Omaha Beach
Home Up Breakthrough

   

Chapter Four

A 2010 Look at Omaha Beach

Story written by
Rick Archer


Rick Archer's Note:  The picture above gives an accurate idea of just how high the hills were in relation to the beach at Omaha.  The next stage of the battle was the assault on the hills.  I think it is difficult to understand what happened next unless the reader can see pictures to suggest what the men faced that day.  Therefore, I would like to offer a modern day look at the area before I finish my story of what happened at Omaha Beach on D-Day. 

As I wrote in Chapter One, I visited Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery in May 2010 as part of a cruise trip.  I signed up for a tour of the area through the cruise line.   I had a dozen friends from the cruise on the same bus, but I disengaged from them quickly.  They preferred to stay with the tour guide who took the group first to see the cemetery. 

As a side note, ordinarily I would have enjoyed the company of my wife Marla.  Unfortunately the poor woman was back in cabin on the cruise ship recovering from Norovirus.  Before the trip was over, somewhere between 300 to 500 people would eventually catch this nasty 24-hour stomach bug.  Marla  was heartsick over being forced to skip this part of the trip, but she was helpless.  If you are curious about this virus incident, read Volcanoes and Virus.

Since we were only given an hour and a half to see Omaha, I wanted to make the most of my time.  After leaving my friends, I was alone for the next 90 minutes.  I didn't mind.  I was extremely moody and wanted to be alone.  More than anything else, I wanted to explore the area, not listen to some guide.  I figured anything I needed to know I could read about later.  This was my only chance to explore and take pictures.  So off I went.

I wanted to see Omaha Beach from the German perspective looking down and I wanted to see the American perspective looking up.  I wanted to see with my own eyes what the American soldiers faced when they landed on the beach.  Not everyone gets a chance like mine, so now I would like to share it with you.


The first thing I saw stopped me in my tracks.  I immediately began to feel the tears well up when I was confronted with the saddening image of 10,000 graves.  The American Cemetery at Normandy is the final resting place for 10,000 American soldiers who died fighting in Europe.  The vast majority of the graves belong to men who died fighting during the Normandy invasion and during the brutal fighting that took place throughout France in the month following the invasion.  I imagine the Battle of the Bulge and the brutal battle of Hurtgen Forest contributed to the total as well.

It is a very humbling experience to see all those graves and understand these were men who gave their lives so the rest of us could enjoy freedom and prosperity.

  The picture on the right is hallowed ground.  This part of Omaha Beach saw the heaviest fighting on D-Day.  A thousand Germans and Americans died fighting on this exact sector of the beach and hill thanks to the ominous presence of the WN62 and WN64 strongholds.

This aerial view using Google Earth shows the cemetery, the beach, and the green hillside.

However this two-dimensional image doesn't reveal how the terrain rises.  The Cemetery is 200 feet higher than the beach. 

The distance from the water line to the Platform viewing area is 700 yards. 

The "width" of this picture is one mile. 

 
 

I photographed the following 30 pictures during my visit.  Here you can see how the terrain rises. The Platform on the ridge of the hill is 200 feet above the beach and 700 yards from the water's edge. The Cemetery and the Platform are side by side.

Notice the woman walking down stairs.  There are two curving walkways that meet directly in front of that Platform.  From above, this double curving walkway looks like a white Semi-Circle.  See if you can spot it in the Google Earth picture.  Note there is another semi-circle nearby, so look for the yellow line.

As you stand on the Platform looking out to sea, this is the view to the left of the Platform (due west). That is Omaha Beach below.  If you get in a boat and sail straight ahead, that is due north. England is 100 miles away.

This is the view to the east of the Platform. 
You can see the steps that begin one side of the
double-curved walkway below, i.e. the white semi-circle.


Breakthrough Alley


This is the view directly in front of the Platform.  You are facing north.  That little dot on the beach is a man walking 700 yards away.  England is 100 miles away directly in front of you. 

Mine
fields and barbed wire were placed in a marsh area at the bottom of the hill.  Deadly machine gun nests were placed 100 yards from the shore.  In addition, there were artillery and machine gun nests mounted on either side of the Viewing Platform at the top.

As you can see, this area is beautiful.  I don't know if any German or American ghosts still linger here, but today it is definitely a quiet, peaceful place.

