A chapter from my book, Where Do We Find Such Men? in remembrance of those who served on June 6, 1944
Brig. Gen. Allen Kimball is given the most important assignment of his life, and arguably the most important assignment of World War II, beginning on March 1, 1944 when he becomes Deputy Chief Quartermaster for the European Theater of Operations. He is responsible for supplying food, clothing and equipment to American troops stationed in Great Britain and fighting in France and onward, with an initial fifty huge supply depots under his direction with millions of square feet of storage space and several thousand men at his command.
A graduate of Amsterdam High School, he receives a congressional appointment to the Military Academy at West Point, graduating in 1907. During the first World War he commands a company of infantry, and he begins a long career in the quartermaster corps with his assignment as Assistant Quartermaster at West Point in 1921, under the superintendency of Douglas MacArthur. At various times he serves as Chief Quartermaster at the academy, and at stations in Panama and the Jefferson Barracks in Missouri, and as representative for the assistant Secretary of War on the War Budget Advisory Committee, and at the Quartermaster Staff School in Philadelphia.
The long-anticipated liberation of Europe is about to begin. It is Kimball's job to keep those supplies flowing so that the operation doesn't begin and end on a beach.
Sgt. Malcolm Tomlinson's war continues. Cornwall would be their home for the next half-year, and at least they speak a form of English there. Early in 1944 both Tomlinson and his buddy Garn are selected with four others from a battalion of 600 men to attend Officers Candidate School. It takes Eisenhower himself to overrule the selection. He can't spare the veteran non-coms from what will be needed ahead.
Headquarters Company of the Second Battalion boards three landing craft in Torquay on June 3, 1944, prepared to sail on the 4th. Hardly out of the harbor, the landing is called off and they return. Early on the morning of the 5th they board again. They pass through British mine fields. They pass through cleared German mine fields (though a nearby minesweeper blows up, killing several, wounding many, and sinking fast). By nightfall they are anchored ten to fifteen miles off the coast of Normandy.
Later they watch as planes carrying paratroopers and towing gliders fly low overhead.
The last plane briefly turns on its red tail light while passing over the fleet, blinking away in Morse Code immediately recognizable to all.
D-Day, June 6, 1944. Preparing the way into Normandy are the paratroopers and the engineers.
Pvt. Daniel Klute of Amsterdam is aboard one of those planes, sitting quietly, nervously as they approach the coast at night. The men stand in line, the signal is given, and before he can even comprehend what is happening, he hurtles through space.
The chute opens and jerks him alert. It seems like it takes forever to land as he passes over marshes and fields.
He hits the ground with a thud, stands up, rifle in hand and finds himself face to face with a startled German soldier. He waves his rifle and addresses the German in a universal language.
The German cheerfully obeys and Klute walks away in search of his unit.
Fellow paratrooper Pfc. Harold Premo is not so lucky. The Malone, NY native who had been living with his sister on Florida Avenue when inducted is Amsterdam's first Supreme Sacrifice on the Longest Day.
Eighteen-year-old Richard Dantini from the South Side heads for shore with the famous Company A of the 116th Inf. Regiment1 in the first wave to hit the worst part of Omaha Beach, Dog Green, directly in front of outposts guarding the Vierville draw and subject to flanking fire from emplacements to the west, near Pointe de la Percee.
Of the 197 men in his company, only 18 are still fighting two hours later. All of the officers are killed or wounded in the first ten minutes, and most of the sergeants as well. Seventy per cent of the casualties come in the first half hour.
“Scared? Oh my God was I scared! Everybody was. Men were praying, crying, getting sick. It was hell,” he will remember vividly almost half a century later.
One of the company's six landing craft flounders while still 1,000 yards off shore. The men hit the water with their heavy packs and drown. The Germans open fire at five hundred yards. Another LCA is blown up. The four that make it through are grounded in 4-6 feet of water still 30 yards beyond the outward band of beach obstacles.
Dantini is the third man out. The first, a lieutenant, takes a round in the neck and dies in the surf. Dantini fires three or four clips from his rifle, then takes cover behind a concrete obstruction in the water. When he finally notices the live floating mine attached to it he decides to take his chances and heads for the beach.
He only makes it twenty or thirty feet before being hit the first time, a shot to the arm. He keeps going.
Once on the beach, he bends over to help a wounded comrade. They come under machine gun fire and the friend and a medic die right there, while Dantini is hit in the right leg.
The longest hour and a half in his life has passed since exiting the landing craft. The tide is coming in, and the Germans are shooting at anything that moves, and quite a few that don't.
“I started to crawl-- I tried to get up, but I couldn't. And then I got hit for the third time – the worst – it was in my left leg.”
His body resembling bloody swiss cheese, he manages to creep behind a rock at the edge of his sector before losing consciousness. The next day, after the fighting has moved inland, a crew assigned to recover the bodies of the dead finds him alive, barely.
