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D-Day 1944
Brave Men | 1944 | Ernie Pyle

Posted on 06/06/2008 12:54:48 PM PDT by Mr. Dough


OWING to a last-minute alteration in the arrangements, I didn't arrive on the beachhead until the morning after D-day, after our first wave of assault troops had hit the shore.

By the time we got there the beaches had been taken and the fighting had moved a couple of miles inland. All that remained on the beach was some sniping and artillery fire, and the occasional startling blast of a mine geysering brown sand into the air. That plus a gigantic and pitiful litter of wreckage along miles of shore line.

Submerged tanks and overturned boats and burned trucks and shell- shattered jeeps and sad little personal belongings were strewn all over those bitter sands. That plus the bodies of soldiers lying in rows covered with blankets, the toes of their shoes sticking up in a line as though on drill.

And other bodies, uncollected, still sprawling grotesquely in the sand or half hidden by the high grass beyond the beach. That plus an intense, grim determination of work-weary men to get that chaotic beach organized and get all the vital supplies and the reinforcements moving more rapidly over it from the stacked-up ships standing in droves out to sea.

After it was over it seemed to me a pure miracle that we ever took the beach at all. For some of our units it was easy- but in the special sector where I landed our troops faced such odds that our getting ashore was like my whipping Joe Louis down to a pulp. The men who did it on that beach were men of the First and Twenty-ninth Divisions.

I want to tell you what the opening of the second front in that one sector entailed, so that you can know and appreciate and forever be humbly grateful to those both dead and alive who did it for you.

Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours. The Germans were dug into positions they had been working on for months, although they were not entirely complete. A 100-foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements built right into the hilltop. These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the shore and cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.

Then they had hidden machine-gun nests on the forward slopes, with crossfire taking in every inch of the beach. These nests were connected by networks of trenches, so that the German gunners could move about without exposing themselves.

Throughout the length of the beach, running zigzag a couple of hundred yards back from the shore line, was an immense V-shaped ditch fifteen feet deep. Nothing could cross it, not even men on foot, until fills had been made. And in other places at the far end of the beach, where the ground was flatter, they had great concrete walls. These were blasted by our naval gunfire or by explosives set by hand after we got ashore.

Our only exits from the beach were several swales or valleys, each about a hundred yards wide. The Germans made the most of those funnel-like traps, sowing them with buried mines. They also contained barbed- wire entanglements with mines attached, hidden ditches, and machine guns firing from the slopes.

All this was on the shore. But our men had to go through a maze nearly as deadly before they even got ashore.

Underwater obstacles were terrific.

Under the water the Germans had whole fields of evil devices to catch our boats. Several days after the landing we had cleared only channels through them and still could not approach the whole length of the beach with our ships. Even then some ship or boat would hit one of those mines and be knocked out of commission.

The Germans had masses of great six-pronged spiders-made of railroad iron and standing shoulder-high-just beneath the surface of the water, for our landing craft to run into. They had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below the water. Attached to the logs were mines.

In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the sand of the beach, and more mines in checker- board rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And the enemy had four men on shore for every three men we had approaching the shore.

And yet we got on.

Beach landings are always planned to a schedule that is set far ahead of time. They all have to be timed, in order for everything to mesh and for the following waves of troops to be standing off the beach and ready to land at the right moment. Some elements of the assault force are to break through quickly, push on inland, and attack the most obvious enemy strong points. It is usually the plan for units to be inland, attacking gun positions from behind, within a matter of minutes after the first men hit the beach.

I have always been amazed at the speed called for in these plans. Schedules will call for engineers to land at H-hour plus 2 minutes, and service troops at H-hour plus 30 minutes, and even for press censors to land at H-- hour plus 7T minutes. But in the attack on my special portion of the beach-the toughest spot of all, incidentally - the schedule didn't hold.

Our men simply could not get past the beach. They were pinned down right on the water's edge by an inhuman wall of fire from the bluff. Our first waves were on that beach for hours, instead of a few minutes, before they could begin working inland.

The foxholes were still there-dug at the very edge of the water, in the sand and the small jumbled rocks that formed parts of the beach.

Medical corpsmen attended the wounded as best they could. Men were killed as they stepped out of landing craft. An officer whom I knew got a bullet through the head just as the door of his landing craft was let down. Some men were drowned.

The first crack in the beach defenses was finally accomplished by terrific and wonderful naval gunfire, which knocked out the big emplacements. Epic stories have been told of destroyers that ran right up into shallow water and had it out point-blank with the big guns in those concrete emplacements ashore.