T
he Platform had a very commanding view.  The slope on either side of the Platform is much steeper, creating a bowl of sorts. If you are standing on the beach, the easiest route to the top of the hill is what you see in this picture.

By the way, there is a big secret about the Platform Viewing area that no one told me about during my visit.

This spot is where the amazing breakthrough occurred to turn the tide.

 

On D-Day, Lt John Spalding's men passed right by this spot on their amazing breakthrough assault.  They faced a machine gunner in a foxhole stationed at the "X" atop the hill on the right. 

At the same time Capt Joe Dawson came up the gully and attacked a machine gun nest 100 yards to the east (see "X").  I will share their complete stories shortly.

Today this area is very lush.  Not one picture I saw of the bluffs on D-Day showed a tree.  I am sure the Germans kept the underbrush cut back on a regular basis.  Think what you may about Hitler, but give the Germans their due... they were brave in their own right and they were quite efficient in the art of war. 

This picture does not show that the area on either side of the Platform is much steeper.  The steep slopes on either side of the Platform created a gully that funneled men like Dawson and Spalding to this spot all day long.

On the day of my visit, I was told by a guide that many men died fighting for control of the spot where the Platform is located.

Consequently at the time I assumed I was standing on a German strongpoint that killed many men in their attempts to knock it out. 

I was completely fooled by the guide's suggestion.  

It turned out he was completely wrong.  This gully was actually one of the most poorly defended spots on Omaha Beach!  Only a few men died fighting near the Platform and almost all of them were German. The casualties he referred to were all down on the beach. 

I never knew it at the time, but the Platform I was standing on marked the exact spot that turned the entire day around.

And the gully right in front of my eyes was the path they took to the top.  So I named it "Breakthrough Alley".
 

Take a look at Breakthrough Alley.  This picture shows the same spot as the D-Day picture on the right. 

So why was this area relatively undefended?  What I did not realize is that the Germans did not have the manpower to put strong points everywhere.  They had to pick their spots. 

The Platform overlooks a spot
HALFWAY between the WN62 and WN64 Resistance Nests.  Those strong points were located 500 yards to the left and 500 yards to the right of the Platform.  This middle point turned out to be a poorly defended weak spot that the Allies were able to exploit.

This is a picture of the trail that Spalding's men took on their way to the top.  Today's Platform is situated right at the top of the bluff. 

I had assumed there were once massive fortifications atop the hill.  I later discovered I was wrong.  The records only mentioned two machine gun nests.  Spalding took out one on the right and Dawson took out one on the left.  I don't think anything was in the mid-point where the Platform is today.

By the way, there was a mine field on either side of the trail. That explains why someone put the warning ropes on the side.

   

Here's another look at Breakthrough Alley.

If you were a German marksman, this would be the vista you would watch all day long. If that brush was cut back, there weren't many blind spots for soldiers to hide.

Actually there is one blind spot, but you can't see it from this angle.  The blind spot is the sea wall.  Right where the sand meets the foliage, there is a 4-10 high sea wall (also called the shingle) that offered valuable protection. 

Here is a look at the Viewing Platform. On the day of my visit, I overheard a tour guide from another group explain why the Cemetery was placed nearby.  Thanks to WN62 and the prolific Butcher of Omaha, more than half the men who died at Omaha died on the beach directly below this Platform.

This area saw the fiercest fighting on D-Day, so this is where the initial Cemetery was created. In other words, they put it up here because this is where most of the bodies were.  This area is now referred to as "Cemetery Hill" by the locals. 

Here is another look at Breakthrough Alley. Notice how steep it is in this area.  It is nowhere near as steep down below.  Let's take a walk down to the water and get familiar with the slope. In this picture, I have just left the Viewing Platform. The walk from the Platform to the beach is about 400 yards.

Now I have a job for you to do.  Pretend you are a German sniper.  Can you see anything directly just over the ridge on the right?  No, of course not.  There is a blind spot here that Joe Dawson used to sneak up on a machine gun nest nearby.

Picture #1 was taken 20 yards below the Viewing Platform.  Imagine you are an American climbing the bluff. Joe Dawson, the man who took out a machine gun nest with two grenades, was right underneath this ridge to the left of this picture.

