Chapter 6 -
Reflections on D-Day
Story written by Rick Archer
The Remarkable Sgt Streczyk
Rick Archer's Note: During my research, I poked my nose
into six different books and probably twenty different websites looking for
information. Sgt Phillip Streczyk's name popped up in
every story I read about this day with amazing frequency. Everything ever said about the man was full of tremendous praise.
Lt John Spalding, DSC recipient, on Streczyk:
"My assistant section leader was T/Sgt Phillip Streczyk. The
sergeant, who was later wounded in the Hurtgen forest action, was the best soldier I have ever seen.
He came into the army as a selectee and worked his way up to platoon
sergeant. He was in on landings at Oran and in Sicily. If we had
more men like him, the war would soon be over."
Captain General Ed Wozenski
on Streczyk: "Sergeant Streczyk
was one of my platoon sergeants. I think that he’s the
greatest unsung hero of World War II. To the best of my knowledge, he was the
first one on the beach and it was the path that he took that I
picked up. The rest of our battalion followed, 2nd Battalion 16th
Infantry, and then later on I think almost the whole corps went up
that same path."
Colson, DSC recipient, on Streczyk:
"He wasn't West Point material but I'll tell you what: there wasn't
a braver man that ever walked the ground."
Pfc. Bruce Buck
"Streczyk was good. He knew what he was doing."
The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the
Distinguished Service Cross
to Phillip Streczyk, Sergeant,
U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military
operations against an armed enemy while serving with Company E, 2d
Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in action
against enemy forces on 6 June 1944 near Colleville-sur-Mer, France.
In the face of vicious enemy fire, Sergeant Philip Streczyk led his
section across the beach.
He cut through the
led his platoon
through a minefield and up a steep hill overlooking the beach and by
this action opened a beach exit. He then led his section in an
attack on an enemy emplacement, the fire from which had prevented
the establishment of a vitally needed beachhead in that sector.
In a vicious fight, Sergeant Streczyk set the example for his men in
leading the attack. The destruction of this enemy strongpoint
contributed materially to the success of the invasion effort.
The valor, initiative and disregard for his own safety exhibited by
Sergeant Streczyk exemplify the highest traditions of the military
forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself,
the 1st Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
of my favorite resources for studying D-Day was an excellent website known
More than half of what I have written for this chapter was based on
material that came from
War Chronicle. The W.C. website has a special section
in the First Infantry Division that the men belonged to. Lt
John Spalding and Phillip
Streczyk were part of the First Infantry Division, better known as
"The Big Red One". The Big Red One was a fabled fighting unit
that got its name from a shoulder patch with a red '1' on it.
On the War Chronicle website there are oral histories from Spalding, Capt Wozenski, Bieder,
DiGaetano, Colson, and several others.
As I read through those different stories, it became readily
apparent that there were several glaring inconsistencies. For
example, Spalding stated that Louis Ramundo was killed at the beach.
"Pfc. Lewis J. Ramundo was killed here,
the only man killed in my
section on the beach at D-Day."
On the other hand, Clarence Colson distinctly remembered
Ramundo getting killed shortly after Colson took out a pillbox
single-handedly up on top of the ridge. Colson claimed a
sniper got Ramundo as he went down the hill. Considering Spalding
said he only lost two men all day (Fred Bisco died in the afternoon at
Colleville), you would assume Spalding would remember the correct
location of Ramundo's death. And perhaps he did. Maybe
Colson got it wrong.
In Spalding's oral history, he distinctly remembers DiGaetano
flamethrower into the water.
Spalding's words: "About this time Pfc. Vincent DiGaetano, who was
carrying a 72 pound flamethrower, yelled and said, "I'm drowning,
what do you want me to do with this flamethrower?" Streczyk told him
to drop it, so he did. In addition to the flamethrowers and many
personal weapons, we lost our mortar, most of the mortar ammunition,
one of our bazookas, much of the bazooka ammunition."
After that, Spalding never mentioned the flamethrower again in his
However, in Vinny DiGaetano's oral history, he specifically said,
"We got the flamethrower
out and went to a pillbox [at WN64]. The
Germans come out, Aaaaah! They didn’t even know we had a frigging
flamethrower. They were hiding in the back or something. If you get
them, they know about it. Had to be like napalm. In 30 seconds, or a
minute, all gone. The tank was empty. Goodbye."
Another contradiction I found dealt with casualties in Spalding's
company. Spalding said 2 men died. He took in a boat of
32. So why did he wander around that hill all day with 20-22
men? Streczyk's report said they lost 12 of 32 getting to
got 32 men onto the sands, took 12 casualties mostly from bullet
fire in getting across the beach, and continued onward immediately
with 20 men."
16-E Report Obviously Streczyk's report seems to make
Personally, it really doesn't matter very much at this point.
I only care because I was trying to piece together a reliable story.
In the cosmic scheme of things, D-Day took place nearly 70 years
ago and we won the battle. So obviously contradictions like these are no big deal.
But I found lots of
contradictions... which makes perfect sense because so much happened that day.
There is even a term for it... "the fog of war". If facts
can't be reconciled, the historians chalk it up to "the fog of war".
Spalding clearly respected his talented Sgt Streczyk. He said,
"My assistant section leader was Sgt Phillip Streczyk. The
sergeant, who was later wounded in the Hurtgen forest action, was the best soldier I have ever seen.
He came into the army as a selectee and worked his way up to platoon
sergeant. He was in on landings at Oran and in Sicily. If we had
more men like him, the war would soon be over."
So now it is time to bring up a contradiction that is a real
headache. Streczyk's DSC
cut through the enemy wire..."
In his book The Fighting First, Flint Whitlock clearly
described a remarkable story of how Streczyk bravely rescued the
D-Day invasion by risking certain death to create the
first opening of the entire day!
The caption describes an effort so heroic that I would say Streczyk
deserves the Medal of Honor! But there seems to be some
sort of problem here.
John Spalding had this to say about the
barbed wire incident, "Down
near the water's edge we ran into wire.
S/Sgt. Curtis Colwell
blew a hole in the wire with a
bangalore. We picked our way through; I personally didn't see
the gap he had blown, but I was still in a daze."
As I researched this story, it bothered me no end that Lt. John
Spalding would praise Streczyk so highly in his post D-Day
interview, then completely fail to mention how Streczyk had
risked his life to advance the troops at the barbed wire. This
obvious discrepancy made absolutely no sense to me!
Ask yourself this question: Thousands of men are pinned down
by withering fire on the beach. No man dares move or risk
death. Sooner or later the German tanks are going to show up
and send every one of these men to oblivion. Desperate to
survive the killing fire, one man rushes to the wire and is gunned
down. Another man rushes to the wire only to be gunned down as
well. There are two dead bodies as a reminder to all that
there is no chance in hell of success. Amazingly, a third man
- Streczyk - rushes to the wire and
risks his life to cut the barbed wire, the act of which provides the
absolute turning point of the day. Now here is the
question: If the fate of your entire company, much
less the entire V Corps, much less the success of the entire Allied
Invasion rested on breaking through that barbed wire and your
Sergeant leapt down on the ground and furiously begin snipping away
while bullets struck the ground just inches from his face - an act
of incredible heroism - do you think you would remember that?
Do you think you would get the guy's name straight?
I think, yes, we can all agree we would remember that incident and
get the facts right. No fog of war could possibly make us forget
the incident or get the wrong guy.