When the heavy fire stopped, our men were organized by their officers and pushed on inland, circling machine-gun nests and taking them from the rear.

As one officer said, the only way to take a beach is to face it and keep going. It is costly at first, but it's the only way. If the men are pinned down on the beach, dug in and out of action, they might as well not be there at all. They hold up the waves behind them, and nothing is being gained.

Our men were pinned down for a while, but finally they stood up and went through, and so we took that beach and accomplished our landing.

In the light of a couple of days of retrospection, we sat and talked and called it a miracle that our men ever got on at all or were able to stay on.

They suffered casualties. And yet considering the entire beachhead assault, including other units that had a much easier time, our total casualties in driving that wedge into the Continent of Europe were remarkably low-only a fraction, in fact, of what our commanders had been prepared to accept.

And those units that were so battered and went through such hell pushed on inland without rest, their spirits high, their egotism in victory almost reaching the smart-alecky stage.

Their tails were up. "We've done it again," they said. They figured that the rest of the Army wasn't needed at all. Which proves that, while their judgment in this respect was bad, they certainly had the spirit that wins battles, and eventually wars.

When I went ashore on the soil of France the first thing I wanted to do was hunt up the other correspondents I had said good-bye to a few days previously in England, and see how they had fared. Before the day of invasion we had accepted it as a fact that not everybody would come through alive.

Correspondents sort of gang together. They know the ins and outs of war, and they all work at it in much the same manner. So I knew about where to look, and I didn't have much trouble finding them.

It was early in the morning, before the boys had started out on their day’s round of covering the war. I found them in foxholes dug into the rear slope of a grassy hill about a half mile from the beach. I picked them out from a distance, because I could spot Jack Thompson's beard. He was sitting on the edge of a foxhole lacing his paratrooper boots. About a dozen correspondents were there, among them three especially good friends of mine-Thompson, Don Whitehead and Tex O'Reilly.

First of all we checked with each other on what we had heard about other correspondents. Most of them were O.K. One had been killed, and one was supposed to have been lost on a sunken ship, but we didn't know who. One or two had been wounded.

Three of our best friends had not been heard from at all, and it looked bad. They subsequently turned up safe.

The boys were unshaved, and their eyes were red. Their muscles were stiff and their bodies ached. They had carried ashore only their typewriters and some K rations. They had gone two days without sleep, and then had slept on the ground without blankets, in wet clothes.

But none of that mattered too much after what they had been through. They were in a sort of daze from the exhaustion and mental turmoil of battle. When anyone asked a question it would take them a few seconds to focus their thoughts and give an answer.

Two of them in particular had been through all the frightful nightmare that the assault troops had experienced-because they had gone ashore with them.

Don Whitehead hit the beach with one regiment just an hour after H-- hour, Thompson at the same time with another regiment. They were on the beaches for more than four hours under that hideous cloudburst of shells and bullets.

Jack Thompson said, “You’ve never seen a beach like it before. Dead and wounded men were lying so thick you could hardly take a step. One officer was killed only two feet away from me." Whitehead was still asleep when I went to his foxhole. I said, "Get up, you lazy so-and-so." He started grinning without even opening his eyes, for he knew who it was.

It was hard for him to wake up.

He had been unable to sleep, from sheer exhaustion, and had taken a sleeping tablet.

Don had managed to steal one blanket on the beach and had that wrapped around him. He had taken off his shoes. His feet were so sore from walking in wet shoes and socks that he had to give them some air.

Finally he began to get himself up.

"I don’t know why Fm alive at all," he said. "It was really awful. For hours there on the beach the shells were so close they were throwing mud and rocks all over you. It was so bad that after a while you didn’t care whether you got hit or not." Don fished in a cardboard ration box for some cigarettes. He pulled out an envelope and threw it into the bushes. "They ain't worth a damn," he said. The envelope contained his anti-seasickness tablets.

"I was sicker than hell while we were circling around in our landing craft waiting to come ashore,” he said. "Everybody was sick. Soldiers were lying on the floor of the LCVP, sick as dogs." Tex 0'Reilly rode around in a boat for six hours waiting to get ashore.

Everybody was wet and cold and sea-sick and scared. War is so romantic --if you're far away from it.