After thirteen months of recovery in military hospitals, he makes it home and resumes the life of a neighborhood grocer.
Being Gen. Eisenhower's barber doesn't exempt Nick Fratangelo from service on D-Day, and his future competitor Arthur Iannuzzi is there as well.
The son of an American citizen, Iannuzzi's father had brought him to America from his native Italy on the last boat the Mussolini regime allowed to leave for the United States before they declared war on us. He was sixteen. Two years later, having safely avoided the Italian draft, he receives his greetings from President Roosevelt.
He is part of a cannon platoon. Their orders are to remain off-shore until the beach has been cleared. As it happens, that takes three days. Stranded on a small launch, artillery fire lands all around them. “When you have the big guns, it's very easy to get hit, so they don't send you in until near the end. When we got there, though, there were a lot of wounded and dead soldiers. The beach was covered with them. I was scared and thinking, 'I don't want to die.'”
Others didn't see the sunset on June 6.
Pvt. John J. Schilling, 19, of Tribes Hill, a 1942 graduate of Wilbur H. Lynch High School has his rendezvous with death storming the beaches as a member of an anti-aircraft machine gun unit.
Tech. Sgt. Nicholas Foti, 23, has been in the Infantry since 1939, and wounded in North Africa. He had returned to action in time to take part in the decisive push on Troina in Sicily. When asked to compare his experiences at the time, he tells a war correspondent, “I don't know if there is any particular difference between here and Tunisia, but I do know we didn't have to do so much walking and climbing in Tunisia.”
D-Day is his last day.
Garn and Tomlinson are attached to the 4th Infantry Division, whose Assistant Commander, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., lands with the first wave on Utah Beach. In the current and smoke they have drifted a mile south of their target and form the far right flank of the D-Day invasion. Roosevelt personally scouts the area and throws away the plans. “We'll start the war from here,” he says.
Wave after wave follow. The first of Malcolm Tomlinson's Headquarters Company to die takes a bullet to the forehead while still in the landing craft.
They land at low tide, just as the tide begins to turn (there's a twenty foot difference between low and high tide at Utah Beach) giving the engineers a window of opportunity to clear the obstructions and secure the beach exits while the infantry rounds up the enemy. The Higgins Boats soon reload with prisoners of war, and the combination of effective naval and aerial bombardment and airborne troops securing the inland routes results in remarkably low casualties at Utah. The sounds from Omaha Beach are not as encouraging.
Tomlinson and Garn are in a defensive platoon setting up 57mm guns. From behind the beach they are able to look out to the English Channel and see an armada such as the world has never seen, more than five thousand vessels extending from horizon to horizon: landing craft, destroyers, cruisers, battleships. Shells fly over their heads toward inland targets, the noise deafening. They follow a road running lateral to the beach about a thousand yards. Garn's squad digs in, and Tomlinson's passes by with a bulldozer hauling their big gun. A few moments later the dozer hits a land mine and the driver flies through the air landing 25 feet from the machine. Other men are wounded and a medic from Garn's squad rushes to assist, steps on a mine and gets blown in half. They all hit the deck. Garn then realizes his hand has come to rest only inches away from another mine.
News of the D-Day invasion begins trickling into Amsterdam about 6 a.m. on June 6, 1944. Bulletins from the Recorder are posted around town. The churches open, and at the direction of Bishop Gibbons every Catholic church in the Diocese of Albany has exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
At Wilbur H. Lynch Senior High School, a program is quickly put together and 18 year old Senior Class President Walter Tatara addresses his schoolmates:
Today has been set aside as a day for prayers, for mercy and grace. Throughout the land many hearts are heavy because D-Day has finally arrived and with it will come the horrible news of tragedies of war. Right now, someone very dear to us may be lying wounded or bleeding on a battlefield. We have got to prepare ourselves for whatever news is to come. Will our enemy's zeal for the cause of anti-God overcome our indifference to God?
In times of peace, prosperity, good times, how easy it is to ignore God, but as soon as we are subjected to pain, suffering, confusion, turmoil, we immediately turn to our Almighty Father and pray reverently for aid. Right now we need God's intercession in this struggle. We should be united as never before, and we should all lift our hearts in prayers, whether we be Protestant, Jewish or Catholic. Let our prayers be sincere, simple, and uttered from the bottoms of our hearts. In that way we will become more powerful than any weapons used in this war. Our boys will be comforted in knowing that we, here at home, are praying for them to have strength and courage so that they may walk hand in hand with God, unafraid and prepared for whatever may befall them.
Students, do we take this war seriously? Do we hope for a better world after this war? Some of us do because we realize that this world in the next fifty years will be what we make it. It won't be better unless we ourselves make it better. We must have strength in character, a purpose in life, and above all, faith in God. We, in the United States, are fortunate because we are a Christian nation and we can speak our thoughts without being afraid of a dictator shutting us up.
Let us hope and pray it will always remain that way.
Thank God for America.