Spalding struck me as an intelligent man. He remembered all
sorts of details. His oral history is six pages long and full
of times, names, and incidents. It is a lucid, coherent
So how on earth did Spalding fail to mention the incident with
Streczyk and cutting the hole in the barbed wire? After
all, that was an amazing action that should have earned Streczyk a
Medal of Honor! Did Spalding's glaring omission cost Sgt
Streczyk the highest possibly honor our country can bestow?
I doubt it. That's right, I doubt it. I do not think Streczyk cut that wire. I want to believe Streczyk was an
incredible hero - and barbed wire or no barbed wire I still think he was an incredible hero - but
I don't think he cut that wire.
I believe it happened just like Spalding said - Colwell blew a hole
in it with a bangalore torpedo. Furthermore, there was no
heavy fire. It probably wasn't anywhere near the suicidal mission
Nor do I believe there were dead people who had failed trying to cut
that wire before Streczyk.
I think that entire story is nonsense. This sector of the beach was in a
rare area of reduced gunfire; we discussed that in the previous
chapter. Dawson's men
nearby didn't have any trouble blowing their barbed wire, so why
should Spalding's company have trouble either?
Don't get me wrong - based on what I read, I am huge admirer of
Phillip Streczyk. If this really happened, I think we should
all stand up and applaud! Then we should demand his war record be reviewed
and get him that Medal of Honor!
However, like I said, I don't think Streczyk was robbed on wire
I think the culprit here is one of two people.
One possibility is that Mr. Whitlock, author of the Fighting
First (2005), either let his imagination get carried away or
accidentally copied someone else's faulty information. Before
too quick to judge, let me say I am sure I am guilty of the same thing
- I wrote this entire story about D-Day based on other people's
I have no way of knowing the 'truth' of everything I have written.
That said, I think Mr. Whitlock's passage about Streczyk is clearly
is something I found on the Internet:
Service Cross To Curtis Colwell, awarded for actions
during the World War II
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act
of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the
Distinguished Service Cross to Staff Sergeant
6662084), United States Army, for extraordinary heroism in
connection with military operations against an armed enemy while
serving with Company E, 2d Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment,
1st Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 June
1944, in France.
Under the heavy
enemy rifle, machine gun and artillery fire of the enemy, Staff
Sergeant Colwell fearlessly cut a gap in the wire. He then led
his section through this gap in the wire and through the mine
field beyond the wire.
As his section
approached its objective it came under fierce enemy machine gun
fire. Completely ignoring his own safety, Staff Sergeant Colwell
led his section in a successful assault upon the machine gun
position. Staff Sergeant Colwell's determined leadership,
personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the
highest traditions of the military forces of the United States
and reflect great credit upon himself, the 1st Infantry
Division, and the United States Army.
So a DSC was given to two different men in the same company and both citations mentioned
the barbed wire. I suppose it is always possible that
Streczyk, not Colson, was indeed the man who cut the wire.
Mr. Whitlock wrote THE UNTOLD STORY OF
OMAHA. Perhaps Mr. Whitlock has learned something new.
Maybe he uncovered the secret of who really cut the wire. If so, then Mr. Whitlock should come forward and make sure Phillip
Streczyk receives his long overdue medal.
But I doubt that is the case. My money is on Colwell.
Another possible culprit behind the discrepancy might be the mysterious
16-E Report (16th Infantry, E Company). This was a
report of the events of the day written shortly after D-Day ended. This report
is an unsigned and undated field report. It was rumored to be
written by the famous war historian SLA Marshall. This 16-E
report seems like it was the first documentation of the events of
D-Day for Company E.
In the 16-E report, Phil Streczyk's name is quoted 13 times.
Spalding's name is not mentioned once. In fact, this entire report
reads like Streczyk was the only man on the field that day.
Here is an excerpt:
section—which was to contribute one of the most intrepid
actions of the entire day—came in exactly where “F” was supposed
to land. (See overlay: The place of landing was identified by
Streczyk’s surviving members and by Streczyk during
Streczyk got 32 men onto the sands, took
12 casualties mostly from bullet fire in getting across the
beach, and continued onward immediately with 20 men. The German
strong point (WN62) —covering EXIT 3 on the eastern side—when the debouchement
took place was to the party’s immediate left, and from this,
they were drawing most of the fire.
Dead ahead of them was
a small ravine and their approach was direct toward it.
them a little to the left of the first line of emplacements
serving as an outwork of the strong point WN64. A communications trench led
back from the emplacements. The party moved rapidly up the draw,
then went right and slightly up the hill in such a way that they
emerged on the rear of the outwork before the enemy had noted
the movement (Streczyk). The 14 Germans inside the work
were caught flat-footed. The party attacked them with grenades
and bazookas and they made a futile attempt to reply with
grenades: several were killed, two were captured and the others
The party then attacked strong point WN64 from the rear, and had its
rearward exit covered before a shot was fired. From the cover of
an outer trench, they engaged it with grenades. The enemy fire
gradually fell off as the occupants went to cover, but there was
no sign of a surrender. For 4 ½ hours, Streczyk’s men
stayed there, keeping this point neutralized and thereby greatly
assisting the movements of “G” and of other units across the
beach. Yet they did not feel strong enough to assault it
directly and under the conditions in which the men were
employed, the Streczyk party was wholly scattered with
each man fighting his own battle and doing whatever he could to
harass the enemy.
In this time they took 21 prisoners and left
an equal number of German dead behind without themselves losing
one man. They had kept under cover in the outworks, worked in
small groups through the trenches and gradually reduced the
enemy strength so that strong point WN64 was not capable of any strong
action. The strongpoint had not yet been conquered, but it
had become “contained.”
Streczyk’s men had blown the wire confronting the ravine just
after landing. There was thus a
convenient avenue for the
advance of other troops. Fitzsimmons, who had landed well over
to the left, came up shortly after 1100 and learned about the
breach. The Company Commander, Capt Edward Wozenski, then decided to
move laterally along the beach toward Streczyk and he and
Fitzsimmons set to work rounding up the men. They could only get
about 1 ½ squads together. Wozenski then tried to get smoke laid
on the beach to cover the movement to the right but this was
unavailing. The party then moved on along the beach.
Streczyk said that after getting to the top of the hill,
his party moved west, not east, and that in so doing, they
crossed the route by which Dawson and his men had moved inland
from the beach. He was positive that the party had moved to the
right after reducing the SP [Strong Point]. The other men agreed that
this was the line taken by the small parties which came up on
Streczyk’s rear. Fitzsimmons said that the groups which came
up later and took the same route were not seriously checked by
fire on the beach nor in their journey up the hill.
For someone said to be an 'unsung hero', someone was certainly
singing Streczyk's praises that day!
My guess is that whoever wrote this report interviewed Streczyk, but
After Spalding's platoon had taken out
Spalding stayed up top while Streczyk took the prisoners down to the
beach. The beach is where the reporter would be. Therefore Streczyk was likely the man first interviewed about the amazing
breakthrough. That said, why Spalding's name doesn't appear a
single time in the
report is a
So what do you think? If you read that 16-E report and that report
only, you might conclude Streczyk was the unit leader and that
Streczyk was heavily responsible for the breakout. Don't you imagine if this was the first and only report of the events of D-Day and it
was allowed to circulate long enough, this report could be the
likely origin of the Legend of Phillip Streczyk?
clarify - Streczyk had every right to explain his role in the
remarkable accomplishment of taking out an entire Nazi stronghold
with only 20 men. That is amazing! But what about
Spalding? I find the whole thing curious. This must be the
'fog of war' in action.