Whitehead had probably been in more amphibious landings than any other correspondent over there, I know of six he made, four of them murderously tough. And he said" "I think I have gone on one too many of these things. Not because of what might happen to me personally, but I've lost my perspective. It's like dreaming the same nightmare over and over again, and when you try to write you feel that you have written it all before. You can’t think of any new, or different words to say it with." I knew only too well what he meant.

It is an ironic thing about correspondents who go in on the first few days of an invasion story. They are the only correspondents capable of telling the full and intimate drama and horror of the thing. And yet they are the ones who can't get their copy out to the world. By the time they do get it out, events have swirled on and the world doesn't care any more.

There that morning in their foxholes on the slope of the hill those correspondents were mainly worried about the communications situation.

Although they had landed with the first wave, they felt sure that none of their copy had ever reached America. And even I, a day behind them, felt no assurance that my feeble reports would ever see the light of day.

But in philosophical moments I can think of greater catastrophes than that.

I took a walk along the historic coast of Normandy in the country of France. It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead.

The water was full of squishy little jellyfish about the size of a man's hand. Millions of them. In the center of each of them was a green design exactly like a four-leafed clover. The good-luck emblem. Sure. Hell, yes.

I walked for a mile and a half along the water's edge of our many-miled invasion beach. I walked slowly, for the detail on that beach was infinite.

The wreckage was vast and startling. The awful waste and destruction of war, even aside from the loss of human life, has always been one of its outstanding features to those who are in it. Anything and everything is expendable. And we did expend on our beachhead in Normandy during those first few hours.

For a mile out from the beach there were scores of tanks and trucks and boats that were not visible, for they were at the bottom of the water -swamped by overloading, or hit by shells, or sunk by mines. Most of their crews were lost.

There were trucks tipped half over and swamped, partly sunken barges, and the angled-up corners of LCTs, and small landing craft half submerged. And at low tide you could still sec those vicious six-pronged iron snares that helped snag and wreck them, On the beach itself, high and dry, were all kinds of wrecked vehicles, There were tanks that had only just made the beach before being knocked out. There were jeeps that had burned to a dull gray. There were big derricks on caterpillar treads that didn't quite make it. There were half- tracks carrying office equipment that had been made into a shambles by a single shell hit, their interiors still holding the useless equipage of smashed typewriters, telephones, office files.

There were LCTs turned completely upside down, and lying on their backs, and how they got that way I don't know. There were boats stacked on top of each other, their sides caved in, their suspension doors knocked off.

In this shore-line museum of carnage there were abandoned rolls of barbed wire and smashed bulldozers and big stacks of thrown-away life belts and piles of shells still waiting to be moved. In the water floated empty life rafts and soldiers' packs and ration boxes, and mysterious oranges. On the beach lay snarled rolls of telephone wire and big rolls of steel matting and stacks of broken, rusting rifles.

On the beach lay, expended, sufficient men and mechanism for a small war. They were gone forever now.

And yet we could afford it.

We could afford it because we were on, we had our toe hold, and behind us there were such enormous replacements for this wreckage on the beach that you could hardly conceive of the sum total. Men and equipment were flowing from England in such a gigantic stream that it made the waste on the beachhead seem like nothing at all, really nothing at all.

But there was another and more human litter. It extended in a thin little line, just like a high-water mark, for miles along the beach. This was the strewn personal gear, gear that would never be needed again by those who fought and died to give us our entrance into Europe.

There in a jumbled row for mile on mile were soldiers' packs. There were socks and shoe polish, sewing kits, diaries, Bibles, hand grenades.

There were the latest letters from home, with the address on each one neatly razored out-one of the security precautions enforced before the boys embarked.

There were toothbrushes and razors, and snapshots of families back home staring up at you from the sand. There were pocketbooks, metal mirrors, extra trousers, and bloody, abandoned shoes. There were broken- handled shovels, and portable radios smashed almost beyond recognition, and mine detectors twisted and ruined.

There were torn pistol belts and canvas water buckets, first-aid kits, and jumbled heaps of life belts. I picked up a pocket Bible with a soldier's name in it, and put it in my jacket. I carried it half a mile or so and then put it back down on the beach. I don't know why I picked it up, or why I put it down again.

Soldiers carry strange things ashore with them. In every invasion there is at least one soldier hitting the beach at H-hour with a banjo slung over his shoulder. The most ironic piece of equipment marking our beach- this beach first of despair, then of victory-was a tennis racket that some soldier had brought along. It lay lonesomely on the sand, clamped in its press, not a string broken.

