Pictured is the monument built on Utah Beach to commemorate the sailors who fought alongside soldiers on June 6th, 1944. The 1st Engineer Special Brigade, 4th & 90th Infantry Divisions, 101st Airborne Division and other naval and American units stormed this beach under fire from German artillery and machine guns. Remarkably, causalities were light due in part to the landing missing the original mark by approximately 2 kilometers. Less than 200 men were killed leading to Utah being declared a great success.
The story of D-Day takes a stark turn as you arrive at the second American landing zone, code named Omaha Beach. Here you find the cemetery and final resting place for nearly 10,000 American soldiers, airmen, and navy personnel killed during World War II. Contrasted with the fewer than 200 lives lost at Utah, Omaha saw a much graver scene. Famously, this battle was depicted in the Saving Private Ryan movie but the real landing was something Hollywood could never recreate.
On June 6th, 1944 the first wave of soldiers began landing on the beaches of Omaha and were met instantly with deadly artillery and machine gun fire. The first wave of soldiers were massacred and though the second wave faced a less effective German killing machine, they no less found themselves pinned down under heavy and continuous fire. Concern mounted that the landing would fail but with the bravery of small bands of men and excellent leadership from men such as General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., son of President Theodore Roosevelt, American forces managed their second successful landing.
The cost in lives was grave with approximately 3000 men killed, wounded, or missing in action. Among those who would fall in World War II and be buried at Omaha would be General Theodore Roosevelt Jr. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions and is featured in the World War II movie, The Longest Day. His marker stands proudly among the row upon row of honored fallen. Roosevelt managed to survive the initial landing and upon meeting his friend General Barton on the beach of Omaha there was an emotional reunion on the beach. On July 12, 1944 after a fierce fight, Roosevelt died from a heart attack. He was buried next to his brother Quentin Roosevelt who died in WWI.
The fighting along the beaches of Normandy stretched approximately 75 miles and encompassed the landing zones of Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword. Juno was assigned to Canadian forces, Gold and Sword were in the hands of the British forces.
One of the more difficult landings would occur at a point between Utah and Omaha beach. It would become the only battle site to remain as it was after the war concluded and the only piece of property owned by the United States. Point du Hoc was a suicide mission of the first order. The rangers who were tasked with taking the six 155mm cannons suspected of being placed along this cliff head would face a daunting task. The cliffs were between 85 and 100 feet high and the base was a rocky narrow strip.
Left, you see a picture of the cliffs the 2nd Ranger Battalion with companies D, E, and F assigned to scale these heights under intense fire from Germans. Several mishaps in the original landing made the fight more difficult. By the time June 7th finally dawned, the 2nd Ranger Battalion had fewer than 100 men remaining from the original 225. They were dangerously low on ammunition and had no food. The leader of the Ranger Battalion was Lt. Col James Earl Rudder.
Rudder directed his men to fight the German counterattacks despite being outnumbered and in desperate need of reinforcements. Perhaps the most frustrating moment of the battle came when the Rangers realized the cannons they were tasked with destroying had not been put in place. On June 8th, the 5th Ranger Battalion arrived to relieve Rudder’s position. In the end, the 2nd Ranger Battalion suffered 70 percent casualties and held off five German counterattacks. For his valiant leadership Lt. Col Rudder was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
While at the 70th anniversary D-Day events located at St. Mere Eglise, it was my pleasure to encounter a few of the remaining World War II veterans in attendance. Below is Captain Bill Billet who fought with the 88th infantry division, myself, and a fellow soldier who served in the Army after the war.
Finally, here are two British soldiers who stormed ashore at Juno beach on June 6th, 1944. To these men, and all the others who made their way into World War II by way of the Normandy invasion…we thank you, we honor your service and we remember all those who fell that others might be free.
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