There clearly was some monkey business in reporting the facts of the day on
possibly even more than one person, but let's keep one thing in mind
- whether Streczyk cut the barbed wire or not, whether Streczyk deliberately
forgot to mention his Lieutenant's name or not, the one undeniable truth is that
Phil Streczyk risked his life time and again on D-Day. Phillip Streczyk was
the main reason for the eventual
takedown of Strong Point
Note: Here is my point. I am trying to create a
reasonably authentic recounting of what took place at Omaha
Beach on D-Day. That said, in my search for the
truth, I am handicapped in several ways. First, I am
depending on the words of both published writers and Internet
writers I do not know for their accuracy. In so doing, I
am well aware that most of these writers are just as dependent
as I am on other sources to get at the facts. Like the
Bible, every time a story gets retold by a secondary person,
there is a chance the facts get skewed a bit.
My other handicap
is that there is probably no living member of Spalding or
Dawson's unit to interview. Fortunately, there is
one source of new information... the children of the soldiers.
I have corresponded with Stan Karas Jr, son of Stan Karas,
second in command to Joseph Dawson. My next chapter,
Company G, is based on that correspondence.
In addition, I
have corresponded with Ron Streczyk, the son of Phillip Streczyk.
Mr. Streczyk has helped me understand his father's
accomplishments at D-Day. From what I gather, Phillip
Streczyk was nothing short of a one man wave of destruction.
In particular, Ron
Streczyk added a fascinating insight on one of the many unusual
stories about his father.
Sgt. Clarence Colson, himself a DSC
winner on D-Day, said this about Phillip Streczyk:
remember Streczyk. I knew him all the way through. We had an
awful time keeping a helmet on him. He didn’t want to wear a
Africa he snuck up around and somehow stole a German
motorcycle [Laughs] and came riding that thing into camp
[Laughs harder]. I remember that very distinctly. I can see him— brrrrrmmm— coming like a wildman.
We almost shot him. Good thing he didn't have a helmet on;
we recognized him at the last second and held our fire.
But, boy, he just
didn’t seem to care. Or he just figured the Good Lord was taking
care of him, I don’t know. Ordinarily, you’d keep your head down
and peek a little. You don’t just stick it out like robin,
shoot me, you know. I heard he was supposed to get the
Medal of Honor. They tried getting it for him. But anyway they
wouldn’t give it to him."
I would now like to offer Ron Streczyk's reminiscence
regarding Colson's anecdote. In June 2016 I received
this email from Mr. Streczyk.
June 28, 2016
Colson speaks about "not seeing Streczyk for a coupla'
When I was a
boy and my father was gone, one day I was watchingHogan's
Heroes was on the small screen, TV as we knew it.
My father had mentioned something about being POW.
Unsure what a POW was, I asked my mother about POWs and Dad.
reply was, "Yeah, they took him prisoner a couple times.
Once for two days and once for one day."
story about my father and coming across Colson's comment
jogged my memory. Colson concluded that my father
stole a German motorcycle. He would be correct about
that, but I believe he left something out. What
Colson probably did not realize was that my father [Streczyk]
was a captured POW for this two days absence and he
Dad not only
escaped from enemy hands but he stole an equipped vehicle to
get away. The German soldier or soldiers in charge of
that vehicle most likely perished in the process.
question arises, what in hell was Dad doing away from allied
lines far enough to get himself captured?? One
possibility is that he was doing risky reconnaissance, no
easy task in the desert where there is no place to hide.
incident took place right after he saw Christ. In my
father's own words, "We were in a foxhole, just me and
another guy for two, three days. Pinned down.
Bombs everywhere. I was so scared. We were
shitting in our helmets and throwing it out. I prayed
to god to let me out. That's when I saw Jesus and he
said, "You're going to make it out of this war OK."
Those were my father's own words.
was the beginning of my father's blaze of glory.
Perhaps he felt courage born of a divine mission.
Please let me point out that my father saved far more enemy
lives that he took.
I cannot escape
the feeling that Phillip Streczyk's accomplishments during World
War II were far more profound than we will ever know. As
always, I tip my hat to this authentic American hero.
Streczyk's greatest patron was Captain Capt. Edward Wozenski, the
colorful and highly respected commander of E Company. Captain
Wozenski was a hero in his own right. I found a great
story about a moment when Wozenski's E Company suddenly faced a
German tank attack. Wozenski let the German tank rumble over
his foxhole, then jumped up and blasted it with a bazooka from behind
all the while calmly shouting orders.
Whenever Wozenski spoke of the events of D-Day, Streczyk's name came up time
and time again. Wozenski was not only proud of Streczyk, I
think the older man was fond of him in a fatherly way.
Wozenski's first encounter with Streczyk resulted in one
of the few humorous moments of the day.
There had been far too much death for
However, even the Grim Reaper might see the humor in this one.
Capt Wozenski was rushing to the top to find out what was going on up
there. By chance, Wozenski ran into Streczyk as he was coming
down to give the men on the beach the good news about what had just
happened at WN64.
Narration by Capt. Edward Wozenki, Commander of Company E:
"So I'm climbing the bluff to see what the hell is going on up there
and I met Sgt. Streczyk coming down. I see Streczyk is coming
down with a big grin on his face and I assume it's because he’s happy to see me.
Well, I'm happy to see him too. Maybe he can tell me what is
And I say, “My God!” as Streczyk puts his foot on a teller landmine
right in front of my nose. I can't believe it. I’m
climbing up the cliff and the damn fool puts his foot on a teller
mine! He's about to get blown to bits and the damn fool is going to
take me with him!
I get sick to my stomach with fear and think to myself, “Wha-? How stupid could you be?"
Streczyk sees the horror on my face and laughs. “Oh, don’t let
it worry you, Captain, it didn’t go off when I stepped on it going
It takes me a while to start breathing again. The mine is a
dud and that sonofagun did this to me deliberately! I think
to myself, "That Streczyk, I'm gonna
break his neck the first chance I get.”
[RA Note: I ran across a footnote stating this
incident was included as a scene in The Longest Day.
So I looked up 'Streczyk' in the 1959 Cornelius Ryan book that the
movie was based on. While I was poking my nose into the book,
I just happened to run across an interesting tidbit.
There on page 265 was this sentence, "A
hundred yards away Sergeant Phillip Streczyk had his fill of being
pinned down too. Some soldiers recalled that Streczyk almost
booted men off the beach and up the mined headlands, where he
breached the enemy barbed wire."
Cornelius Ryan, the man who wrote the Longest Day, the most famous book about
D-Day, may have been the source of the Streczyk barbed wire
And who was Ryan probably interviewing when he heard
that story? Ed Wozenski. Wozenski's name appears in the
same paragraph. Therefore I think Wozenski is the person who
created the barbed wire misconception. However I don't think it was intentional.
That's just how Wozenski remembered it. Blame it on the fog of
war. Like I said, I think Wozenski was fond of Streczyk.
They weren't just acquaintances, they were friends. Besides, you know
how those Polish guys like to stick together.
Captain Wozenski had another favorite anecdote about Streczyk.
This is a great story.
On D-Day as he was riding to shore in his landing vehicle, Wozenski
was shocked at the number of men floating around in the waves with
their life vests on. At first Wozenski feared those were
airmen. He thought the 9th Tactical Air Force or possibly the
8th Air Force had taken a hell of a beating and these people had
gone in the drink. Then he figured it out. These weren't
air force guys. These were tank guys.
