Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944
This excerpt is from the part of Wayne Brewster's autobiography dealing with World War II. Brewster, of Rapid City, landed on Omaha Beach on D-Day as a combat engineer with the US Army. After leaving Normandy, he fought in the Battle of the Bulge, then was in on the invasion of the German Rhineland with the 29th Infantry Division. His unit earned five battle stars.
Our mission was supposed to be to move a 105mm artillery unit that was loaded on DWUKs (amphibious trucks) inland, but we never saw them. It was reported later that they all had sunk in the heavy seas, that only one got in and it was loaded with ammunition only. These vehides had only a little freeboard, and if heavily loaded in any turbulent water, they didn't have much of a chance. The battleship Texas, was firing at targets beyond the beach, when those big shells, 16-inch, I think, went over. It sounded like a freight train overhead. Destroyers were steaming up and down close to the shore, firing whatever size their guns were. Of course the Germans were firing other stuff. After we got up under the beach overhang, we didn’t worry about the machine guns and rifle fire, but the artillery was something else. I guess that they were 88’s (88mm). The Germans were very precise: they would space their fire, so many meters apart, and then move it a certain distance and resume the spacing, so that you could pretty well judge where the next shells would land.
There was one young wounded soldier, in an exposed situation a few yards from where I was, his eyes pleading for help. He apparently couldn’t move, I asked him if the Medics had seen him and he said they had, so I was afraid to try to move him. About all I could do was try to pile up a few rocks around him, not much shelter but I hope it helped. He was still there the last I saw. One of our sergeants, so I was told, had a foot blown off, besides other injuries. The foot was only hanging by the Achilles tendon. He told the medics to cut it off, which they wouldn’t do, so he got out his knife and cut if off himself. I understand that seriously injured soldiers are in some kind of state of shock and feel little pain.
There's not much more to say about the beach itself. We didn't get off it until dusk, and the dead were left where they died. The wounded were sort of collected and lined up to be taken off, I guess, as soon as some sort of transport was available. I understand that they were removed during the night and next morning. I don't know how the dead were handled.
Normandy was a great apple raising country. While we were there, the trees were all blossoming, and bees by the millions. If we had jam on some bread, the bees would swarm all over it. Some of the guys got stung in the mouth. Normandy was a great cider and calvados country; all of the farmers would make cider and most of them calvados also. Calvados is a type of fermented and distilled cider, and some of the bad stuff could really injure you. We heard reports of blindness. No one that I knew was ever hospitalized because of drinking calvados, though some were very, very sick. I never drank but just a little bit of it. I didn't need the alcohol and didn't care for the taste. I drank very little while in the army, and in combat I felt that I needed all of my senses about me.
One of the many disagreeable memories of Normandy: After several weeks, the air in the entire area of Normandy was permeated with a stench from the bloated bodies of dead farm animals and the bodies of soldiers.
I have read that allied intelligence was not aware of the fact that of the 352th German Division had been moved from St. Lo to the to the area of Omaha Beach, for training. This was of course unexpected and made the assault that much more difficult, and accounted for so much more than anticipated casualties. We lost several men of our company either, wounded, missing, or dead. My closest friends never got a scratch, except for one, killed in the Argonne picking up a friendly mine, during the entire war.
We dug in that night in a pasture, our holes near a hedgerow, as they were from then on until we got out of Normandy. There was a lot of artillery fire, but none came close to us, and German anti-aircraft fire, from the ships off the beach. The next morning we were under quite a bit of sniper fire, but being so naive, we didn't realize that we were getting shot at. Nobody got hit. When a bullet comes close, it doesn't whine like in the good old western movies, but rather kind of cracks like a tiny lady finger firecracker. Our mission that day was to clear mines from the access road to the de-waterproofing area for vehicles. All of the vehides had been waterproofed--carburetors, sparkplugs, other ignition parts, etc. Completely covered with Cosmoline grease, the vehicles could only operate for a few hours without being cleaned up. We were under fire from troops just landing and had to seek cover, without doing a real good job of mine detecting. We heard later that they were the 2nd Division. I never did check out the deployment of troops for the first few days, so who knows for sure who it was firing on us.
I think it was the next night that there was so much anti-aircraft firre1hat pieces of shrapnel were falling all around us. Also one of these first nights, a jeep came racing down past where we were dug in, sounding the gas alarm. We all expected a gas attack, ' believing that Hitler would take this drastic step once the' allies had a foot-hold on the continent. Of course it was a false alarm, but we all tlhought it was real, some of the guys had thrown away their gas masks, not me, one guy ran down to the beach and grabbed a mask, and put it on, and it was full of blood , another guy couldn't find a mask, so he urinated on his handkerchief, to breathe "through it for some sort of protection. Everyone was terrified of a gas attack. In England there were huge stock piles of poison gas bombs and artillery shells, so that we could retaliate, but that didn't help in the present time.
After we got inland, the next day, one older misfit (soldier) went down to the beach and raided abandoned equipment for the morphine; I don't remember what happened to him.
Traditionally the Tool Corporal was also the company barber; we lost ours on the invasion. I had a pair of small (embroidery) scissors, I'm not sur;e where they came from, maybe even from home. Anyway, one of my friends iailked me into cutting his hair, said it didn't matter how it looked just get if off his neck. Apparently I did a decent job, because the first thing I knew I was overloaded with haircut requests. The hair cutting had to be in the evening after whatever work we were doing during the day. This went on all across France, and it got so 1 didn't have any time to myself. When one of the officers wanted me to cut his hair before he went on leave to Paris, I cut his hair and refused to cut any more hair. By that time we had a tool corporal again. I don't remember, but I guess he did barbering.
