their Royal Air Force, but to me, the brave men of Omaha are my all-time heroes.
Cowardice and Courage
George Patton once said
that Courage wasn't the absence of fear, but rather the
ability to fight in spite of one's fears.
One of the questions that has
haunted me my entire life is whether I would have the same
courage to fight at D-Day as the men who were able to
overcome their fears and still fight. My guess is that like
Patton suggested, I would be scared out of my wits, but
would do my best to force myself to act responsibly
Still, until one is tested, one never knows, yes?
I am the perfect example. I have
lived 60 carefree years in the greatest, most secure country in the
world. Like many of my fellow citizens, I have little
to worry about while people in other parts of the
world starve to death and die at the hands of tyrannical
As I write, I am 60 years old. I
spent 30 years running an amazingly successful dance studio.
In my retirement years, I have spent 10 years taking my
former dance students on cruise trips around the world to
awesome places like Hawaii and Italy. When I am not
traveling, I spend my time in the comfort of my home writing stories about the places
I have visited.
Writing. Can you imagine a softer, happier existence
than mine? No, of course not.
But my story could have been far
different. A monster named Hitler came frighteningly
close to subjugating the world. If it hadn't been for
the brave men at Normandy, today I might speak Deutsch and
live in Amerika.
I am smart enough to understand the debt I owe... the same
debt we all owe...
to the heroes of Normandy. I feel an overwhelming
gratitude towards the men who fought during World War II.
I am keenly aware that a
lot of good men died at D-Day so America could be safe.
How can I ever show my gratitude?
How can I somehow thank these men?
There is one
thing I can do - I can help spread the word about these men
who are my heroes to a new generation. Following the grand tradition of
Homer's Iliad and
Tolstoy's War and Peace, there
is still a place in this world for bards, writers and poets
to sing the glories of the heroes.
So that is my motivation. Why not put my
writing skill to some good use?
will retell the story of Omaha Beach again because it is my
way of honoring those brave fighting men of yesterday.
We all know the legends of the Spartans, Romans, and
Vikings. However, let us never forget that American
warriors in Europe and the Pacific proved time and
again that when called upon, Americans are
just as brave and just as bold as all the celebrated warriors of
June 6, 2011, the 67th Anniversary of D-Day
Background on this Story
one other reason I have written my story of D-Day.
I have a fascinating secret to share.
you might get a chance to visit Normandy. If
you do, I have a spot I want you to
Yellow X in the picture. This is exact
spot where the Americans made the breakthrough that
changed an almost certain defeat into an amazing
victory at Omaha Beach.
there is absolutely not one statue or plaque to
memorialize the deep significance of this location.
my story will someday change that.
originated thanks to a cruise trip my wife Marla and I took to France in May 2010.
My cruise ship landed at Cherbourg, a deep-water port
about 40 miles west of the Normandy Memorial.
a major objective at D-Day. One of the main reasons
for choosing Normandy as the landing point was its proximity
to Cherbourg. The Americans coveted this
port as a place to land supplies and reinforcements
coming from the USA directly onto Europe's mainland.
It was Teddy
Roosevelt Jr, son of President Theodore Roosevelt, who sent the Americans in a sprint to seize
Cherbourg practically the moment the soldiers landed at Utah
Beach. Unfortunately, the Germans knew full well the
potential of Cherbourg and had the city well-defended. It took a pitched two month
battle to finally dislodge the determined Germans.
is valuable for another reason. It is the
only port near the Normandy landings deep enough to handle a cruise ship.
Cruise ships regularly dock in Cherbourg to allow people
like me to see Omaha Beach, site of perhaps the
fiercest battle of World War II... with a nod of course to
other intense battles such as Iwo Jima and the Battle of the
I owe my pastime
as an amateur travel writer to my dear wife Marla.
Marla organizes several cruises a year for our group of friends and former dance students who live
nearby in Houston, Texas.
Sunday, May 9, 2010, I had the privilege of visiting the
Normandy American Memorial. The Memorial contains the
World War II cemetery in Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy,
France. This site honors the many thousands of American soldiers who died
fighting in Europe
during World War II.
people in our group that day. Sadly, the only
person who didn't get to see Omaha was Marla. The poor
woman was suffering from a bad case of Norovirus, the
stomach bug that takes about 24 hours to pass.
constant companion beside me, I
was on my own all day. In a way, maybe it was better
that Marla wasn't with me. Once I disengaged from
the group, I was able to cover more ground than any other
person in our group.