That meant the amphibious tank battalion that was supposed to hit the beach
four minutes prior to H-Hour had apparently failed. These men
in the water were
forced to escape their swamped tanks as the giant metal
straight to the bottom of the English Channel. Wozenski
didn't know what had happened at the time, but he cursed anyway.
knew enough to know if the tank men were in the water, then the
tanks weren't on the beach. This was not a good sign for the attack.
Sure enough, when Wozenski got to the beach, he saw only two tanks there
- both quickly disabled by German fire.
That confirmed his worst fear. He assumed this meant the other
62 DD amphibious tanks had sunk and the crews bailed out.
Wozenski also noticed there were no holes (bomb craters) on the beach for the men to hide in.
That meant the bombing attack had failed too. Wozenski was furious,
but reserved most of his anger for the tanks. It was one thing for the bombers to miss
their targets due to lack of visibility, but those swimming tanks were
supposed to be a sure thing.
He thought to himself, 'Those goddamned tanks were supposed to be the focal point of the entire attack. This
Wozenski groaned at the irony of it. These floating
supposed to be the great secret weapon of the day. The
security surrounding these tanks during the build-up to D-Day was
practically as tight as the highly classified secret of the
Normandy landing location
itself. And now the entire tank force was in the drink.
Wozenski recalled, "We were all so secretive, sworn to such secrecy,
about these famous "DD tanks". Everyone knew those tanks were
terrible! They were supposed to be these incredible tanks, but
they performed so badly in tests we called them 'Donald Ducks'.
We pleaded with the tank guys to use the British model, the Hobart
Funnies, because they were proven to be successful in combat, but
they didn't listen to a thing we said. Those idiots almost
cost us the invasion.
So now here we are in Normandy, the day after
the attack, and Sergeant Streczyk, what a sense of humor that man
had, calls me over for a look-see into a bunker. The guy has a
grin a mile wide. I frowned. Uh oh, here we go again. Now what? Was he
going to fake blowing us both to pieces again?
So he drags me inside this massive bunker and points. There on the
wall the damn Germans had painted a picture of one of our precious
secret Donald Duck tanks just so they would recognize it. The painting was so pretty it reminded me
of a Betty Grable pin-up! I am surprised they didn't add a big
bosomed Fraulein sitting on the muzzle with a big smile on her face. Heck, that's what our guys would have done. Good Lord, the Jerries had known about our vaunted secret weapon the whole time!
All that secrecy! [Laughs] Streczyk and I howled over that one.
Those idiot tank guys didn't have a clue what they were doing."
In the same interview,
Wozenski went on to make his famous quote about
"I think that
the greatest unsung hero of World War II. That's right, Sergeant
Streczyk, one of my platoon sergeants. Because he was the first
one off the beach. To the best of my knowledge, he was the first
one off the beach and it was the path that he took that I picked
up. The rest of our battalion followed, 2nd Battalion 16th
Infantry, and then later on I think almost the whole corps went
up that path."
Wozenski later went on
to say this:
"If Streczyk did
not earn a Medal of Honor, no one ever did. Thousands of men
were on the beach being killed like flies. To even lift your
head over the shingle was to invite quick death. Yet Streczyk
led a small group up the bluffs, cleaned out enemy pillboxes,
and released a flare to indicate his breakthrough, which the
(source: Omaha Beach, Joseph Balkoski, pg 204)
The Legend of Sergeant
Streczyk didn't end there. Sgt. Walter Bieder told this
"Two weeks after
D-Day, it was time to move out. It was a mess out there.
St. Lô. I looked at it in horror.
St. Lô was just about leveled to the ground by our aerial bombing. There wasn't
[Note: St. Lô was a town 20 miles from Omaha that was
the scene of fierce bombing. St. Lô was at the junction of
two important crossroads; the Allies bombed it to limit German
The Germans were always threatening a Blitzkreig. Well,
St. Lô, damn, that was a Blitzkreig of our very own right there.
After we were finished with that spot, I think they had to build a
brand new St. Lô. The place was flattened!
The German Seventh Army was retreating and our planes were dive
bombing them and strafing them, tearing the Nazis up to hell.
We were on the move to cut off their retreat. At a town
called Mons, the
Krauts were on one road and we were over here. And
eventually we met.
Our platoon got up to a brick wall around a cemetery. The
Germans were in there surrounded. They were running around wild down there and the guys were
picking them off. Man, those guys were running. A couple of my men
said, “Fifty bucks I nail that son of a b—.”
Streczyk wasn't happy about shooting the Krauts cold-blooded like
that, so he decided to do something about it. Streczyk and
somebody else grabbed a jeep and drove it with a white flag into German lines.
Streczyk starts up with that Polish lingo again and
talked a bunch of Germans into surrendering. And they came
in by the hundreds. Hundreds of them! The
turkey shoot was over.
saved their lives. No doubt about it. We teased
Streczyk and called him "Sgt. York" for capturing the whole damn
German army by himself.
[Note: Sergeant York was the most
famous hero of WW I. One of the final scenes of the 1941 movie
about York shows him and a handful of other survivors trudging
back to American lines with 132 German prisoners in tow.]
exploits on D-Day, he was
awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Be
sure to note
there is no mention of the disputed barbed wire incident.
was also honored with the British Military Medal, pinned on by General
“For gallantry in
action against the enemy on 6 June 1944 near Colleville-sur-Mer,
France. T/Sgt. Streczyk was one of the first men to enter
the maze of trenches and dugouts in an enemy stronghold.
In desperate hand to hand fighting, Sgt. Streczyk cleared out
compartment after compartment. In this fighting he
captured an officer and 20 enemy soldiers. He then, with
complete disregard for his own safety and without assistance,
assaulted and destroyed an enemy machine gun nest.
heroic and courageous actions of T/Sgt. Streczyk were in keeping
with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United
I think it is safe
to say that Streczyk was an
incredible hero. No, he probably didn't cut
the barbed wire. But I don't think that matters one bit.
Streczyk was the point man who led the amazing attack on
Badly outnumbered, the Americans dismantled
one unit at a time.
Streczyk risked his life repeatedly as he led
each attack. Much of it was face to face combat in trenches... very
dangerous stuff. A well-thrown grenade or a hidden gunner
could mean instant death.
amazing bravery that day and throughout the
I hope someday Phillip Streczyk will receive the Congressional Medal of
Honor. He gets my vote.
I know just how to get Streczyk that award - make a movie about him. I would pay to see
that movie. I bet you would too.
An Excerpt from
Omaha Beach: D-Day
Written by Joseph Balkoski
No historical account can honestly classify any outfit that
landed on Omaha Beach on the morning of June 6 as "lucky".
Some units, however, may be defined as "less unfortunate" than
Among those that may be
consigned to that category are Lt. John Spalding's boat team from
Company E and Capt Joseph Dawson's Company G, both of the 16th
Spalding's team had come
ashore shortly after H-Hour at a point halfway between the St.
Laurent and Colleville draws virtually alone.
About 20 minutes later,
Dawson's company followed in its wake. Although both groups
met heavy fire crossing the tidal flat, both companies managed to
reach the line of shingle rock at the high-water mark relatively
Here they had by chance
stumbled into a position where they were separated from German
strongpoints by a greater distance than any other 1st Division unit
that had yet landed - more than 500 yards.
and Dawson's men were partially shielded from enemy observation by
three decrepit stone cottages situated just beyond the shingle,
wrapped on two sides by sturdy stone walls several feet high.