One of the men, in a different platoon, shot a wounded German. The guy was just leaning up against a tree, and this hillbilly just decided to shoot him, and seemed proud of it.
The hedge-rows or "Boscage" varied from a few feet wide and a few feet high to monstrous things, several feet wide and several feet high. Apparently these initially were meant to mark out the boundaries of ownership or maybe tenancies, or just fields. As I recall they were mostly pasture and orchards. Of course, Normandy was noted for its orchards and dairy products. The hedge-rows were made of dirt and stones covered with shrubbery and vines. They probably started out centuries ago by farmers clearing stones from their fields, digging drainage ditches, and through the centuries some got enormous. The infantry, when in one place long enough, would dig into them for perpendicular fox holes. We did when we were infantry on Hill 192. This was quite an undertaking, with so many intertwined roots. We dug into the hedge-row and made an opening so as to be able to see out on the enemy side. Later we enlarged it to make a couple oW dirt benches.
The dugout was connected to the rear by a field telephone, but you didn't ring in or out, for fear that the enemy might hear. Instead you just blew hard into the mouthpiece. Someone farther to the rear was always supposed to be on the alert. There were a lot of donkeys in the neighborhood, and when they let out a neigh, whinny, or whatever you want to call it, it was really scary, sounded right next door. After several nights in the fox holes the non-coms were ordered to take our places, so that we could get some rest. All night long the phones kept whistling, with non-coms getting upset with the braying of the donkeys.
Ceresy la Foret had so much vehicular traffic, and several roads came together there, so we built a traffic circle. One of our companies had picked up some American mine-fields, and after removing the detonators, loaded them on to one of our trucks, The driver, Willie Black, was sent to take them to an ammunition depot, but they wouldn't take “used" mines and told him in no uncertain terms to get them out of there. Finally the Captain, told me to take the mines to a depot and not come back with them. We went to several depots, and no dice. As a last resort we set the detonators on the ground and dumped the mines in Ceresy la Foret. The Captain never asked which ammunition dump took them.
While in the bocage country we were strafed a couple of times, but in the next field or fields, and of course we were well protected by the hedge-row. However one night the Germans dropped a stick of bombs across our area. One, a dud, landed in our field. Eventually a bomb disposal squad come around to remove it. The men digging for it held the rank of Captain and Major, the lowest rating being a Staff-Sergeant who drove the truck. Nothing happened and they took it out. As I recall it was in the ground about 6 feet deep. We had to pass where they were digging to go to chow.
From Normandy, we pushed on to Paris. We went to Paris on the same route and at the same time as the French Army under General LeClerc. This was a period of celebration, with a carnival-Iike atmosphere. Cheering French people lining both sides of the highway. The French soldiers driving the tanks were drinking heavily, running tanks into the ditch, and every so often French girls could be seen climbing out the tank hatches.
Above right: Brewster (in helmut) with friend Bob Cunningham, Jalhay, Belgium, winter of 1944-5
I later attended a memorial service and partial dedication of a memorial to the fallen soldiers of the D-Day invasion of France, at Bedford, VA, on the 29 May 2000. The city of Bedford, was small in 1944, I think 3000 population, and had lost 19 members of its community during the first 15 minutes of the D-Day assault, and more in the next few weeks, a terrible blow to that small of a city. The memorial was spearheaded by the late Charles Schultz, creator of the Snoopy comic strip; his widow and children were at the dedication. Final completion and formal dedication was held on 6 Jun 2001, which I attended. The arch is 44 ft. 6 in. high, to represent 6 June 1944. After the dedication and extending my visit to Vickie, I continued on to Cleveland, OH, for 9 reunion of the 112th on the 9th. Perhaps 30 were in attendance but only 3 from Company A. You must remember that nearly all of the veterans were in their 80's.
Brewster especially endorses Ken Riley's "First Wave at Omaha: The Ordeal of the Blue and Gray":
Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944 -- Behind them was a great invasion armada and the powerful sinews of war. But in the first wave of assault troops of the 29th (Blue and Gray) Infantry Division, it was four rifle companies landing on a hostile shore at H-hour, D-Day--6:30 a.m., on June 6, 1944. The long-awaited liberation of France was underway. After long months in England, National Guardsmen from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia found themselves in the vanguard of the Allied attack. In those early hours on the fire-swept beach the 116th Infantry Combat Team, the old Stonewall Brigade of Virginia, clawed its way through Les Moulins draw toward its objective, Vierville-sur-Mer. It was during the movement from Les Moulins that the battered but gallant 2d Battalion broke loose from the beach, clambered over the embankment, and a small party, led by the battalion commander, fought its way to a farmhouse which became its first Command Post in France. The 116th suffered more than 800 casualties this day--a day which will long be remembered as the beginning of the Allies' "Great Crusade" to rekindle the lamp of liberty and freedom on the continent of Europe.
Bottom photos by Duke Doering, who added "Wayne Brewster, WW II veteran who landed with the first wave on Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought in Europe until V-E day, addressed the group on Valentine's Day . Without photos, slides or notes Brewster spellbound the crowd with his excellent recollection of events as they occurred throughout his Army enlisted service against the Nazis."