I wanted to see as much of Omaha Beach as I possibly could.
At the end of my
long loop around the grounds, I discovered the
Visitor's Center. This new addition was completed in 2007. The first
floor was lined with pictures and biographies of men who
distinguished themselves at D-Day. I was incredibly moved by what I saw.
Twelve men received the Medal of Honor for their actions
that day. As I read their stories and realized the
kind of courage it took to accomplish their responsibilities,
I shook my head in astonishment.
this wasn't the movies where everyone lives happily ever
after. I burst into tears as I read that brave heroes
such as John Pinder, Frank Peregory and Jimmy Monteith died
fighting in this bloody battle. It made me heartsick.
Downstairs I saw
videos about the men who fought that day. These
stories were so wrenching that I found myself filled with
tears. Trust me, I wasn't the only one crying.
Everyone down there was overwhelmed.
ended up making a fool of myself. I don't wear a watch
and didn't have anyone around to help keep me focused.
I ended up being 20 minutes late back to the bus. I
was late because I became oblivious to reality. I was so
busy crying my head off that I had lost all track of time.
Captain Joseph Dawson
By chance, one
of the men I noticed while reading the biographies was
Captain Joseph Dawson. I was so impressed that
I took a picture. Please note what it says in the
"He guided his men through an unmarked gap in a
minefield, assaulted and seized formidable enemy
positions, and was among the first to climb the bluffs
overlooking the beach."
What I did not
know at the time was that this sentence hardly gave
justice to the immense contribution that Dawson made that day.
This brief biography does not even begin to explain what
Although I had
no way to realize the
importance of Dawson's contribution during my visit, I found
myself curious to know more about him. Why was he
"competent"? What did he do?
When I returned
home, I began to read. I soon
discovered that Dawson played a huge role in turning the tide for the Americans. There
were five other situations similar to Dawson's story, but
Dawson's efforts really stood out in my mind.
was the man who created the initial wedge that
broke the battle open.
As you may have
noticed, Dawson's biography in the picture above starts with
the word "COMPETENCE".
This was followed in the biography by the words: ""Competent
leadership proved critical to the ultimate success of the
This is a nice
sentence, but I think it should be re-written to say "Dawson's
competent leadership proved critical to the ultimate success
of the landing." They should have used his name
Joe Dawson was
the man who created the first breakthrough of the day.
His actions saved countless lives because he help create the
first safe zone on the entire Omaha Beach.
Let me explain. The basic
American attack strategy that day was flawed because it sent
the men directly into the teeth of the German defense. What Dawson did was to take a look
at the situation and decide to improvise. Then
he showed leadership when he told his men to stay put
while he risked his own life to reconnoiter. Finally,
he showed great courage and fighting ability
by singlehandedly wiping out a German machine gun nest at
the top of the bluff.
skill and courage... what more could you
ask for in an American soldier!
An Overhead Look
at Omaha Beach
Please note the shadows. As you can see, every
part of Omaha Beach was overlooked by towering
bluffs, hills, and cliffs.
A Introduction to
Omaha Beach and Joe Dawson's Role
understand D-Day, one needs to understand that the tanks
were the most feared weapon by both sides.
Germans had many reasons to believe the invasion would take
place in Calais 170 miles to the north, they realized the
Allies could conceivably land anywhere in a 500 mile zone
stretching from Amsterdam in the Netherlands to Brest in
There was no
conceivable way the Germans could defend this entire stretch
given their limited manpower. So they attached
different probabilities to the various landing points.
The more likely the probability, the better the preliminary
Germans understood there was no way to keep the soldiers
from landing. Their idea was not to prevent a landing,
but rather to SLOW THE LANDING DOWN. If their
beachside defenses could keep the soldiers pinned down on
the sand long enough, they would have enough time to bring
their crack Panzer tanks from a distance to obliterate the
relatively defenseless men while they were still vulnerable
on the beach.
Germans did not know where the Americans would land, they
placed their tanks in a geographic central location.
Like a free safety in American football who sprints to the
ball, the tanks would fly
at lightning speed the moment the Germans were sure of the
In other words,
the Germans were depending heavily on their ability to
counter-attack the Allies. This meant the LONGER the
Germans could keep the Allies pinned down on the beach, the
better chance they had to defeat the invasion.