From this place,
Spalding and Dawson were among the first Americans on Omaha Beach to
arrive at the unanticipated conclusion that the only way off the
beach would be over the bluffs, not straight through the beach exits
as the invasion plan had specified.
Teeth of the Defense
and Dawson were ... the first... to arrive at the
unanticipated conclusion that the only way off the beach
would be over the bluffs, not straight through the beach exits
as the invasion plan had specified."
Rick Archer's Note: I sat straight up in my chair when
I read that sentence!
I read over 30 different accounts of D-Day in preparation
for this article and Mr. Balkoski was the only person to directly point out
that the pre-invasion strategy was to attack the draws, i.e. the
gaps between the hills that were defended by strongholds on EITHER
SIDE. When I read this, my mouth literally dropped open.
So I started to review the other sources with a more discerning eye; sure enough, Balkoski was
"the draws, the
natural exits off the beaches, were the main targets in the
initial assault plan. However, the strongly concentrated
defenses around these draws meant that the troops landing near
them quickly wound up in no shape to carry on a further assault.
Only in the areas between the draws, at the bluffs, were units
able to land in greater strength. Defenses were also weaker away
from the draws, thus, most advances were made there.
Rommel built his entire defense around those strong points.
What military genius devised the plan to send our American troops
directly at them? Heinrich Severloh, the infamous Beast
of Omaha, killed 1,000 Americans singlehandedly. And how did
he do it? If I am reading this correctly, the answer seems to
suggest that our military strategy dictated our men would run
straight at the defenses
guarding a draw without any kind of protection!
"...the troops landing near them quickly wound up in no shape to carry
on a further assault".
That certainly is a
nice way to put it. I would call it 'senseless slaughter'.
I suppose it is always easier to criticize and hindsight is 20-20
and all the other clichés, but the one thing that has always
disgusted me about Omaha Beach was the stupidity of sending
those men into battle so totally defenseless. Now I am to understand they
were not only sent in defenseless, but they were deliberately sent into the
teeth of the defense as well! I can't seem to shake the image
of a bunch of smug military planners sitting at their comfortable
table drinking tea while they bandied about dry statistics of casualty
probabilities. These kids should not have been treated like
expendable toy soldiers or like plastic cubes in a game of Risk.
It makes me furious. By sending these young men into the teeth
of the defense, they were given little or no chance of survival.
I can certainly sympathize with Ed Wozenski, the commander who broke
down in sobs that night when he discovered he had lost 140 of his
200 men in battle that day. He felt a helpless rage that lofty
predictions of bomb craters on the beach to hide in and powerful
tanks to hide behind had been empty promises.
There cannot be any question of the bravery of the American soldiers
that day. I have little doubt that every single one of them
was scared out of their wits, but they tried their best anyway. As Patton pointed out, "courage is not the absence of fear, but rather
the ability to act in spite of fear." By that standard, our
men performed admirably.
Unfortunately - and trust me, I don't like saying this - it is my
impression that the men who planned this attack failed miserably.
The utter cluelessness of the planners was impossible to overlook.
There was little finesse; it was all brute force - "Send 10 men
straight at a machine gun and hope that one gets off a lucky shot
before he is mowed down".
If there is one book on Omaha Beach to read, I would recommend Mr.
Balkoski's Omaha Beach. He really seems to 'get it'.
Not only does Mr. Balkoski get it, so do the readers of his book.
I would like to share this review of Balkoski's
Omaha Beach from one of his readers.
"There are three
things I take away from Balkoski's
One is the
remarkable resiliency, courage and resourcefulness of the
The other was
the pervasive constant foreboding the
planners must have felt that the Germans
would surely counter-attack
with the Panzers and push them off the beach before it was
secured. That fear can be the only
possible explanation for the many foolhardy risks taken.
Someone - thank
goodness we will never know who they were - sent those brave young men
straight to their death on one senseless 'Mission Impossible'
after another. In the movies those kind of missions always
succeed with only the nastiest person killed to convey 'realism'.
Nonsense. In reality those missions usually fail. On
Omaha, they all failed.
It is amazing
to me that the USA got the job done with so many mistakes. It was
basically sacrificing American lives.
Sixty-five years after the fact, Balkoski's book is a stark reminder
that to the soldiers on the beach the final outcome of this
assault was far from pre-ordained."
As we have read, credit for
initial turning of the tide of D-Day
goes to the work
of three men - Lieutenant John Spalding,
Sergeant Phillip Streczyk, and Captain Joe Dawson
- plus of course the brave men in their companies who participated in the raids.
Spalding, Streczyk, and Dawson were hardly the only the men to risk
their lives in the service of their country on D-Day. Nor were
they the only heroes.
There were many American heroes at Omaha on D-Day. I read several amazing stories
how the soldiers tried to assault the powerful WN strongholds defending the four "Gaps".
However, a case can be made that these three
men made the single most
important contribution of the day. They were the first to
reach the top and they were the first to take
out a strong point. Once
went down, suddenly it became safe to land on the beach for the
first time all day. The Americans poured everything into this
breach and gained the initiative.
One thing that I have not made clear enough is that Spalding and
Dawson were successful because they improvised the plan of attack.
They were told the entire point of the attack was to go directly
after the strongholds. Instead, once they landed, both men had
the sense to see the futility of that plan. Instead they took
their men straight up the hill even though it wasn't in their orders
to do so. As it turned out, this action led Spalding to
successfully take down a
stronghold by coming in from the rear. Both men deserve credit
for their leadership skills and their common sense. And
Sgt Streczyk, of course, deserves credit for executing Spalding's
plans so brilliantly.
There is a distinct possibility that Rommel was the superior of all
the Generals on the field that day. His brilliant defenses
gave his small defensive force enough leverage to keep a vast attack
at bay. Who knows, had he been given another month or so to prepare and
more men to defend with, I might be typing in German now. Ach du lieber!
But there can be no question that the American fighting men were far
tougher than their German counterparts that day. I read accounts of
Germans surrendering or fleeing time and again. There wasn't a
whole lot of laying down lives for the Führer. On the other
hand, constantly defying death,
the Americans kept coming. At first, the American spirit was
broken. Then Dawson and Spalding made the difference. By
creating the first breakthrough, their success gave courage to
everyone else. After that, the Americans clearly became
the more determined fighting force. American military planning
wasn't very good, but we had great leadership on the beach.
Dawson and Spalding were just two of the many fine leaders I read
about who made the difference.
Streczyk, Spalding, and Dawson were the stars of the day.
their courageous individual efforts as well as
the brilliant teamwork
of the soldiers they led up the hill,
these three highly decorated men were the
ones responsible for creating the first real breakthrough of the
day. They helped turn a losing effort
at Omaha into a miraculous comeback
victory for the Americans.
They saved countless lives of the men trapped on
the beach in the process.
Credit and the
Tendency to Generalize
Changing the subject a bit, I
could not possibly have done this much research without forming some
impressions about the men I studied.
One thing I gathered from the comments of the men in Spalding's
platoon was that to a man they had nothing but admiration for
Phil Streczyk. These men said so much about Streczyk's initiative
and intrepid nature that I
could not help but get the impression that Streczyk was the unspoken
leader of the platoon at D-Day. There is a good chance
that Streczyk thought the same thing, but I won't pry that door open too
I also felt John Spalding quietly agreed that Streczyk was the main
reason for the platoon's success. As I read Spalding's Interview, he seemed to rely on
Streczyk at every turn. However, let's give Spalding some
credit here. Okay, this is Spalding's first action.