He couldn't see the machine gun nest and the Germans could not see him either.  Dawson stayed invisible as long as he could while he snuck closer.  The moment the nest came into view, he lobbed his grenades from right about where I am standing.  Breakthrough. 

This is Picture #2.  I have descended about 100 yards. This picture begins to convey that "Bowl Effect" I tried to explain.
The terrain funneled everyone straight towards the Platform area.  This is an important area, though I didn't know it when I took the picture.  On the hill looking right, Spalding and Streczyk took out a machine gun nest.  On the hill to the left, Dawson took out a different machine gun nest.  You are looking at one of the most important spots in US Military History.  This is the area where the first Breakthrough took place.

This is Picture #3. I have descended about 300 yards.
That's a long way to climb with bullets flying at you the entire time. It must have taken a lot of courage to advance.

This is Picture #4.  I am just about to reach the marsh area that connects the hillside to the beach. This is a protected area. No one is allowed to leave the trail.  As a result, the vegetation flourishes. I can't imagine the Germans permitted the foliage to be anywhere near as dense as this on D-Day.

Here is a little stream that emptied into the marsh area.  This picture was taken just a few feet from the bench in Picture #4.

This picture is a model of the beach defenses created by the Germans on D-Day.  They put pillboxes and machine gun nests close to the beach.  These pillboxes were guarded by barbed wire and mine fields. 

The heavy artillery such as the cannons and mortars were placed further up the hill.  To protect the big stationary guns, the Germans dug a ditch that no tank could cross. 

At first I assumed the ditch prevented an American tank from getting get close enough to the concrete bunkers that housed the guns to take them out.  I later learned the ditch was dug to prevent the tanks from driving up the hill and through to the countryside in case the WN strongpoint guarding the pass fell. 

That's the whole reason that visiting the area was so important to me.  I cleared up one misconception after another this way.

This is Picture #5.  I am now  in the marsh area. The sand ahead indicates the beach is nearby.

This area once contained the mine fields and the barbed wire.  I noticed the ground was a bit soggy in places which explains the need for the bridge. 

The bridge also helps to preserve the landscape.  Then it dawned on me it might also prevent me from walking on an undiscovered ancient landmine.  Interesting thought.  I stayed on the bridge. 

This is Picture #6.  Here is another look at the lush marshy area.  The beach is 5 feet behind me.  This spot is about 400 yards from the Viewing Platform above.  This spot is about where Spalding and Dawson's men began their climb up Breakthrough Alley about 15 minutes apart.  Spalding's men stayed to the right side of this picture, Dawson's men climbed about 100 yards to the left. 

I found a D-Day picture of the surrounding area that gives a realistic view of the hillside.  Not only does it show how steep the hills were, it shows how much the brush was cut back.  Not a tree in sight for cover.  Not even a bush! 

Imagine crawling up that hill with a machine gun firing at you.  I shudder even thinking about it.

This marsh area was very pretty.  I can't begin to describe just how beautiful this entire area is from the Platform on the bluffs above down to shore.  Thank goodness we have these pictures to demonstrate just how lovely the Normandy Memorial is today.

Here we have an overview of Breakthrough Alley as well as an idea where my six numbered pictures were taken from. 

Using a ruler on Google Earth, I estimate that this gully was about 400 yards wide at the bottom and 200 wide at the top.

I believe Spalding started about where that "6" is in this picture while Dawson's men began further to the right.  The terrain formed the letter "V" which funneled both platoons towards the center, i.e. the platform area at the top.

As I wrote earlier, Rommel's biggest fear was letting American tanks get through into the French countryside.  This 3-D overview shows "Cemetery Hill" with a narrow gap on the right (west) known as Ruquet Valley and the "St. Laurent Draw". It was defended by WN 64  There was a wider gap on the left. The "Colleville Draw" was defended by WN 62.

The WN strong points overlooking the Draws did indeed prevent any tank breakout till late in the day.  However, the defenses between the strong points were weak at the Easy Red sector.  This soft spot allowed the infantry penetration at 'Breakthrough Alley' that turned the tide for the Americans.

   

This is a picture of the terrain to the EAST of the Platform.
Twelve miles to the left from where I stood facing the Platform was Gold Beach. That flat area to the left is the valley defended by
WN62, the deadliest spot on D-Day.