The Allies were
well aware of this strategy and were terrified by it.
The possibility of seeing their men annihilated on the beach
was their greatest fear. They based their entire
attack strategy on preventing this from happening.
several advantages for the Allies. In particular, the
beaches of Normandy gave the Allies 20 miles to work with. Omaha
was considered the toughest landing point. However some
of the other parts of the beach were much harder for the Germans to
defend. This explains why the loss of life at
the other four attack points - Utah, Sword, Juno, and Gold - was
relatively small compared to Bloody Omaha.
The Germans had their own fears. Their
biggest concern was keeping the Allied tanks
out of the French countryside.
That's what worried them the most.
They could deal with paratroopers and random
infantry incursions, but the tanks running
free could cause real trouble. The
Germans were determined
to prevent all tank
Fortunately for the Germans, Omaha Beach
gave them a tremendous defensive position.
The hills made penetration by American tanks
into the French countryside virtually
the beach was overlooked by huge bluffs and cliffs,
the Germans knew that no American tank could climb
meant the only
way the tanks could get through would be to use the
Therefore all the Germans had to do was defend the
valleys between the hills.
Accordingly, the Germans placed their most
formidable defenses on both sides of every valley.
These defenses were called
Widerstandsnester. This word means "resistance nest"
in German; "WN" is the abbreviation.
largest gap was known as the Colleville Draw.
To protect it, the Germans built their deadliest strongpoint
known as WN62.
would become a Killing Field at Omaha.
this modern-day Google Earth image, we can see two of
the valleys. The valley on the top was known
as the Colleville Draw. The lower valley
was known as the St. Laurent draw.
Please Note the
. This point marks a central lookout point for
today's Normandy Memorial. By coincidence or
by design, it also marks the point of the first
American breakthrough of the day.
Severloh was a German soldier who had control of a
machine gun in a dominant position overlooking the
beach at WN62.
so-called "Butcher of Omaha", is said to have personally
killed 900 American soldiers during the Allied assault.
There is much circumstantial evidence to believe his claim.
Considering the Americans lost around 2,000 men that
day, that means Severloh accounted for nearly half
of all the American casualties.
was Heinrich Severloh so effective?
problem was the American strategy sent men
into the teeth of the German defense.
American's worst nightmare was the fear of being caught by the
Panzers while stuck on the beach. This fear made the
battle planners fixate on removing those powerful
The American strategy therefore called for an
all-out assault on the German WN strong points to
gain control of a "draw" as fast as possible.
A "draw" was the military term for the gaps between
the hills, i.e. the valleys where small streams
emptied into the Atlantic.
concept set up a
deadly race centered totally around control of the
the Americans break through and establish a strong
enough position with their tanks to retaliate the
vaunted German counter-attack?
Or would the German
tanks get there first and mow down the
defenseless men on the beach?
The sooner the
American tanks could begin to operate in the
French countryside before the Panzers appeared, the
safer their men would be. With this in mind, the
wanted desperately to take control of one of those
valleys as quickly as possible.
meant sending their men directly at the strong points.
Americans targeted the Colleville Draw, Exit
E-3, as their primary target. The Colleville
Draw was the widest gap of all the "draws".
American strategists assumed it was the logical
place to start.
Unfortunately, there was absolutely no protection
for the men.
why Severloh was so effective. With his gun
controlling an unusually wide stretch of beach, he
shot down one brave young man after another who
tried to attack WN62 head-on.
All the Butcher of
Omaha had to do was reload and keep shooting.
In hindsight, the American strategy was wrong.
This was a futile effort. In hindsight, rather
than send their men into a hail of bullets,
the planners should have figured out where
the weak points were and attacked there
instead. As it
turned out, it was an "indirect attack" at one of the weak points halfway
between the WN units guarding the valleys
that saved the day.
The defenses between the WN strong
points were nowhere near as imposing as
those concrete bunkers with powerful
However, in defense of the strategists, they
had no way to study the German defenses
closely enough to realize this ahead of
It was all a guessing game. The Americans
fell right into Rommel's defensive trap by
going directly at his strongest positions.
It is said that part of Napoleon's genius
was his willingness to allow his Marshals
the liberty to make decisions instantly on
the field of battle rather than send
messengers asking for permission.
Napoleon believed that no enemy could be
predicted completely, so he gave his leaders
free rein to adapt to any unexpected
situation that developed during battle.
