Home Up Company G


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." 

Sgt. Clarence 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 on Streczyk:  "Streczyk was good. He knew what he was doing."

Citation: 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 enemy wire, 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.


One of my favorite resources for studying D-Day was an excellent website known as  War Chronicle.  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 devoted to Soldier's Tales  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 ditching the 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 oral history. 

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 shore. 

"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."  16-E Report  Obviously Streczyk's report seems to make more sense. 

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 citation read:  "He 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!   [Read caption]

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 document.  

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 Whitlock described.  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 cutting issue. 

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 anyone be 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 reports!  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 wrong.  Here is something I found on the Internet:

Distinguished 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
Curtis Colwell (ASN: 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:

Streczyk’s 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 the interview.)

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.  This put 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 got away.

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 not Spalding.  After Spalding's platoon had taken out
WN64, 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 fascinating mystery.

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

Let me 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 someone's part, 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 WN64


Rick Archer's 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:

"I 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 helmet.

In 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

Clarence Colson speaks about "not seeing Streczyk for a coupla' days".

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.

My mother's reply was, "Yeah, they took him prisoner a couple times.  Once for two days and once for one day."

Reading your 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 escaped.

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. 

Now the 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.

And that 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.

Perhaps this 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. 

Ron Streczyk

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. 


Captain Wozenski


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. 

On D-Day, 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 any laughter.  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 happening.

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 up either.”

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 legend. 

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 contraptions sank straight to the bottom of the English Channel.  Wozenski didn't know what had happened at the time, but he cursed anyway.  Wozenski  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 is a disaster!!'

Wozenski groaned at the irony of it.  These floating tanks were 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.  How ridiculous.

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 Streczyk:

"I think that Streczyk’s 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 others followed." (source: Omaha Beach, Joseph Balkoski, pg 204)

The Legend of Sergeant Streczyk didn't end there.  Sgt. Walter Bieder told this story:

"Two weeks after D-Day, it was time to move out.  It was a mess out there.  We passed St. Lô.   I looked at it in horror. St. Lô was just about leveled to the ground by our aerial bombing.  There wasn't much left. 

[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 troop movements.] 

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.

Streczyk 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.]

For Streczyk's 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.

Streczyk was also honored with the British Military Medal, pinned on by General Montgomery himself.  Streczyk's citation states:

“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. 

The heroic and courageous actions of T/Sgt. Streczyk were in keeping with the highest traditions of the Armed Forces of the United States.”

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
WN 64.  Badly outnumbered, the Americans dismantled WN 64 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.  For Streczyk’s amazing bravery that day and throughout the entire war, I hope someday Phillip Streczyk will receive the Congressional Medal of Honor.  He gets my vote.  

And 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. 


Reflections on D-Day

An Excerpt from Omaha Beach: D-Day
Written by Joseph Balkoski  pg 168

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 others.

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 Infantry. 

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 intact.

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.

Additionally, Spalding 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.

Into the Teeth of the Defense

"Spalding 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 right.

"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. [Army Military History]

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 account

One is the remarkable resiliency, courage and resourcefulness of the troops

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."



Rick Archer's Note: 

As we have read, credit for the 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 about 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 WN64 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 WN 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.  Through 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 AmericansThey 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 personal 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 wide. 

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 WN 64 fortress, Spalding sized up the best plan of attack, then took a step back and let Streczyk go to work.  Fire and Ice... pretty good combination.

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.  Therefore he 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 DiGaetano. 

One 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. 

Will Spalding and 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 and Dawson.  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 sergeant?

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 WN 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 WN 64 stronghold that Spalding's men took out, there was a pitched battle led by two heroes named Gibbs and Skiba for control of stronghold WN 65.  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 61 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 WN60.  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. 

John Pinder 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. 

Theodore 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 people. 

Isn't it funny how credit works?


The Three Leaders of the Breakthrough

Captain Joe Dawson being awarded
the DSC by General Eisenhower

Sergeant Phillip Streczyk

 Streczyk being awarded the British DSO by General Montgomery

Lt John Spalding being awarded
 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. 

When 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 September 1944.

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 his spells.

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 one's own.

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 men.  

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

I 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 Forest.

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 accurate witness."

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 him.

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 (Dawson). 

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:

"I feel, 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 decent individual.  

Speaking of '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 likely 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 Dawson 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.


Death of a Hero:
Joe Dawson dies at 84
Naming of school for oilman was most recent of his many honors

Wednesday, Dec. 2, 1998
Staff Writer

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 Council member.

"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 Normandy.

"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 Exploits

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 Christi.

School honors Dawson

His name continues to be connected with education. In 1997, Corpus Christi Independent School District opened the Joseph T. Dawson Elementary School.

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 Americans.

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 Defense medal.

"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 President

On June 6, 1994, at the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Joe Dawson 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:  I 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 1: War Chronicle
Reference 2: Spalding Interview

Reference 3: The Fighting First - Flint Whitlock
Reference 4: Army Military History

Reference 5: John's Military History
Reference 6: From Omaha Beach to Dawson's Ridge - Joseph Dawson
Reference 7: Omaha Beach - Joseph Balkoski

Rick Archer's Note on June 6, 2012.

It has been one year since I wrote my story. 

I am pleased to report I now have more information to share.

Breakthrough Alley 

If you have enjoyed my article to this point, I believe you will surely enjoy the new chapter.

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