This is a picture of the terrain to the WEST of the Platform.
Fourteen miles to the right of where I stood to take this picture was Utah Beach.  Seven miles to my right is the famous Pointe du Hoc, scene of some of the most intense fighting on D-Day.

I haven't said much about WN64.  To say a strong point is a weak link is something of an oxymoron, but that was the situation. 

WN64 was positioned to dominate the entrance to the Ruquet Valley at the E-1 Gap.  WN64 was designed to protect an area nearly 3/4ths of a mile long. The area in the yellow triangle in the picture above marks the range of its guns.  I assume artillery could go further.

This strongpoint was largely uncompleted by D-day. Unlike its neighbor
WN 62 1,200 yards away, not all the guns had been installed yet.  Furthermore, its most powerful guns were trained on the valley of the E-1 Gap. That left a spot midway between the strong points where defensive responsibility was transferred to smaller gun units like pillboxes and foxhole machine guns.

Breakthrough Alley (light blue line) was fortunate that neither strong point could see into the ravine once the men were able to get off the beach.  Both strong points could see all along the beach, but neither strong point could see Breakthrough Alley because it was hidden in a low gully.  Yes, there were still individual machine gun nests, mine fields, and pillboxes assigned to Breakthrough Alley to contend with, but nothing remotely as powerful on the scale of the fearsome WN62 WN62 had an unobstructed firing line along the beach that allowed it to kill a thousand Americans, but was visually unable to defend incursions into Breakthrough Alley.

This picture does a good job of showing how narrow the E-1 Gap is.  The narrowness made the St Laurent Draw easier to defend.  Now compare it to the wide-open E-3 Gap.  Pop a few tanks through the Colleville Draw fast enough and they wouldn't stop till they reached Paris 150 miles away.  Now you understand why the E-3 Colleville Draw was assigned so much importance.... which is why Rommel defended it so well with WN62.... which in turn led to the loss of so many American lives.

The American military planners were convinced the wide E-3 Colleville Draw gave them their best chance of breaking out.  So they attacked the teeth of the defense so to speak.  They threw the most men into attacking this spot... and got most of them killed in the process... which is why we now have Cemetery Hill nearby.

Ironically, less than a mile to the west of WN62, the strongest part of the German defense lay WN64, the weakest part of the German defense .  As they say, you are only as strong as your weakest link.  Rommel failed to beef up WN64 because the St. Laurent/Ruquet Valley Draw was so easily defended.  Almost all of WN64's most powerful guns were aimed towards Ruquet Valley. 

Anyone lucky enough to land in the mid-way weak spot actually had a fighting chance to reach the sea wall alive because the bullet saturation was so thin.  In fact, perhaps the bombing did take out at least one defensive unit.  A soldier named Clarence Colson asserted that a pillbox built to the defend the mid-point at Breakthrough Alley was not in action during the attack.

Colson stated, "Of course they were firing, but there was one pillbox way over and there was nothing coming from that."  

I read nothing else on the Internet to corroborate this, but if Colson's statement was correct, the weak spot became that much weaker.

From that point, the most direct route from the weak spot up the hill funneled the assault teams directly through Breakthrough Alley up towards the Viewing Platform above on Cemetery Hill. 

Strongpoint WN64 was cleared by Spalding's men around 1000 hours (10 am) on D-Day, although a lone pillbox at the head of the draw remained in German control until the evening. 

The powerful WN62 strongpoint managed to hold out till 1500 (3 pm).  Fortunately, however, Breakthrough Alley allowed the soldiers a safe way to the top despite the continued presence of WN62 nearby.  The work of Dawson's Company G and Spalding's Company E in creating the breach saved immeasurable lives. 

This spot was probably exactly where Spalding's platoon first cleared the barbed wire to begin their climb to the top.  Can you imagine a battle being fought in a place this pretty? 

There is nothing around this area that even remotely suggests the horror of June 6, 1944.

These rocks are known as the "Shingle Shelf". 

There were reports of a deep anti-tank ditch on the beach.  I had heard that it was 18 inches wide and was flooded.  I kept wondering how 18 inches would stop a tank.  Curious, I spent all morning looking for traces of the ditch, but saw nothing to suggest its presence.  This was one of my mysteries of the day.  Finally I gave up and assumed the ditch was filled in. 