Perhaps the spirit of Napoleon infused the
Americans on the battlefields of France's
beaches. American ingenuity was about
to save the day.
This is said to be a picture taken after the
battle. Take a look at all the empty shell casings
piled up. That is quite a gruesome image.
Dodging the Killing
Joe Dawson was the man who solved the
Dawson's unit Company G landed in the second
wave at the Easy Red sector.
By lucky chance, Dawson's Company landed
just barely out of range of the Butcher of
Omaha's deadly gun.
In addition, they were also out of range of
WN64, the other strong point defending this sector. This stroke of
fortune meant they would not be pinned down
in the sand like all the rest.
Yes, there were guns defending this spot,
but they were hardly as dangerous as the
powerful WN units.
probably didn't know how lucky they were. By landing on the only spot
on the beach where the German
gunfire wasn't nearly as heavy, the company had far fewer
bullets to dodge to cross the beach to safety.
Once Dawson got
his men across the beach, he took stock of the situation.
His orders were to attack the German strongpoint WN62
located 500 yards to his left.
could see the men on the beach to his right and left were pinned down by
heavy fire. Those men weren't going anywhere.
Dawson shook his head. Not a good idea.
Dawson's surprise, the gunfire coming from the hill directly
in front of his company wasn't nearly as heavy.
And why was
this? Why was the gunfire so much lighter here?
limited resources for defense. His main objective was
not to stop the attack cold, but to slow it down long enough
to get his Panzers there and slaughter the men on the beach.
overhead view gives an idea of the path Dawson took
to the top
Rick Archer's Note:
I took these pictures during my visit.
To my surprise, my pictures proved very
useful for telling my story. I believe
that give or take ten yards to the right or
left, this is very likely the spot where
Dawson began his climb. Keep in mind
that vegetation had been deliberately
Rommel knew that no tank could climb these
steep bluffs. So he reinforced the
'draws' with extra weapons, but decided mine
fields and limited numbers of machine gun
nests would be sufficient to defend the
hills from any attack not supported by
may have said to attack the strong
point WN 62, but Dawson thought otherwise.
It seemed like suicide to attack that powerful machine gun
It is unlikely Dawson knew that 150 years earlier Napoleon
had given his leaders permission to adapt to any unexpected
situation that arose during battle. Nonetheless,
Dawson had the sense to realize it was time to disobey
attacking the beach gap directly as was planned, Dawson
decided to improvise. He considered going
directly up the hill
rather than send his men to certain death.
studied the hill in front of him. The
distance to the top of the bluff was 300 to 400 yards.
The crest of the hill was about 200 feet
high with an incline that got much steeper closer
to the top.
The slope of the hill was about 25°
near the beach. Then it became steeper
in the middle at about 40°.
Right at top, the slope appeared to be
It was nearly vertical.
There was a large natural bowl at the top.
The terrain in front served to funnel any
climbers directly towards that bowl.
There appeared to be several machine gun
nests at the top of the hill. There also
seemed to be gunfire from hidden
points dug somewhere into the middle of the hillside.
No one could see where the fire was coming
from since these nests were not heavily
fortified. Rommel had hidden the guns
There were sure to be snipers as well.
Each weapon was certain to have an excellent
view of the terrain below.
wasn't much cover going up the hill. The
Germans had once completely cleared the shrubbery.
Fortunately in the spring some of it had
recently grown back. Thank goodness.
The lower X marks Dawson's starting point, the top X
marks the likely location of Dawson's one-man attack
on a critical machine gun nest. TODAY the top X is a
viewing platform next to the cemetery.
And where were the minefields? Finding
and crossing the minefields would be a huge
all, climbing this hill would be very dangerous.
took another look to his left. Those men were
still totally pinned down.
didn't see that he had a choice. It was clear that the direct approach wasn't
hills might be able to stop tanks, but what about
his men? Let's find out.
The picture on the right illustrates the
"bowl" at the top. It also shows the
ravine where Dawson's men climbed.
Dawson's first responsibility was clearing a
path up the mined bluffs.
Getting past the minefields
at the bottom of the hill was going to be a
dead bodies alerted them to the danger in
front of them. Gruesome as it seems,
Dawson assumed that the ground underneath
the bodies was safe since their death had
likely defused the mine that had killed
Dawson ordered his men to use the bodies as
stepping stones, then stop and look around
for any dangerous clues. It was a huge
break to know that this area was mined
before finding out the hard way.