Rather than be some pompous fool, he had the sense to put his ego
aside and rely heavily on his experienced second-in-command.
That simply makes me respect Spalding more.
It seemed like the two men
complemented each other well. I got the sense that Spalding
was an intelligent and capable leader while Streczyk was the
impetuous man of action. When it came time to attack the
fortress, Spalding sized up the best plan of attack, then took a
step back and let Streczyk go to work. Fire and Ice... pretty
I am not trying to cause trouble here. Spalding did as well as
he could under the circumstances. However, at D-Day,
John Spalding was a young and very green Lieutenant.
Spalding must have done something right or
he wouldn't have been given the DSC. But I am just pointing out
that Streczyk was a veteran who had already earned the complete
respect of the men. It is to Streczyk's credit that he
seemed to support Lieutenant Spalding in every way he could in the
field. However... and forgive me if I step on someone's toes
here... I do have a lingering hunch that Streczyk had no problem
singing his own praises after the battle is over. And you know what?
I don't blame him a bit. Unless the true story has somehow
been obscured, from what I read Streczyk took most of the risks.
should get the lion's share of the credit.
And this brings up an interesting point. Who deserves the
credit? Who gets the credit? Does the credit always get
placed where it belongs?
There is an innate
human tendency to generalize. I am as guilty as the rest.
There were so many details in the D-Day story that it was usually easier
for me to say, "Spalding did this" or "Dawson did that". The
truth is that sometimes it was really Streczyk who did it. Or
Colson. Or Colwell. Or Bieder. Or
writer flat out stated, "I get the feeling that the writing of this
tale gives far too much credit to the leaders. The real heroes
were the men who did the fighting."
Isn't that the way it always is? There are ten other men
blocking for the Quarterback, but Elway, Manning, and Brady get the
headlines. There were two other Supremes besides Diana
Ross, but few people can name them today. Try naming the other
two guys on Neil Armstrong's trip to the moon.
Dawson's names will go down in history? Or Streczyk?
Right now, I doubt that very few people have ever heard of any of
the three men. I certainly did not know who they were until I began
nosing around the story of Omaha Beach.
Someday that Viewing
Platform next to the Cemetery might just have a statue of Spalding
Or perhaps someone
will name the bluffs on either
side of the Platform for them. That would be a nice gesture.
And easy to do as well. Why not a plaque in the exact area
where they reached the top for the first time? It would a
fascinating piece of history for all the visitors to learn.
But what about Streczyk? Does he get a statue too?
Or does he get the spare wheel treatment because he was merely a
I think it would be a
perfect gesture to honor Dawson and Spalding at the Platform, but if it means overlooking someone like
Streczyk, then, yes, I would have a big problem with that. It is a shame
when the Fighting Men don't always get the credit they deserve.
If you come away from this story with one memory, it might be that a
three-headed superhero named Dawson-Spalding-Streczyk won the
Battle. That is a perfect example of our need to 'generalize'.
Who can remember all the names? There were thirteen
resistance nests on Omaha Beach alone. The conquest of every single stronghold
carried its own remarkable story. For example, on the other
side of the E-1 Draw, just 200 yards
across the draw from the
stronghold that Spalding's men took out, there was a pitched battle led by two heroes named Gibbs and Skiba for control of stronghold
It was a great story, but I figured telling it would water down
the story of the initial penetration of the day.
Furthermore, just down the road to the east, there was a remarkable story of the
attack on WN
led by Raymond Strojny.
And what about what Jimmie Montieth did at
WN60? Or Walter
Taylor? Or Frank Peregory? Or William Williams?
There were four Medal of Honor winners from Omaha on D-Day.
Jimmie Monteith was one of them. He risked his life six or
seven different times leading a direct assault on strong point
As you read the account, Monteith almost succeeded in taking the
fortress down by himself. He died in the process.
Carlton Barrett saved the lives of at least a dozen men by
dragging them to safety after they had been shot on the beach.
The point is that Barrett was being shot at in the process. He
risked his own life so many different times to save the life of others.
was a radio technician who refused to take cover when he lost his
equipment during the melee on the beach. He was wounded, but
went back into the water to retrieve his equipment. He was hit
again bringing it back, but hauled his equipment to shore and set up shop.
Bleeding and in great pain the entire time, Pinder relayed valuable messages to his
commanders until a third wound cost him his life.
Roosevelt Jr, the son of President Teddy Roosevelt, did a
fabulous job managing the incredibly successful attack at Utah
Beach. He was the only General to actually risk his life and
go in with the first wave. The rest of the Generals
stayed on the ships.
Have you ever heard of any of these men? Many of you
probably remember Roosevelt from The Longest Day
movie... Henry Fonda did a terrific job of portraying Roosevelt's
courage in the movie. Consequently, before I began my research,
the Roosevelt/Fonda character was the only name
I remembered from the movie. But as for Monteith, Barrett, and
Pinder, I had never heard of them in my life. And guess what?
Not one of those brave heroes got their names or stories told in the classic D-Day book The Longest Day.
It is tough giving enough credit to everyone.
This story is just too big and there were too many heroes that day.
My little list barely scratches the surface.
The human mind just can't keep
track of all the stories. There are a lot of people in this
war who deserved credit, but didn't get it for this simple reason.
In a way, it is a shame that Spalding and Dawson get all the credit,
but that's the way it is.
Oh, by the way, did you notice I just omitted Streczyk's name?
That is because I am wrapping things up and it's time to generalize.
Every time someone generalizes, another name gets dropped off the
list. Streczyk was the leader, but he wasn't the Captain.
In the scheme of things, credit goes to Spalding, the preppy college
boy. When you see a map of D-Day, it says, "Spalding's Movements".
I don't recall one example of Spalding firing his weapon while
Streczyk risked his life time and again. But it says
"Spalding's Movements". Is that fair? No. Is that the way it is? Yes.
Tough luck, Streczyk. Too bad you didn't go to college. Now go away and be forgotten.
Maybe at the next cut, Spalding and Dawson are gone too.
Sometimes I wonder where the word "Generalize" comes from. In
the end, it was the General who got all the credit. Eisenhower
is the only name most people can mention. And he didn't fire a shot. He
didn't even step foot on Omaha that day. And yet 60, 70 years
later, Eisenhower remains as the only name linked to D-Day for most
Isn't it funny how credit works?
Leaders of the Breakthrough
Captain Joe Dawson
the DSC by General Eisenhower
being awarded the British DSO by
Lt John Spalding
the DSC by General Eisenhower
And now one last look at our heroes.
I couldn't help but peek
a bit into the lives of our three heroes beyond the war. Each
of the men has a Wikipedia listing, but there isn't much to read
about other than a brief summary of their service record.
Despite the lack of "after the war" information about the men, I
was able to find a few tidbits.
John Spalding is the biggest mystery. I found next to
nothing about him on the Internet.
From what I read, Spalding was injured in the fighting that
took place in the French countryside shortly after D-Day. I was unable to track
down a single detail of the incident, but I do know it wasn't
serious. On the other hand, I did not see his name reappear in
the story of E Company at the battle of Hürtgen Forest, so there is
a chance the injury ended his fighting for the war.
John Spalding was a native of Owensboro, Kentucky. After the war, he
returned there and served two terms in the Kentucky House of
Representatives. He died in 1959.