When I began to write my story one year after my visit to Omaha, I saw a picture of the anti-tank ditch in front of this WN62 casemate.  So there was a ditch!  Where did it go?

Then out of nowhere my mystery was solved.  As I scrounged around for information on the Internet, I found this map of the E-1 Gap defense.  Sure enough, there was a caption that said Anti Tank ditch, average width 18 feet.  I laughed.  18 feet made a lot more sense than 18 inches!  Then I realized the ditches were placed in front of the Gaps, not the hills. 

Ah!  Now I get it. The ditches were in front of the draws. Why put a ditch in front of a hill?  Let the steep hill stop the tank. 

Another mystery of the day was trying to locate the sea wall.  When I reached the beach, I looked everywhere for the concrete sea wall seen in this D-Day picture.  It was nowhere to be found. At first I assumed someone must have removed the concrete sea wall when they landscaped the Normandy Memorial, but I didn't like that explanation. That would have been a lot of work with not much reason.  So I took another look at my own pictures.

That rocky area is known as the "Shingle". A shingle is beach gravel consisting of large smooth pebbles unmixed with finer material. That rock shingle is what helped create those large sand dunes behind it.

That is when I noticed how high those sand dunes were.  Hmm.  The reports said the men rested at the Shingle.  Hmm.  Now that I think of it, doesn't this picture look like a sea wall to you? They would offered a lot of protection from bullets flying down from above.

I decided that in this particular area of Omaha Beach, this must be the sea wall the reports referred to.  It was a "natural sea wall".  This shingle area had to be where the dazed assault soldiers huddled for safety. I can definitely see how the men would have been safe for a while if they reached that spot.

This is Picture 7. At this point, I began to walk the beach to my left. I was headed east towards Gold Beach.  I noticed there was a bunker where the red arrow is pointing, so I walked over to check it out.  I did not know it at the time, but I had inadvertently stumbled on the killing ground of WN62

I was walking straight towards the machine gun nest manned by Heinrich Severloh, the Beast of Omaha Beach.  He sees me and shoots.  Boom.  I'm dead.  Killed in the line of fire.  How many widows and parents received that message on D-Day?   2,000.

From above, we can keep track of my path.  I was headed straight to the middle of that wide field.  This picture gives an idea of just how open this "Gap" was.  No wonder it was so tempting to the Americans. 

I noticed two very large casemates (bunkers) still standing.  These remnants of WN62 had incredibly thick walls.

When I went inside, I could see this bunker was virtually intact.  And it was standing in plain sight in the middle of a field!  This indicates how ineffective the bombing campaign was.

Notice how thick the concrete was.  I came to one very obvious conclusion - these bunkers were definitely built to withstand heavy bombing. I began to wonder if this bunker had been hit at all.  I barely saw a scratch on it.

Maybe I didn't see any bunkers that did get hit because they were reduced to rubble.  That makes sense.

This bunker was perhaps a hundred yards from the beach.  It was in perfect position to fire mortars.  Look at how close it was to the beach!  And look at those sight lines.   This was the area manned by Heinrich Severloh, the Butcher of Omaha.   There was no sea wall here.  No wonder the men in their landing boats were such easy pickings. 

Here is the second WN62 bunker.  Call it Picture 8.  It was about 50 yards further up the hill.  Like the other bunker, it was completely intact as well.  I marveled how the bunker was built right into the hillside for further protection.  Most bombs from a ship would have flown right over it or struck the side of the hill harmlessly.  It would have taken a direct hit from an airplane bomb to take it out before the battle.  Not likely.

Do you see any signs of damage?  Me neither.
 

The ceiling was reinforced with steel.

This bunker was part of Strongpoint WN62
 

This 75 mm anti-tank artillery gun was the kind of weapon
housed at these bunkers. 
 

These trenches allowed the men to ferry ammunition to the front and to travel from one bunker to another without danger.  That small foxhole on the right was said to be the exact spot where Heinrich Severloh manned his death-dealing machine gun.

This is a picture of WN62 taken on D-Day shortly after the strongpoint fell.

An impromptu sign commemorating the 77th Panzer Division.  It is my understanding that many Germans come to visit this site.