Now that his men were on guard, they spotted
several mines that the engineers were able
to defuse. Now the company was able to
carefully begin the climb.
was worried about sending his
men into another deadly minefield or a hidden machine gun
Once the men had made it past the first
Dawson told his men to stay put for their safety.
No point in letting his entire company walk
into a trap.
made a brave decision. He chose to take it
upon himself to check things out personally.
Dawson had a tremendous conscience.
Better to risk his own neck than send his
entire unit into an unseen trap.
Notice how the bluffs get much steeper at
the top. Once Dawson was able to crawl
to the spot where that wall is, that sharp
angle probably made him invisible to the
machine gun nest at the top of the hill.
In addition, Dawson wanted
to see this with his own eyes.
At this point Dawson bravely went forward with just one other man
beside him to explore what was up ahead.
This allowed him to use stealth to climb the
hill. More men would have likely been
happened next was the stuff of legend.
regarding Joe Dawson from
US Army Military History
The mined areas slowed up every unit that crossed the beach, then
and for some time. Company G, commanded by Captain Joseph T. Dawson,
found one route through the mines by climbing over the
dead bodies of two soldiers who had been caught
While the company was
making its way across the flat, bothered more by the
minefields than enemy fire, Capt. Dawson
and one other man went on ahead to reconnoiter.
When they were halfway up the hill, an enemy machine gun
at the head of the small draw forced Dawson into cover
behind a dead log.
Dawson sent his companion back to bring up the company.
Once he was alone, Dawson
crawled on his stomach from one patch of brush to another.
By the time Dawson was 75 yards from
the gun, the enemy lost sight of him. Circling to his
left, he came to the crest of the ridge just a little beyond the
machine gun. He was now slightly behind the enemy.
Dawson got within 30 feet before the Germans
spotted him and swung their weapon around. Before
they could fire, Dawson accurately threw a fragmentation grenade
which killed the crew.
This action opened the way up the little draw.
took some time to get Dawson's company up as a result of
disorganization suffered in crossing the beach flat.
is a modern day view of the ravine Dawson climbed.
The German machine gun nest was situated exactly where this lookout point is set today
or slightly to the left. Please keep in mind this thick
shrubbery was virtually non-existent on D-Day.
Separated by 50-100 yards, Lieutenant John
Spalding's section of Company E, 16th RGT, was
climbing the other side of the draw at the same time as Dawson's
company. This unit quickly knocked
out two more machine guns and took a key prisoner.
Company E under Spalding was aided in the advance by
covering fire from Dawson's Company G on the other
side of the ridge.
Now having eliminated three German resistance pockets, men from both companies
completed the climb at roughly the same time.
They gathered at the top of the
hill to plan the next move.
In a conference held at the top of the bluff
with a representative from Dawson's Company G,
Spalding decided to take his men on a totally different route
Spalding turned west along the bluff crest, losing
contact with Company G as Dawson's unit headed south
through hedgerow fields and wooded areas, the Company E
group came up on the rear of the strongpoint guarding
E-1 draw (WN64).
The Germans were manning
trenches overlooking the beach. The American attack from the
forest at the rear of their post caught them by surprise.
In two hours of confused
fighting, Spalding's men got through the outworks of
this strongpoint and overcame opposition by close-in
work with grenades and rifles.
The area opened up by Dawson's Company G and Spalding's
Company E became the major funnel for movement off the
beach during the rest of the morning.
excerpt was drawn from
Army Military History.
been slightly paraphrased for "readability".)
Joseph Dawson continued...
Note: The military
excerpt above gives strong hints as to what
Dawson accomplished, but here are some more details
taken from Dawson's own combat journal titled
From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge.
be aware that Col. Cole C. Kingseed was the
co-author of this book. Dawson's combat
journal and personal recollections were edited by
Col. Kingseed, the former chief military historian
at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.
Kingseed succeeds masterfully in capturing the
essence of combat leadership through the actions of
up the slope, Capt. Dawson and PFC Frank Baldridge found
themselves caught between the fire of their own men
and that of an enemy machine gun nest at the top of
Both men dived next to a fallen log for cover.
Dawson told Baldridge to leave his equipment and go
back to get the rest of the company.
Immediately after that, Dawson spotted Lt John
Spaulding coming up with remnants of his
platoon from E Company. Like Dawson,
Spaulding's company had landed in the "blind
spot" on the beach where the gunfire was weakest.
