We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France


Top-ranking posts

Being the end of the year, I thought I’d look at some statistics and share them.

My top-ranking posts since I started this blog is dominated by one post, but the top 5 are all good posts:

Thanksgiving 1944         1,413

This got a huge number of hits due to being linked at Ace of Spades, thanks to our friends at Bring the Heat. On Thanksgiving of 1944, Eisenhower ordered that all soldiers have a turkey dinner. For airborne engineer John Carter, that provided a very humorous story that I was able to post the video of. I have some further videos of an interview with Carter and a couple of other stories. He’s quite a comedian.

Young Marine Passes         297

While the Marine Corps is made up of strong men, they also have strong hearts. A couple of times recently, they’ve made young men with terminal illnesses honorary Marines. The story of Cody Green and his honor guard, SGT Mark Dolfini, can’t help but move one to tears.

Denzel Washington at the Fisher House         236

Denzel Washington is among my favorite actors. He has great range and conveys the emotions of his characters very well. Some of his roles have been as military men and he’s gotten attached to the Fisher House. Fisher House Foundation is best known for a network of comfort homes where military and veterans’ families can stay at no cost while a loved one is receiving treatment. When Washington visited the Fisher House at Brooke Army Medical Center in 2004, his generosity launched an urban legend.

The Beast of Omaha         148

Heinrich Severloh was a German machine gunner at Omaha Beach and the horrors he helped inflict that day stayed in his dreams until his death in 2006.

The end of an era         136

For about a decade, Paul Woodadge built up a battlefield tour business in Normandy, expanding from a one-man operation, hiring several others to lead tours. Battlebus was the best tour company in Normandy and even had tours in Bastogne. Unfortunately, running a complex business and dealing with French tax and employment laws meant that Paul stopped being able to lead tours himself. While I lamented the end of an era, it meant that Paul could go back to doing what he loved. He also had time to publish Angels of Mercy: Two Screaming Eagle Medics in Angoville-au-Plain on D-Day (Normandy Combat Chronicles) (Volume 1)

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One-day Normandy tour choices: Omaha Beach sector

Earlier today, someone asked me about tours in Normandy and, while they are not using one of my three favorite guides, I provided some commentary on places to see. Most guides will tailor their tour at your request and there are some places I see as better spots to visit than others. There are some sites that are basically meaningless without a guide and others in which you’re not really using the guide’s knowledge.

If you have a single day to tour the battlefield with a guide, you want to maximize your time with the tour guide, sticking to sites that are close to each other and where the guide can provide the most impact. Each guide’s knowledge and enthusiasm is different, so I’m just providing my commentary.

I would say that due to the stark images and the general silence and emptiness of the German military cemetery at La Cambe, that it is a must, especially if your guide has stories to relate while you’re there. The small museum there is very well-done. Every guide should be able to relate some of the story of the cemetery and place it in context, so it is better with a guide. You might find it odd that I place this first, but I think that you don’t get as much of both the German perspective and a reminder of the horror that is war anywhere else in Normandy.

Now, since I’m looking at all this from an American perspective, I will only talk about the American sector in this post. My experience in the British and Canadian sector is far more limited, so I can’t speak as well to that.

Pointe du Hoc is absolutely required. If you’re not read The Boys of Pointe du Hoc: Ronald Reagan, D-Day, and the U.S. Army 2nd Ranger Battalion by Douglas Brinkley or watched Reagan’s historic speech in 1984 (speech written by then-unheralded Peggy Noonan), you really ought to do so before you go. Reading that will give you the structure and provide an emotive basis for your visit, but nothing really can prepare you for the level of destruction visited upon the landscape by the bombardment. Going down into one of the craters will truly give you a sense of it, but you’ll also get to see how most of the fortifications survived intact, requiring the Rangers to root the Germans out the hard way. Some guides will go with you into the bunkers and continue to explain, while others will simply let you wander. I prefer those who have more stories to tell, so it might be useful to determine in advance which kind of visit to Pointe du Hoc that the guide plans on.

Of course, as an American, you must visit the American cemetery. It is incredibly moving and feels like you’re back in the US, in a good way. You’ll note that all of our boys are facing home. The American cemetery does not allow guides to conduct tours on the grounds, so you are generally given some guidelines and advice, then explore on your own. I prefer to tour that by myself rather than using the guide’s time.