I am sure they are just as curious about their past as I am about my own.  During my Internet research, I came across many books about Omaha written by German authors.  They had titles like "The Murderous Elite of the Atlantik Wall", "The Hillside Bastion" and "WN 62 - The Stronghold that Defended Berlin".  The Germans have a lot of pride about this spot.

I think my politics are fairly obvious - the Americans were the good guys, the Germans were the bad guys.  Nevertheless, I couldn't help but develop a lot of respect for the German soldiers.  Most of them were just taking orders and doing their jobs... very effectively, I am sorry to add.  

I am not sure I would be quite as forgiving if I lost a child or a buddy in this battle.... or lost a leg of my own for that matter.

 

Someone calculated that approximately 900-1,200 Americans were killed or wounded in front of strong point WN62.  Of the men that died, Heinrich Severloh was responsible for most of those deaths.  He was the designated shooter.  The other men spent their time using to the trenches to bring more ammunition to reload his gun.

I was curious to know more about Heinrich Severloh, nicknamed the "Beast of Omaha".  Severloh told his story in "Memories of Omaha Beach".   I discovered Severloh was a simple country boy who found himself in the middle of one of the world's most climactic events.   I had expected a proud and defiant look at the events of the day, but was surprised to see this book was an apology of sorts.  Severloh's book did not read like a killer who brags about his exploits, but rather that of a reluctant soldier and an even more reluctant killer.  Severloh took no initiative on that day, but rather simply followed orders.  He was told to man a particular gunnery spot and not leave under any circumstances.  The book relayed his heartfelt words describing the horrible events on that beach.  Severloh said he deeply regrets his role in those events and would carry an unshakeable guilt to his grave.

Severloh revisited his painful memories of cutting down a thousand U.S. soldiers with his MG-42 at the Easy Red sector with vivid and gory detail.  The author stated his belief that his machine gun position inflicted the most damage and killed more U.S. servicemen than any other during the war. He did not boast of this deed, but rather told of his actions with deep regret.  Historians who reviewed the book concluded it is certain that Severloh did inflict somewhere around a thousand American casualties on June 6, 1944 on Omaha Beach.  Half the American casualties took place trying to dislodge the formidable
WN62 defensive position.

Severloh gave a fresh view of the relationship between the German occupiers of France and their native hosts. Much has been written in the years since the war of how much the French hated the Germans, and there were some who undoubtedly did, but Severloh gives the reader a different look.  He wrote that not all French hated their conquerors.  Many French rather liked the Germans and were more than content to live under their rule.

Severloh's book also tells the story of his recent celebrity status.  Just as his career as a soldier led to guilt, now he attained an unwanted celebrity status that had at times hurt him.  The scrutiny forced him come to grips with his memories.

When asked by a BBC reporter to share some of the thoughts that passed through his mind, Severloh nervously slapped his thigh in an attempt to fight back his tears as his mind went back to that day of slaughter.  Severloh wept as he said: "What should I have done?  I thought I would never get out of there alive. I thought I am fighting for my life; it's them or me, that's what I thought."

Severloh confessed he spent the entire morning mowing down Americans as far away as 600 yards at Omaha Beach.  "At that distance, the enemy looked like ants," he said.  "That didn't bother me as much. I was just shooting at a spot assigned to my station."

At one moment the fighting became personal. 
It happened when the other men were reloading his machine gun.  Severloh reached for his rifle during a lull in the fighting. 

This is said to be Severloh's firing position at WN62

A young GI who had survived the onslaught in the sea was running up the beach.  

Severloh saw him and took aim.  He fired a round that smashed into the GI's forehead and sent his helmet spinning.  The soldier slumped dead on the sand. Severloh still remembers the man's contorted expression.  "It was only then I realized I had been killing people all the time," he said, "I still dream of that soldier now.  I feel sick when I think about it." 

Gazing at the beautiful ocean, the lovely beach, and the lush foliage everywhere, it is difficult to comprehend the savagery that took place here.  To a visitor like me, this is the perfect view.  To a German, this is a perfect view with a much different objective.  The perfect lines of fire mowed down hundreds and hundreds of men who never had a chance... right from this spot.

A bird.  Inside the bunker, life goes on.  As it should.