This allowed Spalding to become one of the first officers to
make it across the seawall. His
had crossed the beach flat, cut through
barbed wire, traversed the swamp, and
avoided the minefields. Now they began to
climb the bluff.
Spalding's unit was close enough for Dawson
to signal for help.
Directing Spaulding to cover his advance
across open ground with gunfire,
Dawson was able to proceed up the draw
towards the summit.
Spaulding's fire from below distracted the
Germans. Dawson could see the Germans
duck for cover, then he would make his own
move. This allowed Dawson
to reach a point where the Germans could no
longer see him.
As Dawson neared the crest, the terrain
changed. Where Dawson had been climbing a
gradual 40 degree slope, now he reached a
ledge just below the crest that was nearly
80 degrees vertical.
As the machine gun busily fired downwards
beach, Dawson noticed an opening to his
left. Using the concealment, Dawson was able
around to the side of the machine gun nest unnoticed.
When he was 30 feet from
the machine gun nest, the Germans spotted him.
swung their weapon around to shoot. Dawson had just an instant to throw
Had Dawson missed his target, Dawson would
have been cut to shreds. It was kill or be
killed. Under extreme pressure, he
threw a perfect strike from 30 feet away and took out the
machine gun nest.
Dawson was quickly joined by a couple other
men. There were still other German
units operating nearby. Dawson's gunfire kept
the Germans pinned down to pave the way for Company
E under Lt. Spalding to make it to the top of the hill unscathed.
One can assume the machine gun nest was
somewhere close to those steps since it
provided the best view of the terrain below.
Keeping in mind that this terrain has been
landscaped and smoothed out, this picture
demonstrates the sharp drop-off that allowed
Dawson to sneak below the machine gun nest
without being spotted.
This is a guess, but Dawson likely circled
below and resurfaced where that small tree
is at the top of the picture. He was able to
get within ten yards before the Germans saw
Panic-stricken, the Germans swung their
weapon around. It was a remarkable do
or die situation. They were about 2
seconds too late.
Please keep in mind that Dawson threw his
grenades from 30 feet away. In other
words, it took a PERFECT THROW to save his
How about that for drama? If
Dawson failed, all those men on the beach
would have remained pinned down. His
heroism saved countless lives.
Rick Archer's Footnote
This story has explained how Joseph Dawson
used his sense to override the game plan,
then showed courage and ingenuity to become one of the first officers to reach the
top of the ridge overlooking Omaha Beach.
His willingness to risk his own life was the
key that opened up this entire area.
His actions were without a doubt heroic and
brave. However, Dawson wasn't
Once at the top,
Dawson led his men to his
objective at Colleville-sur-Mer one mile
inland. They successfully overwhelmed
the German outpost there. Despite repeated
German attacks, Company G held their highly
vulnerable position at the forefront all day
long. That afternoon while holding
this position, Dawson
was wounded in the leg. Although he
would later be hospitalized for several
weeks, throughout D-Day Dawson ignored his injury
in order to continue his command until reinforcements
arrived late in the day.
would earn the Distinguished Service
Cross for his service to America that day.
that the DSC is a major honor, but personally speaking, I don't understand why
get the Medal of Honor. Without his fateful
Breakthrough, who knows how many more lives
would have been lost down on the beach?
Dawson's single-handed action created the
first major breach of the day. And
into that breach came another hero, Philip
Streczyk, who led the charge to eliminate
the first resistance nest of the day.
Together, these two heroes opened the door
for the amazing come from behind victory at
There were many heroes at D-Day and many
brave men. However, to my way of
thinking, it was Joseph Dawson
above all who rescued the American attack
from almost certain defeat. Joseph
Dawson's courage saved countless lives that
I think Joseph Dawson deserves a far
more prominent position in the history of
D-Day at Omaha Beach. And the same
goes for Philip Streczyk.
Company E: Phil Streczyk
and John Spaulding
Rick Archer's Note: As
I just said, there were many American heroes at
D-Day. My story focuses on two of these
heroes. I have already documented Dawson and
Company G's contribution. Now I want to
turn to Philip Streczyk and
E who also deserve a great deal of the credit for the
a somewhat awkward story to write.
E had two leaders. One was Lt.
John Spalding who was practically brand new to the unit.
