Dr. Bill Atwood

The Boys of Normandy

“Get off the beach. You’ll die if you stay on the beach. Get off the beach to make room for the next wave. Get off the beach.”

These words were repeated in the minds of the brave men who were involved in Operation Overlord on June 6, 1944. The invasion was on and there was no going back. Eisenhower had given the order and that was that. His letter accepting blame for the failure of the operation was sitting on his desk in case the plan had failed.

The plans had been drawn up a couple of years prior to the attack on Normandy and the pieces all had to be in place. Tanks, ammunition, food, men, trucks, jeeps, landing craft, airplanes, bombs, a ready to place harbor and piers to offload ships after the attack, medical supplies, and a million other items and details. There would also be a great need for body bags and Purple Hearts. The Allied commanders knew the losses would be horrific. It was conceivable that 30,000 men would perish that morning.

The Nazis knew it would be the turning point of the war and Rommel was in charge of setting the defenses. He did a magnificent job designing the resistance options. Mines in the beaches to force the Allies to off-load the troops in the water rather than on the beach sand. Crossfire attacks from Nazi guns placed in bunkers in very wise strategic positions. The bunkers were reinforced with steel bars to help hold the concrete together against the aerial bombardment that was sure to come from the Allies.

The first wave of Americans on the beach at Omaha that early morning sustained more than 80% casualties. They were gunned down and dead in a few seconds of the landing. The next wave was not much better and like a large conveyor belt approach, the landing craft kept bringing more and more Allied soldiers to the beaches. They had to think that they were sitting ducks and they knew first-hand what it meant to be considered a sacrifice worth the mission by your leaders.

The aerial bombardment proved to have missed the bunkers and coast defenses by four-to-six miles inland due to cloud cover. The rocket barrages from the off-shore ships were off target with many of the shells landing in the water, well short of the targets. At Omaha Beach alone, more than 1,800 tons of munitions were fired by the Allies prior to the first man landing on the beach and not a single Nazi soldier had been hit or killed by any of those 1,800 tons of destruction.

This changed the plan, to say the least. Our men faced a full onslaught by the Nazis. “Get off the beach, get off the beach” was the mission plan and the other part of the plan was to destroy the Nazi defenses. The plan was not working and the boys on the beach knew it. One-by-one, they reverted to their training and they made up operational plans to take the beach and to destroy the bunkers. They flanked and they used Bangalore Torpedoes to blast through sand and concrete to get to the enemy.

As they watched their buddies dying all around them, as they watched their buddies being maimed, as they heard their buddies screaming in pain, they took the initiative and they got off the beach and destroyed the Nazi defenses. By the early afternoon of June 6, 1944, the Allies had command of the beaches and the Allies started bringing in the portable piers and docks to be sunk in place to create a new port in Normandy to supply the invasion of Europe. Rommel knew the war was lost.

This Saturday we celebrate the 71st anniversary of that day. We need to remember the bravery of every man who was involved, who could get control of his fears, and who could do his duty. We need to honor the 10,000 men who died that morning, the thousands who sustained injuries, many of them life-changing, and we need to remember those who stood in harm’s way and were blessed to have survived it without injury. Their scars are internal as horrible nightmarish images must certainly haunt them even 25,932 days later.

We can’t thank them enough. If we thanked them once for every grain of blood soaked sand from those beaches, it would only be a start. Juno, Gold, Omaha, Utah, and Sword Beaches are place names that will be remembered as long as there are freedom-loving people alive.

We need to remember the heroes of Normandy and we need to remember that they waded through sea water that was red from the blood of their fallen brother soldiers, only to run past the bodies of the fallen on the beach, to secure a port from which the defeat of Hitler’s despicable Third Reich could be supplied.

We get to thank the heroes of the battle where the sea ran red in English and not German because of the Boys of Normandy.