Two of the most dominant items in the beach refuse were cigarettes and writing paper. Each soldier was issued a carton of cigarettes just before he started. That day those cartons by the thousand, water-soaked and spilled out, marked the line of our first savage blow.

Writing paper and air-mail envelopes came second. The boys had intended to do a lot of writing in France. The letters-now forever incapable of being written-that might have filled those blank abandoned pages! Always there are dogs in every invasion. There was a dog still on the beach, still pitifully looking for his masters.

He stayed at the water's edge, near a boat that lay twisted and half sunk at the waterline. He barked appealingly to every soldier who approached, trotted eagerly along with him for a few feet, and then, sensing himself unwanted in all the haste, he would run back to wait in vain for his own people at his own empty boat.

Over and around this long thin line of personal anguish, fresh men were rushing vast supplies to keep our armies pushing on into France.

Other squads of men picked amidst the wreckage to salvage ammunition and equipment that was still usable.

Men worked and slept on the beach for days before the last D-day victim was taken away for burial.

I stepped over the form of one youngster whom I thought dead. But when I looked down I saw he was only sleeping. He was very young, and very tired. He lay on one elbow, his hand suspended in the air about six inches from the ground. And in the palm of his hand he held a large, smooth rock.

I stood and looked at him a long time. He seemed in his sleep to hold that rock lovingly, as though it were his last link with a vanishing world.

I have no idea at all why he went to sleep with the rock in his hand, or what kept him from dropping it once he was asleep. It was just one of those little things without explanation that a person remembers for a long time.

The strong, swirling tides of the Normandy coast line shifted the contours of the sandy beach as they moved in and out. They carried soldiers’ bodies out to sea, and later they returned them. They covered the corpses of heroes with sand, and then in their whims they uncovered them.

As I plowed out over the wet sand, I walked around what seemed to be a couple of pieces of driftwood sticking out of the sand. But they weren't driftwood. They were a soldier's two feet. He was completely covered except for his feet; the toes of his Gl shoes pointed toward the land he had come so far to see, and which he saw so briefly.

A few hundred yards back on the beach was a high bluff. Up there we had a tent hospital, and a barbed- wire enclosure for prisoners of war.

From up there you could see far up and down the beach, in a spectacular crow's-nest view, and far out to sea.

And standing out there on the water beyond all this wreckage was the greatest armada man has ever seen. You simply could not believe the gigantic collection of ships that lay out there waiting to unload. Looking from the bluff, it lay thick and clear to the far horizon of the sea and on beyond, and it spread out to the sides and was miles wide.

As I stood up there I noticed a group of freshly taken German prisoners standing nearby. They had not yet been put in the prison cage. They were just standing there, a couple of doughboys leisurely guarding them with tommy guns.

The prisoners too were looking out to sea-the same bit of sea that for months and years had been so safely empty before their gaze. Now they stood staring almost as if in a trance, They didn't say a word to each other, they didn't need to. The expression on their faces was something forever unforgettable. In it was the final, horrified acceptance of their doom.

TOPICS: Breaking News; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: anniversary; dday; erniepyle; militaryhistory; normandy; overlord; wwii
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Folks, I scanned this from a copy of the book Brave Men by Ernie Pyle. Highly recommended if you can find a copy. Emphasis above is mine. This was scanned and OCR'd so there may be some errors.
I pray some of this spirit survives for the challenges this country faces today....
1 posted on 06/06/2008 12:54:48 PM PDT by Mr. Dough
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To: Mr. Dough

And if D-Day was reported by today’s MSM ...

2 posted on 06/06/2008 12:57:48 PM PDT by SkyDancer ("I Believe In The Law Until It Interferes With Justice")
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To: Mr. Dough

3 posted on 06/06/2008 12:59:26 PM PDT by skeeter
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To: Mr. Dough
Been reading The Steel Wave by Jeff Shaara this week - a very well-done novel of the D-Day Invasion. Last night, I watched the first episode of Band of Brothers with some friends on a nice widescreen HDTV, and tonight we follow with the second episode, Day of Days.

These men who went ashore on Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword, Juno; they were just ordinary guys, thrust into an extraordinary circumstance. None of them went in to be a hero, but as far as I am concerned they all came out as heroes. The fire in their eyes that day is reflected in the eyes of many an American and British soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan today, and I for one thank God that we are able to produce men like that when we need them.

4 posted on 06/06/2008 1:04:07 PM PDT by AzSteven ("War is less costly than servitude, the choice is always between Verdun and Dachau." Jean Dutourd)
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To: Mr. Dough

Thank you America!