Fresh out of military school, he had taken over in
England just weeks before D-Day. This was his
the de facto leader of the group was a crack
sergeant named Philip Streczyk who had been with the
men since Africa and Sicily. Streczyk was
like a cobra when it came to fighting Germans.
Tough, brave, crafty, and more than slightly loony,
Streczyk had the kind of guts and fighting skills
reminiscent of Audie Murphy, the most famous war
hero of World War II.
was a leader too. Streczyk's men would follow him anywhere.
makes this story awkward to tell is that although
Spalding appeared to do a creditable job of
leadership, it seems that Streczyk, his second in
command, was the guy who deserves the lion's share
of the credit. However, knowing how the
military works, Spalding's name has usually come
at it may, it will become obvious who the hero is.
After Dawson cleared out the main defense at
the top of the bluff, Spalding's men were
able to climb the rest of the way safely.
The two units had worked perfectly together.
Thanks to the great teamwork, it was the gunfire of Company E that
allowed Dawson to sneak behind the machine
Then Dawson and two other men returned the
favor by firing at another position until
Company E could make it to the top.
While Dawson was waiting for his own men to
arrive, he sent a man over to confer with
the conference, Spalding and Streczyk
decided to take the company on a lateral
path across the hill.
they stumbled across
Widerstandsnester 64 by accident.
forest was so thick and the trenches were so
cleverly concealed that they had no idea the Germans
there until they heard gunfire nearby.
Spalding's company found where the gunfire was
coming from. They guessed that they had found
WN 64, the German strongpoint that
was guarding the St. Laurent Draw at Exit
There was no question they had to attack.
But how? They realized their small company
of 20 was badly outnumbered by the
However, at least they had the element of
surprise on their side. Plus they were coming in from
the high ground
behind the Germans.
Spalding wisely asked Sgt Streczyk to
lead the attack.
gutsy born fighter, was more than willing to
take the risk. Thanks to the noise of the
battlefield and the concealment of the forest, Streczyk and his small detachment was
able to sneak up on one trench and underground
bunker at a time.
They would either eliminate the men or force them to
Then they would move on to the next target.
Amazingly, they were so quick and there was so much
battlefield noise that the other Germans never discovered their
presence until it was too late.
After brutal hand-to-hand
combat in a half dozen different skirmishes, Streczyk and
Company E finally subdued the Germans.
Rick Archer's Note: I think it is
fascinating to note that the main viewing
point at the Omaha Beach Memorial is the
exact same point where Dawson's heroic
effort completely changed the course of the
I also think it is fascinating to discover
the route taken by Spalding crossed the area
that is now the cemetery.
What bothers me is that no one knows this.
I stood at the viewing point listening to a
guide. He didn't have a clue.
Nor are there any historical markers.
Personally, it gives me goosebumps to know I
stood at the spot where the course of World
War II shifted in the right direction.
At the same time, it aggravates me that no
one has called much attention to this
remarkable spot of Dawson's heroism!
If any reader knows someone with even a
modicum of military or political importance,
I would be most grateful if you would bring
this oversight to their attention.
fighting had taken over two hours. The stealth
attack had been a very dangerous plan. One
mistake and a German with an automatic weapon could
have wiped them all out. But it was worth the
first German Resistance Unit to fall at
got even better. Shortly
after Dawson's Company G moved out on its way to
Colleville a half mile away,
from the beach used the breach established by
Dawson's Company G and Spalding's Company E to reach the top
of the hill. From there, they snuck in from
behind to put an end to the deadly WN 62 defensive
Americans had finally interrupted the killing spree
of Heinrich Severloh, the Butcher of Omaha.
It is not a
coincidence that the Cemetery is placed right next to Dawson's
Dawson went up the hill to avoid the killing fields of WN62.
After the battle was over, since 1,000 bodies now lay on the beach
at the footstep of WN62, the forest at the top of the hill became
the most logical place to begin burying the dead.
Now both WN 64 and WN 62 were
neither position was taken using the planned frontal attack.
Instead it took stealth and ingenuity to put them both out of
commission. A thousand lives were saved in the
finally had their objective. With these two
dangerous defensive positions subdued, there was one
sector on the beach that was safe from enemy fire. The men were not
pinned down any longer. Better yet, two valleys were
now under American control. American tanks began to
roll onto the beach and into the countryside. The Panzer threat was gone.