There is an excellent "Homecoming"
article about John Spalding on the War Chronicle website.
This picture shows Spalding in the hospital with an Army chaplain as
he is recovering from his wounds.
Phil Streczyk saw action in five other major battles during WWII
with the "Big Red One", including Tunisia, Sicily, and Hürtgen.
He was awarded the Silver Star four times. From what I gather,
Streczyk was greatly admired for his fighting skill and his courage.
He was even more admired for his preference to take prisoners alive
than kill Germans outright.
Strecyk suffered a mental breakdown in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest
from intense battle fatigue. Without any warning, Streczyk
fell to pieces and had to be helped off the battlefield. The
constant stress became too much.
I read this, I couldn't help but start to cry in sympathy. Why
didn't someone see the signs and try to help him? Our heroes
aren't supposed to have weaknesses, but we are all human.
Every man has a breaking point, even this courageous warrior.
Every time Streczyk helped win another battle, his reward was to get
sent back into action. Hey buddy, get out there and stick out
your neck some more. It all finally caught up with him.
I had never even heard of the Battle of Hürtgen Forest until I read
Streczyk's story. Situated just east of the border between
Belgium and Germany, The Battle of Hürtgen Forest took place from
September 1944 through February 1945. This six-month battle was not only the
longest battle on German ground during World War II, it was the
longest single battle the U.S. Army has ever fought in its history.
The Hürtgen Forest cost the U.S. 1st Army at least 33,000 killed and
incapacitated, including both combat and noncombat losses; Germans
casualties were 28,000. Hürtgen was so costly that it has
been called an Allied "defeat of the first magnitude".
I read that Streczyk was haunted by memories of the war for the rest
of his life. Reading that broke my heart. If anything,
this news only served to increase my deep admiration for the man.
Prevention of Loss From Psychiatric
Disorders Related to War
"Just as an
average truck wears out after a certain number of miles it
appears that the soldiers wore out, either developing an acute
incapacitating neurosis or else becoming hypersensitive to shell
fire, so overly cautious and jittery, that he was ineffective
and demoralizing to the newer men. The average point at which
this occurred appears to have been in the region of 200 to 240
regimental combat days."
The first page of the Surgeon General's report, dated 16
Another American hero from World War II, Audie Murphy, suffered from
the exact same problem. Murphy was reportedly plagued by
insomnia, bouts of depression, and nightmares related to his
numerous battles throughout his life. His first wife, Wanda Hendrix,
often talked of his struggle with this condition. His problem
was so serious that one night Murphy held her at gunpoint during one of
Beyond his war accomplishments, Audie Murphy is to be commended as a
great human being for two reasons.
For a time during the mid-1960s, he became dependent on
doctor-prescribed sleeping pills. When he recognized that he
had become addicted to the drug, he locked himself in a motel room
where he took himself off the pills, going through withdrawal for a
week. For anyone who understands chemical dependency, that was
an amazing accomplishment. It is amazing to go cold turkey on
Murphy is also to be commended for breaking the taboo about publicly
discussing war-related mental conditions. In an effort to draw
attention to the problems of returning Korean and Vietnam War
veterans, Murphy spoke out candidly about his own problems with
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Considering it was said to be
'shameful' to discuss such problems, Murphy was a hero again for
having the guts to bring the problem out in the open and face public
ridicule. In the public mind, our heroes are not supposed to
have weakness. They are supposed to be brave, face
death, kill men, watch them die in agony, and then come home and be
cool about it. But in the real world, it doesn't work that way.
In my book, Murphy was a hero again for putting his movie star
reputation on the line to come to the aid of the returning fighting
There doesn't seem to be an easy solution either. Today's news
continues to report the same problems with veterans returning from
Iraq and Afghanistan. Families are torn apart repeatedly by
war-scarred veterans who can't seem to adjust back to life in
Pleasant Valley and Happy Hill. War is hell and the human
spirit doesn't cope with it very well.
Phillip Streczyk is a native of East Brunswick Township, New Jersey.
Streczyk died a hero back here in America. It is a shame that
the war followed him home. Streczyk is survived by his
daughter Phyllis and son Ron.
There is an excellent "Homecoming"
article about Phil Streczyk on the War Chronicle website.
It should be obvious that
I developed a tremendous admiration for Joseph Dawson.
thought it was interesting that
Dawson enlisted in 1941 as a private. In the years prior to
D-Day, Dawson had fought earlier campaigns in
Africa and Sicily.
Obviously someone recognized the talent in this man, because he was
systematically promoted all the way from private to Captain. Before D-Day, Dawson served as a staff officer in
the First Division and the 16th Regiment during the campaigns in
North Africa and Sicily.
I was surprised to find out that his accomplishments at Omaha Beach
were secondary to what he did afterwards. After his service in Normandy, Dawson continued to serve as
commander of G Company throughout the campaign in France, Belgium
and, finally, to Aachen, Germany where he took part in the Battle Hürtgen
During the battle for Aachen, Dawson's G Company (along with I Company) held off German
counterattacks for thirty-nine days.
During the battle, the spot that Dawson and his men defended became
known as "Dawson's Ridge". Apparently the name stuck.
Today the same spot is still referred to as 'Dawson's Ridge' in U.S.
Army history. 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.
Some people might refer to Dawson as a born hero. He performed
his duties at every point of his military career with excellence.
Everyone seemed to notice how sharp he was. For example,
the unnamed US Army historical
officer who interviewed him in August 1944 two months after D-Day noted
in the margin of Dawson's report on Company G's D-Day activities, "This man is an unusually
Let me add that the memorial to Dawson that I saw at the Visitor's
Center led off with one word - Competence. Definitely!
As I reviewed Dawson's
activities during D-Day, I noticed Dawson's deep concern for his
men showed through repeatedly. Early in the morning, Dawson chose to climb 'Breakthrough
Alley' with just a couple men to scout for enemy positions. He
assumed that a small group of men would be harder to see and harder
to hit. Dawson did not want to expose his company to extreme
danger needlessly... so instead he took on the risk himself.
That kind of leadership is impressive.
Later in the day as Dawson and his men desperately clung to their
position in the village of Colleville against a determined German
counter-attack, Dawson was appalled when his own navy began bombing
the position at 1600. Like the naval bombing which had not
accomplished a damn thing that morning, this renewed bombing attack
only succeeded in killing many of his own men. Dawson was
incensed at the carelessness of the Navy to begin a bombing campaign
without learning first of the conditions at the bomb site.
Dawson was a leader who cared deeply about his men. I admire
I was also continually struck by Dawson's modesty. Dawson never
failed to give credit to his men for their success. If you
read his interview, you would think he was smoking a pipe the entire
day. Then you hit yourself over the head and remember that he
singlehandedly took out a machine gun nest that was about to mow
down his men as they came up 'Breakthrough Alley'. Then you
remember he took out the enemy at a church in Colleville with only
two other men to help him, one of whom died in the fighting.
Dawson fought just as hard as his men, but he had a way of
deflecting the credit towards them.
Dawson's innate modesty showed up again years later in a very unusual
way. Apparently there was a growing debate over which company
made it to the ridge first - Company E (Spalding) or Company G
As I read the various reports, there was some circumstantial evidence to
suggest Dawson got to the top first, not Spalding and not Streczyk
who gave all the interviews. There was a question that
perhaps a delay at a mine field allowed Dawson to pass Spalding's men
a couple hundred yards away on another part of Breakthrough Alley.