5 posted on 06/06/2008 1:08:51 PM PDT by J Aguilar (Veritas vos liberabit)
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To: Mr. Dough


Does anybody know what ships went into shallow water to direct their cannons against the pillboxes?

6 posted on 06/06/2008 1:08:52 PM PDT by Loud Mime (Ronald Reagan (February 6, 1911 – June 5, 2004))
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To: Mr. Dough

Great post. Can read all of Ernie Pyle’s columns here

7 posted on 06/06/2008 1:09:39 PM PDT by MNJohnnie ( ---- Get involved, make a difference.)
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To: SkyDancer
Thank you. That's a great link you posted.
It serves as a fine illustration why any sane person should never trust todays Lame Stream Media.
8 posted on 06/06/2008 1:09:58 PM PDT by Fiddlstix (Warning! This Is A Subliminal Tagline! Read it at your own risk!(Presented by TagLines R US))
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To: Mr. Dough

Ping for later

9 posted on 06/06/2008 1:10:50 PM PDT by schu
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To: Fiddlstix

Thanks, saw it on Little Green Footballs web site ....

10 posted on 06/06/2008 1:14:38 PM PDT by SkyDancer ("I Believe In The Law Until It Interferes With Justice")
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To: skeeter

Wow! I never expected that to already be posted. Sorry about that. Oh well great minds think alike I guess...

11 posted on 06/06/2008 1:14:43 PM PDT by Mr. Dough (I'm all in favor of multiculturalism, especially if it involves funny accents!)
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To: Loud Mime

Two destroyers had been instrumental in neutralizing strongpoints between Les Moulins to Fox Red and at least 5 destroyers had moved in to support the landing troops. The USS Frankford was especially effective against the strongpoints covering the E-1 and by 1000 hours, it was secured

Corry: The Destroyer that Led the Normandy Invasion

12 posted on 06/06/2008 1:15:23 PM PDT by MNJohnnie ( ---- Get involved, make a difference.)
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To: MNJohnnie

Thanks for the link, that’s awesome. I’ve been collecting copies of these used, out-of-print books when I see them but this much more convenient I would say. Harder to read in bed though...

13 posted on 06/06/2008 1:17:03 PM PDT by Mr. Dough (I'm all in favor of multiculturalism, especially if it involves funny accents!)
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To: Mr. Dough

Wish I’da thought of posting it:)

14 posted on 06/06/2008 1:28:12 PM PDT by skeeter
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To: Mr. Dough

Thank you to all those honorable, brave souls who gave so much.

15 posted on 06/06/2008 2:12:19 PM PDT by EverOnward
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To: MNJohnnie
Did they actually ran the destroyers into the ground to get as close to the German huge guns as possible ?
That must have been a sight to see to watch those destroyers take out the huge German gun locations.
If I was there, and knew our guys were in a difficult situation, I too would have ran the destroyers into the beach if I could and take out all the German defenses with the huge guns on the destroyers.
16 posted on 06/06/2008 3:03:20 PM PDT by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM .53 : 1 The FOOL hath said in his heart, there is no GOD.)
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To: AzSteven

“The fire in their eyes that day is reflected in the eyes of many an American and British soldier in Iraq and Afghanistan today, and I for one thank God that we are able to produce men like that when we need them. “


17 posted on 06/06/2008 3:04:22 PM PDT by RoadTest ( Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But he spake of the temple of his body.)
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To: Mr. Dough

Good job, Mr. Dough! Thank you.

18 posted on 06/06/2008 3:05:34 PM PDT by RoadTest ( Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. But he spake of the temple of his body.)
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To: Prophet in the wilderness
They scraped bottom a number of times but did not actually beach the destroyers. There is a story, possible fictional, that a tank was on the beach firing at a target. The destroyer used his fire as an aiming point and fired a load right into the German position. The tank commander head popped up, he looked out to sea and waved at the ship!

Can you imagine that? A huge ocean going ship so close to the beach they could see a guy WAVE at them?

19 posted on 06/06/2008 3:56:20 PM PDT by MNJohnnie ( ---- Get involved, make a difference.)
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To: MNJohnnie
Did they have any battle ships in that location that day ?
I guess not if resources was low and needed were it really was needed.

20 posted on 06/06/2008 4:54:38 PM PDT by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM .53 : 1 The FOOL hath said in his heart, there is no GOD.)
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