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Rick Archer's Note: 
It is my hope that my story someday brings fame to the two American heroes who turned an almost certain defeat at Omaha Beach on D-Day into triumph.  Although various authors have mentioned the names of Joseph Dawson and Philip Streczyk, to my knowledge no one has adequately covered the incredible details of what these two men did. 

Dawson and Streczyk operated separately of each other.  They had the good fortune to land 15 minutes apart in perhaps the only part of the beach that was relatively safe from the withering Nazi gunfire.

Both men improvised and took a direct route up the bluffs.  At the top of Breakthrough Alley, Joseph Dawson took out a Nazi machine gun nest with a desperate do-or-die throw of a hand grenade.  His efforts allowed the GIs to take out the formidable resistance unit WN62 which included the Butcher of Omaha, a man responsible for 1,000 American casualties.

Philip Streczyk took out WN64 almost single-handed using stealth to get close enough to eliminate the enemy in brutal hand-to-hand combat. 

This is an amazing story about courage and heroism against all odds.   

 
   
D-Day!!

Written by Rick Archer
June 2011

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. D-Day indeed.


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 attack. 

Every amphibious 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 final 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 it?

 

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 combat inexperience."

   

I sometimes 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 like that.

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 certainly tough 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 young.

I deeply respect and admire the men who charged into the face of death at Omaha. Their sacrifice allowed an entire generation of kids like me to enjoy a life of safety.  The 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 nevertheless.  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 governments.

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. 

Dancing.  Traveling.  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?

I 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 centuries past.

Rick Archer
June 6, 2011, the 67th Anniversary of D-Day

 

   

Background on this Story

     Rick Archer's Note:

Here is the reason I have written my story of D-Day.  I have a fascinating secret to share.

Someday you might get a chance to visit Normandy.  If you do, I have a spot I want you to visit.

Find the 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.

And yet there is absolutely not one statue or plaque to memorialize the deep significance of this location. 

I hope my story will someday change that.

 


This story 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. 

   

Cherbourg was 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.

Today Cherbourg 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 Bulge.

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. 

On 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.

There were twelve 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. 

   

Without my 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. 

Unfortunately, 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.

Unfortunately I 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.

   

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 picture.

"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 at the Visitor Center does not even begin to explain what Dawson did!

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 Joseph Dawson played a huge role in turning the tide for the Americans. 

Please keep in mind that there were many American heroes at Omaha Beach, but for some reason it was Dawson's efforts that stood out in my mind.   Joseph Dawson 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 landing."

This is a nice sentence, but it is too vague.  I think it should be re-written to say "Dawson's competent leadership proved critical to the ultimate success of the landing."  

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. 

Intelligence, leadership, 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

To truly understand D-Day, one needs to understand that the tanks were the most feared weapon by both sides. 

Although the 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 France. 

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 defenses.

However, the 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. 

Since the 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 landing spot. 

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.

Normandy had 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 penetration.

Fortunately for the Germans, Omaha Beach gave them a tremendous defensive position.  The hills made penetration by American tanks into the French countryside virtually impossible.

Since the beach was overlooked by huge bluffs and cliffs, the Germans knew that no American tank could climb these obstacles.

That meant the only way the tanks could get through would be to use the narrow valleys. 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.

The largest gap was known as the Colleville Draw.  To protect it, the Germans built their deadliest strongpoint known as WN62

WN62 would become a Killing Field at Omaha.

Using 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  Yellow X .  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.

   

Heinrich Severloh was a German soldier who had control of a machine gun in a dominant position overlooking the beach at WN62.

Severloh, the 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. 

So why was Heinrich Severloh so effective? 

The problem was the American strategy sent men into the teeth of the German defense.  The 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 defenses.

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.

This concept set up a deadly race centered totally around control of the "draws". 

Would 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 Americans wanted desperately to take control of one of those valleys as quickly as possible.

   

This meant sending their men directly at the strong points.

The Americans targeted the Colleville Draw, Exit E-3, as their primary target.  The Colleville Draw was the widest gap of all the "draws".

The American strategists assumed it was the logical place to start.

Unfortunately, there was absolutely no protection for the men. 