After Dawson took out the machine gun nest, that would have made it
safer for Spalding's men to move up as well.
This is all circumstantial, by the way, but it clears up at least
one mystery. There was a reference made by the Polish machine gunner
interviewed by Streczyk to 16 Germans in a trench nearby.
Spalding asked Company G to give supporting fire while he and his
men cautiously approached the trench. The trench was
completely abandoned. Why? One possible explanation was
that Dawson's men had been through there already and given the
Germans a good reason to retreat. Which raises another
question. Why was Company G conveniently there in the first
place to give support to Company E as they searched for the 16
Germans in the trench?
So who really got to the top first? I don't know the
truth nor do I care. What difference does it make?
They were all heroes that day.
However the historians were starting to make a fuss.
Apparently there was a growing controversy over which man made it to
the top first - was it Spalding or Dawson? Fifty years
after the battle, the famous D-Day historian Stephen Ambrose wrote a
letter to Dawson to get Dawson's first-hand opinion.
In response, Joseph Dawson
wrote a wonderful tribute
towards John Spalding. The former
G Company captain wrote this:
Dr. Ambrose, that all honor and tribute should be given
to Lt. Spalding and his small group of men and to the
men of my own G Company 16th Infantry, for they formed the
spearhead that through luck, courage, and proficiency
opened the one breach in the enemy's defenses that led
to the winning of the battle of Omaha Beach."
How classy is that? Dawson
not only saluted the accomplishments of Spalding and his men, but to
his own G company men as well. Except that he left out one
thing - any mention of himself. Joseph Dawson was not
only intelligent and brave, he was also an incredibly modest and
'intelligence', the US Army put Dawson to good use after the war.
After his detachment from the 16th Infantry, Dawson served in the
Office of Strategic Services (O.S.S.) for several years.
According to Wikipedia, Dawson married Melba Bruno in 1946, very
while he served in the OSS. They
raised two children, Roslyn and Diane. The Dawson family lived in
Corpus Christi, Texas, and in Denver, Colorado. In civilian life
was a geologist in the oil industry. An elementary school in Corpus
Christi, Texas, is named in his honor.
In June 1994, Dawson revisited Normandy to introduce President Bill
Clinton during ceremonies marking the 50th anniversary of the
invasion. Sadly, he passed away four years later in 1998.
of a Hero:
Joe Dawson dies at 84
Naming of school for oilman was most recent of
his many honors
Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1998
Retired Army Maj. Joseph Turner Dawson, decorated World War II hero
who opened a path off the beach at Normandy, independent oil
operator and community leader, died Saturday. He was 84.
"Joe is a hero, he's my hero," said Corpus Christi lawyer Jim Wray,
who worked for the city attorney's office when Dawson was a City
"He was the kind of fella that you would expect. . . . There was a
steely part of his character but he was also a very cultured man,"
said Wray, a Navy veteran who like Dawson was at the invasion of
"He served very gallantly, returning a hero from World War II," said
Abel Chapa, Nueces County veterans service officer. "He was a grand
fella. He leaves quite a legacy."
Dawson's legacy extends from the beaches of Normandy, where his
heroism earned him the Distinguished Service Cross, to a Corpus
Christi elementary school.
Dawson, a geologist who worked for Humble Oil Corp. and Renwar Oil
Corp. before becoming an independent oil operator, kept a tradition
of service in his civilian life.
He served on the Corpus Christi City Council from 1947 to 1949. He
later served as chairman of the Civil Service Commission and as a
member of the Arts Commission and the Planning Commission. He also
was chairman of the Corpus Christi Red Cross, chairman of the Corpus
Christi Heart Association, and as president of the Reserve Officers
Association of Corpus Christi.
He was one of the founders and served as vice chairman of the board
of the University of Corpus Christi, now Texas A&M University-Corpus
School honors Dawson
His name continues to be connected with education. In 1997, Corpus
Christi Independent School District opened the Joseph T. Dawson
When the school was named for him, Dawson told the Caller-Times he
was especially honored that through the school he would leave a
legacy for the youths of the city he loved.
But he'll be remembered for much more.
"He was one of the real heroes, many people don't realize what he
has done and what he meant to this city as far as a role model,"
said Mayor Loyd Neal, who met Dawson through veterans organizations
and efforts to protect area military bases from closure.
"He was very unassuming," Neal said.
"If you didn't know Joe Dawson's story ahead
of time, you weren't going to get it
from Joe Dawson."
Omaha Beach landing
On June 6, 1944, Capt. Dawson, who enlisted in 1941 as a private,
led the first troops from the slaughter on Omaha Beach. Dawson
landed at Omaha Beach with the 1st Infantry Division -- "The Big Red
One" -- and he and his men moved against fierce German fire.
The 30-year-old spotted the first path from the beach and by the end
of the day's battle his troops were the farthest inland of all the
About a month later Dawson received the Distinguished Service Cross
from Gen. Dwight Eisenhower for his actions on D-Day.
His heroic exploits continued throughout the war. Outside Paris,
Dawson rescued a platoon of men separated from his company and
ambushed by the enemy. He was awarded the Silver Star for bravery in
the battle that liberated Paris.
Later that same year Dawson's G Company and I Company defended a
vital ridge overlooking the city of Aachen, Germany, for 39 days
against large German forces. The men received the Presidential
Citation and the spot is now known as "Dawson's Ridge."
Medals and honors
Dawson, who retired in 1946 as a major, was also awarded the Bronze
Star, Purple Heart with oak leaf cluster, the Combat Infantryman's
Badge, beachhead arrows for the North Africa, Sicily and France
landings; unit honors earned by the First Division and the 16th
Regiment, campaign medals for the European theater; and the American
"He wasn't a person that looked for honors but he was just an
honorable person," said Ram Chavez, commander of the Alaniz-Valentine
chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and director of
the Veterans Band of Corpus Christi.
"To see him speak . . . the emotion he had for the men that served
under him. . . . He could talk about them and you could see that
even 50 years later he still felt the same about them," Chavez said.
In 1984, the Army authorized citing Distinguished Members of the
16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Division, and Dawson was among the
first five. Dawson also was inducted into the Officer Candidate
School Hall of Fame at Fort Benning, Ga.
Dawson Introduced the
On June 6, 1994, at the 50th anniversary of D-Day,
introduced President Clinton. This came during a memorial ceremony in Normandy.
During the ceremonies Gen. John
Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, lauded Dawson
for his contribution during WWII.
". . . When history books are
written about the great invasion of France, you may not
necessarily read of Joe Dawson, but no history will
ever be complete without him."
Dawson is survived by two daughters, Diane
Dawson Delk of Houston and Roslyn Randolph Dawson of Dallas.
Rick Archer's Note:
think Joseph Dawson was more than just a war hero. This man
was a classy, dignified leader in all walks of life. We should be grateful that America had men
like him to fight for his country. In our pantheon of heroes,
Mr. Dawson belongs among the greatest of World War II.
Before I forget,
I would like to acknowledge the gifted work of the men and women who
have invested so much of themselves to help tell the story of our
brave men of Omaha.
Reference 3: The Fighting First - Flint
Army Military History
From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge - Joseph Dawson
Reference 7: Omaha Beach - Joseph Balkoski
Rick Archer's Note on June 6,
It has been
one year since I wrote my story.
I am pleased
to report I now have more information to share.
If you have
enjoyed my article to this point, I believe you will surely enjoy the