The Church at Angoville au Plainis one of the more moving stories in Normandy and if at all possible, you should try to visit there with Paul Woodadge, whose book, Angels of Mercy: Two Screaming Eagle Medics in Angoville-au-Plain on D-Day, details the experience of two American paratrooper medics caring for the wounded between enemy lines during the battle. Since this is more in the northern, airborne sector of the American battle zone, I would suggest it only be done as part of an American airborne tour rather than combined with the American cemetery or Omaha Beach. While someone who has read Paul’s book will understand what happened here, someone who has not will have no real understanding without a tour guide to explain. Similarly, having the guide present will make one who feels familiar with the story learn far more.

On Sunday, they were showing Tom Brokaw visiting the village of Graignes with three veterans of the fight there. A number of paratroopers of the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment were mis-dropped by about 20 miles and gathered at the village. They held off the 17th SS Division, helping their comrades secure Carentan, allowing a link up between the landings at Utah and Omaha. It would be particularly hard to experience this without a guide, even if you read Tragedy at Graignes: The Bud Sophian Story. It is also remote from much of the other sites.

If you’re only doing a one-day tour, I would recommend you visit Omaha Beach, the American and German cemeteries and Pointe du Hoc. If you manage to study Angoville au Plain or Graignes, you might seek one of those, but likely need to skip something. If you’re seriously into paratroopers or gliders, or have a veteran or other link to Utah Beach, visit those with the guide rather than thinking you can visit everything.



The Men He Couldn’t Save

“He still gets nightmares, and he thinks back to the men he couldn’t save,” Bernard Friedenberg’s wife, Phyllis, told FoxNews.com.

Sergeant Bernard Friedenburg was a medic in the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry. When he landed on Omaha Beach, 40 minutes into the landings, it was a nightmare. He came in near the D-1 “draw”, outside Vierville-sur-mer.

As a medic, he was trying to save men, but he is haunted by the terrible calculus of war. Trying to treat one soldier with a sucking chest wound, he had to give the young man morphine and move along to less-wounded men. He could save more of the others, but he is haunted by the memory of that one. He went into a minefield to save five men, only failing when the sixth man rolled over onto a mine. For that, they awarded him a Silver Star.

He ignored heavy fire in “Munsterbusch, Germany, to treat and evacuate wounded comrades. This earned him his second Silver Star.”

While his memoirs seem to be hard to find, both the memoirs and an oral interview can be found at The Veteran’s History Project of the Library of Congress.



LCI man, Don Kemsley, oral interview

Canadian sailor Don Kemsley’s journal is must-read material and on the 6th, Sandy included a special treat – an oral interview her father gave. After dropping off British troops at Gold Beach, Kemsley’s LCI (Landing Craft, Infantry) brought American troops across the Channel. He mentions my favorite fishing village in Normandy, Port-en-Bessin, which is just east of Omaha Beach. I don’t think Don had a chance to buy Calvados from the market on a Sunday morning, but he and many other veterans made it possible for us to do so. Thanks, Don!



The Beast of Omaha
4 May 2011, 19:21
Filed under: German Perspective, Normandy | Tags: ,

In reading Richard Hargreaves The Germans in Normandy to learn the German perspective on the Normandy invasion, I came across a passage that simply rattled me. After the bow ramps came down on the first boats landing in front of WN62 on Omaha Beach….

They jumped into the cold water up to their chests and shoulders. Some disappeared under the water for a moment, and half swimming, half wading, they began to move slowly on to the beach in front of our strongpoint. At this moment there was complete silence in the bay; not one shot was fired. We had strict orders to wait until the GIs were only about 400m from the edge of the beach and were wading in water up to their knees….

Once the Americans had firm ground under their feet, they waded in two long lines, one after the other, through the water, with the left hand firmly on the pack of the man in front. Everything was so calm, so organized, that you had the impression that they were merely carrying out an exercise.

The Americans struggled forward with their weapons and packs through the high surf of the cold sea, slowly and utterly unprotected. We were well aware that the GIs below us were being led like lambs to the slaughter.

Then the firing commenced and all hell broke loose. Heinrich Severloh, who wrote that passage above, fired thousands of rounds from a machine gun and hundreds from his rifle. While his own estimates of how many men he killed and wounded is nearly as many as the total American casualties on Omaha Beach, one can be certain that he witnessed and took part in an absolute horror.

By 1959, his story was known in the US and he was nicknamed, “The Beast of Omaha”. Terrible dreams afflicted him until his death in 2006.




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