Home Up Omaha Beach


Chapter Three - Crippled

Story written by Rick Archer

Even the living were half-dead.  The terror of the morning had left most of the survivors of the German onslaught paralyzed with fear.  Consumed with fear, grief, and pain from wounds, many men simply buried themselves in the sand and refused to move.  Other men who had penetrated further huddled against the sea wall shaking in fear.

No one dared move.  These men were shell-shocked in ways that no could ever understand unless they had been there themselves.  The men were unable to cope with the slaughter they had witnessed.  After seeing so many comrades shot to death and feeling bullets narrowly whisk past their faces, the strength to expose themselves to enemy fire a second time was gone.  

The men who had miraculously survived the killing spree lay there at the sea wall motionless and staring into space.  They were so thoroughly shocked they had no consciousness of what was going on around them. 

Many had seemingly forgotten they were even armed; their guns remained holstered.  Other men who had lost their rifles in the rush to safety didn’t seem to notice there were plenty of weapons lying nearby for the taking.  Other men didn't even bother to clean their water-soaked weapons, a dangerous risk in this situation.

The dead and mangled bodies of friends, the threat of hidden land mines somewhere in the sand, the concussion of constant artillery fire, the whistle of bullets, and the screams of terror and agony around them left the remaining men in a state of paralysis. 

The brutal morning slaughter had taken all the fight out of the soldiers.  Fortunately, amid the chaos, leaders emerged to rally the troops.  These leaders basically hammered on the grim reality...  Retreat was not an option

That meant the men could stay on the beach and die or start climbing the bluffs and maybe live.  Not everyone responded; some men just kept weeping.  However a few small pockets of men started to head up the bluffs. The counter-attack had begun.

Along the Dog Green and Dog White sector, a crusty general named Norman Cota strode up and down the beach in the hail of fire.  Behaving like a crazy man, Cota was waving a .45 and yelling at the men to get moving again.  

As the survivors crouched behind the sea wall shoulder to shoulder, they peered in amazement that any man could stand upright and live. 

Seemingly unconcerned about his own safety, Cota stared at the men and raged, “What are you going to do, just sit there cowering till they come down the hill and shoot you?  Hasn’t anyone got the guts to get up that hill and charge the bastards?”

Cota’s words shamed the men and snapped them out of their sense of futility.  Suddenly a group of Rangers who had been huddling together arose and began to move forward.

Colonel George Taylor had landed at 8:15 am, one hour after the fighting had begun. Taylor stopped across the sandbar and bullets began hitting the water around him. He lay down on his stomach and started crawling toward shore, his staff officers doing the same.  When Taylor finally made it to the seawall, he pointed to the hill summit above and told the other officers, “If we’re going to die, let’s die up there.

At this point, Taylor turned to his troops.  Taking a hard look at the shattered morale, he began barking orders.  He rallied the men with one of the most famous lines of the war,

“There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are already dead and those who are going to die.   Now let’s get the hell out of here!”

Within seconds, the men came to attention.  Taylor organized groups of men regardless of their unit, put them under the command of the nearest non-commissioned officer and sent them climbing up through the weeds and shrubs on the bluffs.   

Meanwhile the officers around Taylor stared at him in amazement.  Was he some sort of snake charmer?   Those men had looked completely defeated when they arrived.  The officers marveled at Taylor’s ability to shake the men out of their helplessness and get them moving again.  For his leadership, Colonel Taylor would later receive the Distinguished Service Cross.

In a fashion similar to Taylor and Cota, Colonel Charles Canham moved through the dead, the dying and the shocked.  He waved groups of men forward.  “They’re murdering us here!  Let’s move inland and get murdered there instead!” 

Curious logic, but apparently it worked.  Private Charles Ferguson was hiding with a group of men behind the sea wall.  He stared at Canham in disbelief.  Ferguson thought to himself, ‘Did he really say that?’

Then Ferguson muttered aloud to the other men, “Who the hell is that son of a bitch?  That is the worst rally cry I have ever heard!”  

To his surprise, Ferguson started to laugh at the absurdity.  Somehow the laughter shook him out his self-pity.  That’s when he decided to get up.  Surprised, when the men around Ferguson saw him get up, they decided to do the same.  Ferguson's group began the dangerous climb up the bluffs.  The Americans were preparing to strike back.

But it wouldn't be easy.  Gettysburg, the most important battle of the Civil War, had been won by the North thanks in large part to its possession of the higher ground.  A spirited charge by determined forces of the Confederacy had just barely been repulsed by the North defending a strategic hill known as Little Round Top.  

Today the Americans were going to have to attack defenses far superior to anything the Rebels ever saw at Gettysburg.   And they were to going to have to do it while climbing a hill into the face of brutal enemy fire. 


How would they ever succeed?    The odds were really stacked against them.

Ahead of them were ditches, mine fields, mortar stations, pillboxes, machine gun nests, barbed wire, and snipers. 

These men would be facing the feared 352 Infantry, veteran soldiers from one of Germany's elite units.  These Germans were totally committed to driving the Americans back to the sea or die fighting.   The Germans knew if they hung on long enough against the onslaught, the Panzer Tank Division would be there shortly to eliminate all remaining pockets of resistance.

It was a race against time and the Germans had the upper hand.

The Americans had suffered devastating losses in the early morning attack.  They were demoralized and shell-shocked.  Men had died around them right and left.  Did they have any fight left in them?    As the battle moved to its next stage, they certainly had their work cut out for them.   And it was all up hill. 

"Everything was to the enemy's advantage and to our disadvantage, except one thing, the righteous cause for which we are fighting - liberation and freedom."  
Chaplain John G Burkhalter

Chapter Four
Omaha Beach

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