This is 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 long-range weapons.

However, in defense of the strategists, they had no way to study the German defenses closely enough to realize this ahead of time.

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 Fields

   


Joe Dawson was the man who solved the problem.
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.

Dawson's men 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. 

Dawson 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.

However, to 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?

Rommel had 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.

This 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 trimmed back.

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 tanks. 

Dawson's orders may have said to attack the strong point WN 62, but Dawson thought otherwise.  It seemed like suicide to attack that powerful machine gun head on. 

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 orders. 

Instead of 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. 

Dawson 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 almost 80°.  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 well.

There were sure to be snipers as well.  Each weapon was certain to have an excellent view of the terrain below.

There 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 problem.

All in all, climbing this hill would be very dangerous.

Dawson took another look to his left.  Those men were still totally pinned down. 

Dawson didn't see that he had a choice. It was clear that the direct approach wasn't working. 

These 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 huge problem. 

Two 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 them.

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.  

Dawson was worried about sending his men into another deadly minefield or a hidden machine gun nest. Once the men had made it past the first minefield, Dawson told his men to stay put for their safety.  No point in letting his entire company walk into a trap. 

Dawson 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 spotted.

What happened next was the stuff of legend.

 


An Excerpt 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 there earlier.

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. 

However it took some time to get Dawson's company up as a result of disorganization suffered in crossing the beach flat. 

Here 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 than Dawson. 

Spalding turned west along the bluff crest, losing contact with Company G as Dawson's unit headed south towards Colleville.

Moving 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.  

(Note: This excerpt was drawn from US Army Military HistoryIt has 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

Please 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 this citizen-warrior.
 

Halfway 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 the draw.

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 company 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 towards the beach, Dawson noticed an opening to his left. Using the concealment, Dawson was able to circle around to the side of the machine gun nest unnoticed.

When he was 30 feet from the machine gun nest, the Germans spotted him. Panic-stricken, they swung their weapon around to shoot. Dawson had just an instant to throw two grenades. 

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 him. 

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 life.

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 first 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 finished. 

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. 

Dawson would earn the Distinguished Service Cross for his service to America that day.

I understand that the DSC is a major honor, but personally speaking, I don't understand why Dawson didn't 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 Omaha Beach.

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 day. 

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 Company E who also deserve a great deal of the credit for the amazing breakthrough. 

This is a somewhat awkward story to write. 

Company 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 first command.

However, 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.

Streczyk was a leader too.  Streczyk's men would follow him anywhere. 

What 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 first. 

Be that at it may, it will become obvious who the hero is.

   

Taking out WN64

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 gun nest. 

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 Spalding.  At the conference, Spalding and Streczyk decided to take the company on a lateral path across the hill.

 

To their surprise, they stumbled across Widerstandsnester 64 by accident. 

The forest was so thick and the trenches were so cleverly concealed that they had no idea the Germans were even there until they heard gunfire nearby. 

Conducting surveillance, 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 E-1. 

There was no question they had to attack.  But how?  They realized their small company of 20 was badly outnumbered by the Germans. 

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. 

Streczyk, a 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 surrender. 

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 entire battle!!

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.

The 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 risk. 

WN 64 became the first German Resistance Unit to fall at Omaha Beach.

The news got even better. Shortly after Dawson's Company G moved out on its way to Colleville a half mile away, new men 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 position. 

The 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 Breakthrough Point.  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 gone. Ironically, 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 process.

The Americans 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.  

Pretty 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 questions.

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 Yellow X).

A lot of history passed through this very spot on D-Day.

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:

This outlook 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. 

However, before 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.

(Bio: rick archer , contact: dance@ssqq.com )

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 location. 

All I wanted to do was write a brief version of what happened that terrible day at Omaha Beach.  However, once I started my research, I realized I was much too amazed at what I discovered to stop writing.  In 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 project 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 total 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 that 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

I quickly discovered that every one of these sectors had its own amazing stories and brave heroes. 

   

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 so many remarkable things that day.  By taking different accounts of the same incidents, I wove them together like making a quilt out of patches.

Let me 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 begin! 

 


Chapter One
- Before D-Day

   
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