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Second Lieutenant Richard J. Ford

29th Infantry Division - 115th Infantry Regiment - K Company

Omaha Beach

 

As we approached our designated landing sector, we knew the jig was up as there was so much noise, smoke and firing of big guns. It was difficult to see the beach through all the smoke and haze. We didn't land at our selected area but about 1500 yards to the North or left. We were to land on Dog Red at the Le Moulin draw. Instead we landed in the 1st Div sector on one of the Green beach sites. This resulted in my Platoon being mixed in with the 18th Regt of the 1st Division. At this spot the fire was not too intense but there was enough artillery and mortar fire to make you move. The LCI had a disembarking ramp on each side of its bow. There was no loitering. I led my Platoon off the right side without too much difficulty. The water was cold and rough and in my case chest deep. I was about 6 feet. tall. Many days later, found out that the Navy changed our original landing site because the original landing site was covered with corpses, under heavy fire and littered with disabled equipment and the Naval Officer in charge "didn't want to waste the men". A Naval Officer told me this about a week after the landings. He said our craft had been hit and sunk and did I know how many men were lost. I replied that I wasn't aware of this and that I must have been off the craft and also my men when it was hit. My Platoon was the first off the craft. I surmised the craft was hit and sunk after we had departed it as the Company was pretty much intact....

As we were approaching the beach in the landing craft, I saw a little dip , or niche, in the skyline of the bluff. Forty years later, as my wife Vera and I walked Omaha Beach, she asked if I could find where I had landed. As we walked north on the beach, I saw that niche again, and told her,"this is the place." We went up a path nearby that went up the bluff. Vera and I went up the path and it brought us out near the present American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Below that niche, there was a small shelf-like piece of land. I made this my first objective, and had as many men as were about me to go with me.. Forget about the original plans, try to stay alive. We were under Artillery and mortar fire. When wading in through chest deep water, some shells exploded nearby. I thought "good thing we're in the water" but realized that shrapnel travels through water as well as through the air. An LCT was backing off the beach and he offered to take us in to the beach. I declined the offer thinking it would take too long for us to scramble up into that craft, and when doing so we would be a good target, standing still in the water. Some of the men near me didn't like my decision and the craft moved on. There were runnels under the water and when you stepped in one you could be in water over your head. That is why men wearing their life belt too low would up- end and drown. When finally got to the beach there were some men with me. The beach was flat and it looked like a mile to the base of the bluff. I remember saying, "Follow Me" and thought at the time "how corny", I sound like John Wayne. I never looked back to see what the rest of the Company was doing or where they were. It would be certain death to stand or wait on that beach for the rest of the Company.

The beach was wide and flat and there were no craters for us to take cover, so we made for the bluff and that little "shelf". The artillery and mortars were giving us a fit. On the way to the bluff we went by a little marshy area with cat-tails in it and a sign saying "Minen" which told us the area was mined. By the time we got to the "shelf" we were tired and we sat there to rest. It was discouraging to make our way up the bluff (about 200 feet) and not be able to see who was firing at you and you had no target to fire back at, just take it and keep going. I had looked at my watch as our craft touched down and it was around 9:30 am. As we rested, there was an enemy artillery emplacement to our left. We could see it and they could see us. I think they had communication with the people on top of the bluff as every time we moved a little it would bring fire from above. This wasn't too effective so they began to drop hand grenades at us. As I sat there and looked down on the beach, I was shocked to see the number of bodies and the amount of material that was littering the beach. At this point, I didn't think I would ever see England again, let alone the United States I thought my number was up.

We watched as suddenly one of our Destroyers come straight toward the beach. I thought it was going to run aground. It suddenly turned broadside to the beach and began pumping rounds into that artillery emplacement. After about five rounds the artillery piece ceased to function and we resumed our ascent of the rest of the bluff. We were ascending the bluff along a trail of dead men, who had given their lives to make it safer for us. I speculated that they had set off personnel mines as their bodies were quite mutilated and mangled and reminded one to be cautious. Walking, in a crouch position, along their bodies it was safe, but the goriness was very sobering to say the least. I passed one fellow who had been blown in half. You could see the organs hanging out of the upper half of his body. Moving up the bluff, the most frustrating thing was not being able to see who or from where you were being fired on. When we got on top of the bluff, we rounded up as many of our men as possible. I had no idea where the Company was. By this time it was early evening. It was light until 11:00pm at this time of year. I remember lying behind the rear wheels of a truck and being shot at.