Thanks first to
Joe Dawson and then to Phil Streczyk,
the nightmare was finally over.
remarkable story, yes? You might be asking the
question why you have never heard this story before.
You may also be wondering why Dawson and Streczyk didn't get
Medals of Honor. I asked myself these same
If you ever get the chance to visit
the Normandy American Memorial, be sure to visit the outlook
point shown in the picture on the left (located at the
A lot of history passed through this very spot
As you gaze out
at the sea and look down at the ravine below, be sure to
turn to someone near you and share our secret:
point stands on the exact spot where Dawson, Spalding and
Streczyk made the first breach of the day in the German defenses.
I think there
should be a
sign or statue at this viewpoint to commemorate this amazing accomplishment. Perhaps someone
who reads my
story will know whom to contact to rectify this omission.
A simple explanatory plaque would help visitors learn what
the American heroes did here on that fateful day. They
will be amazed and proud of these men.
It is high
time that Dawson and Streczyk received more credit for what they did.
About Rick Archer's Version of D-Day
You have just
finished reading the "short version" of my article on D-Day and
Omaha Beach. I hope you are sufficiently fascinated to begin
reading my long version of the same story. I promise you the
long version is even better.
we go much further, you have a right to know what my
qualifications are. To be honest, I am hardly what
you would call a "military authority". I
once owned the country's largest social dance studio.
Now in retirement I continue as an amateur travel writer (rick
I always write stories about
the places we visit on our cruise trips. I
initially began this article because
I thought my friends in our Travel Group would enjoy a brief
synopsis of the story of D-Day after we visited the
All I wanted to
do was write a brief version of what happened that
terrible day at Omaha Beach. However, once I started
I realized I was much too amazed at what I discovered to stop writing.
particular, the moment I realized I had stood on the exact spot where
Dawson took out the machine gun nest, I was hooked big-time.
I began my
by re-reading The Longest Day, the famous account of
D-Day written by Cornelius Ryan in 1959. Then I read
Joseph Balkoski's Omaha Beach. Then I
visited Wikipedia for an overview. Then I ran across
Joe Dawson's personal combat journal
From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge. From there I began to
comb the Internet for pictures and further information.
Finally I added pictures and observations gleaned from my visit to the
Normandy American Memorial.
As you read my
story, keep in mind that everything I have written was drawn from the writings
and comments of others. Considering I was born in
1949, I obviously did not participate in D-Day.
Therefore I had no choice but to rely on the tales that I found on the Internet.
If you want to learn more, do the same thing I did - use
Google! Google Internet searches will help you gather
almost all the details you could ever ask for.
My story is meant to be
enjoyed as a fairly accurate short story on the events of
the day. However, I openly admit I may have
misinterpreted some of the things I read, so please don't expect
historical accuracy. Furthermore, since I am relying
on the work of other people, I have no way of verifying
their accuracy. That said, my hunch is that my version
is quite accurate.
I wish to
add that I combined elements of different stories to make the
saga more readable. One of the problems of the
different books about D-Day is that they skip around from one story
to the next. I understand why - each book was trying to
tell the complete story.
Omaha Beach was
just one of five beaches at Normandy. There was also Utah,
Gold, Sword, and Juno. Although Omaha Beach was
definitely the most dramatic, every single landing point had
amazing stories of its own. The books about D-Day
therefore have no choice but to skip back
and forth between all five beaches.
I wanted to
concentrate on Omaha Beach because that was where I visited. However, I quickly learned
Omaha Beach was divided into ten different sectors. Their
codenames were Able, Baker, Charlie,
Dog Green, Dog White, Dog Red, Easy
Green, Easy Red, Fox Green and Fox Red.
discovered that every one of these sectors had its own amazing stories and brave
Sadly, there was
no way I could do justice to all the amazing individual
stories of Omaha Beach and keep the length down. For every personal saga I
covered, I was
forced to omit many other equally amazing tales.
Once I decided
there was no way I could do justice to the drama of ten
different sectors, I decided to concentrate my story on
Easy Red, the sector I had personally visited.
I focused my
story on Dawson and Streczyk, the two individuals who did
remarkable things that day. By taking different accounts
of the same incidents, I wove them together like making a
quilt out of patches.
add that I found "contradictions" in these stories that I had
no way of reconciling.
Therefore I beg that you read
this story with the understanding that this is NOT a "scholarly work",
but rather a collection of interesting tales that are meant
to give insight into the amazing event. And now let's