"Stutzpunkt WN62" is German for "Strong Point WN62".  WN62 was unquestionably the most powerful of all the German WN Resistance Nests.  Thanks in large part to the exploits of men like Heinrich Severloh, the American Cemetery is located just two hundred yards away... a grim testimony to the efficient killing power of WN62.

One final view of Omaha Beach where 2,000 Americans met death on D-Day.  This land has been donated by the French to the Americans "in perpetuity" for the purposes of maintaining this permanent memorial. 

I guess that makes it American soil in a way.  Heaven knows there is plenty of American blood in that sand.

This is Picture 9, the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial Visitors Center. Save plenty of time for this spot.  And bring a box of kleenex.  I watched a couple videos in there that turned me into a mud puddle of tears.  Powerful place.

By the time I reached the Visitors Center, I had made nearly an entire circle.  It was definitely an amazing adventure for me.

90 minutes is NOT enough time.  Spend the whole day there.

The theme of Sergeant Peregory's memorial is Sacrifice.
 
I remember breaking down in tears reading his story. I couldn't bear the thought that this man had died so that children like myself could live safely and enjoy so much opportunity in a wonderful country like the United States. 

And what was Peregory's reward?  This memorial.

I am fairly positive given the choice everyone of us would choose a life of comfort.  Life is not fair, no question about it.

Joe Dawson is the man most responsible for establishing the first breakthrough on the bluffs in the Platform area.

After his service in Normandy, Dawson continued to serve as commander of G Company through the campaign in France, Belgium and, finally, to Aachen, Germany. Dawson's G Company held off German counterattacks for thirty-nine days during the battle for Aachen on, what was called in contemporary papers and is still called in U.S. Army history, "Dawson's Ridge."

This ridge sat astride the main route that for the German attempts to relieve the city of Aachen, which Hitler had ordered to be defended at all costs. G Company lost 117 out of 139 men during the battle for "Dawson's Ridge." For this action, Dawson's command was honored with the Presidential Unit Citation.

In June 1994, Dawson revisited Normandy to introduce President Bill Clinton during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the invasion.  A native Texan born in Waco, Dawson lived in Corpus Christi after the war.  A geologist by trade, Dawson and his wife Melba had two children.   What a remarkable man.


Rick Archer's Note: 

What I saw at Omaha left me in tears most of the day.  I couldn't believe all those men were sent onto that beach DEFENSELESS

I was appalled to see my worst fears confirmed - at the start of the day, the Germans were able to mow down the men effortlessly.  The killing was so easy that several German gunners later complained they could have killed more Americans if their arms hadn't begun to hurt from firing so much! 

It rankles me no end that these men were sent in without protection.  Why couldn't they give these poor men at least a fighting chance!?

Nothing upsets me more than asking good men to sacrifice their lives in such a senseless fashion.  These were men who had mothers who went through agony to give birth, then spent countless hours feeding, bathing, clothing and nurturing these boys... just so some general could send them off a boat and hope that statistically one in five would be lucky enough to make it to the sea wall.  It makes me furious.

I would expect more from my leaders... a lot more.   There had to be a better way. 

To me, the major theme of the D-Day classic Saving Private Ryan was about the intense "survivor's guilt" experienced by the Matt Damon-"Private Ryan" character.  After the war, the Ryan character was determined to lead a good life.  Leading a good life was the only way his conscience could allow him to accept the noble sacrifice of life by the Tom Hanks character as well as the other men in Hanks' company who died trying to protect Ryan. 

I cannot imagine how hard it would be to lead a life knowing people that I knew and cared about had gone to their death so that I could live. 

My time at the Normandy Memorial was tear-filled.  I cried on several different occasions over the pain and the sacrifice on the part of so many brave men... our "Greatest Generation".  They were able to overcome the incomprehensible fear of dying as well as the fear of intense suffering just so that a death-dealing tyrant like Hitler could be removed. 

I think anyone reading my story will agree we all owe a huge debt to these men.  How we can ever repay that debt is a difficult question. 

I for one do not have an answer.  I suppose the time I spent on this article retelling the story of D-Day is my way of paying respect. 

And now let's read about the three American heroes, Joe Dawson, John Spalding, and Phillip Streczyk.  These were the men who led the penetration that saved the day. 

Chapter Five - Breakthrough

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