The program continued as follows:
"Star Spangled Banner"
Solo—"The Lord's Prayer"
Song—"America the Beautiful"
Reading—"Recessional" -Rudyard Kipling
Song—"Onward Christian Soldiers"
Later, when he has time to reflect, Guy Murdoch writes to his Dutch Hill boys around the globe in the June issue of the Uniteds PX:
Tuesday, June 6th, 1944 will go down in history as D-Day. Owing to the five hour difference in our time from Greenwich time, we here in Amsterdam learned of the invasion of Normandy about six a.m. that morning. On the way to work we noticed that some of our neighbors had already put their flags up, and on arrival at the office everyone asked the same question, "Have you heard the news?”
A few minutes later I learned that a small radio was in operation in one of the large near-by offices. Little attention was being given to the regular business as reports were continuously given of the progress of the landings on the beaches. The size and strength of the naval armada, the landing craft, the opposition, the terrific bombardment of the defenses, the details of the beaches and the difficulty to be overcome and the excited tones of the commentators all created an atmosphere of awe and wonder that nothing else on earth could have done. The girls around the radio stood tense and hopeful, drinking in every word; serious and awe-stricken, and all had the same question in their minds, "Is he in it?"
Husbands and brothers of some were in it, but no one knew it then. About an hour of this and then to work. The radio was turned down but the girl at that particular desk turned it up when official announcements were made. The invasion was on, D-Day at last, long expected and waited for, the day we longed to hear about yet dreaded.
You people really know about D-Day, we do not, for many of you have known other D-days although they were not designated as such. In New Guinea at Port Moresby, Buna, Lae and Salamana in the Solomons, at Guadalcanal and Bougainville, in New Britain at Rabaul and Cape Gloucester, in the Gilbert Islands at Makin and Tarawa, and in the Marshalls at Kwajalein and Eniwetok, there were days that were D-days to many of you. In North Africa, Casablanca, Rabat, Algiers, Oran, Bougie, Phillipville, Bizerte, and Cape Bon had many days which to those of you who were there did not have any distinctive letter that was known to the world.
Then Sicily saw certain days at Cape Passero, Comiso, Mazzarine, Palermo and Messina and many other places. Then on to Italy one day to Salerno, Naples, Oassino, Anzio, Rome and on to Florence and Pisa. And in India you were going over the Big Hump of the Himalayas to China, every trip designated by a question mark. And so the days go on, marked by some code or other, but each one by itself THE DAY.
What about D-day in Amsterdam? Just a job to do, maybe a loom to fix, or some weaving to do, or finishing, or maybe just looking at things and saying yes, you get 'em or no, they're not good enough. Through our factories here examining cotton and duck, miles of it, in the plant in Rockton. At the lower mill, more duck and as we were headed over the tracks to the place where the processing plant is located we were halted. Long freight trains, carrying strange cargoes, some things covered up, others not, but it gave me a thrill to see them thunder past for they were going out to you. These were the things that helped to bring about D-day, and we felt like saluting as they hurried on.
To the processing department down by the river to see that tarpaulin cloth is waterproofed and fireproofed. And down the river came a fleet of LSTs and we wished we could deliver them to their destination. From there to Harrowers and the blanket mill where things really happen to help keep you comfortable. Then back to the tarpaulin department where they are completed and shipped. Sometimes we think we do a deal of traveling but we carry no pack and we are not disturbed. Amsterdam used to be a quiet and peaceful place engaged mainly in making carpets and rugs. It is still peaceful, but has many new engagements with you fellows out there. More radio news and reports are very encouraging, truly it is a great team.
On the way home I noticed, as I have often done, a little gray house on a corner. In the window there's a service flag with four stars. Three sons and a son-in-law from that one house. August 7th, 1942, was the first D-day for that particular home when Jack went ashore on Guadalcanal with the Marines and he has had many similar days in other places and is still out there. He must have used up all the letters in the alphabet by this time.
Then Dicky had his D-day on June 6th in Normandy and so did the little gray house on the corner. Bucky is still on this side and is ready. The son-in-law is also here. A quiet little house of gray on the corner and the number is 435 Locust Ave. The lady of the house is Mrs. Geib, God bless her, and the music from the radio on the evening of D-day as I heard it was "Goodnight, wherever you are.”
This was D-day in Amsterdam; tomorrow will be D plus one.
Tomlinson and Garn are not privy, of course, to the overall success of the operation, but as the day grows longer and night falls they become more and more encouraged by the sounds of war fading further and further into the distance. That night, in fact, dug into foxholes next to their guns, they sleep better than they have in days. Their only annoyance comes from a lone German plane that nightly, around midnight, drops a single bomb and goes on his way.
On the morning of the third day Malcolm Tomlinson begins to move his squad for a destination further inland, walking along the road. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt's jeep, sans general, comes by and strikes a mine on the road's edge. The driver is killed, the jeep destroyed.
Tomlinson looses his good eardrum and once again has his faced ripped apart, this time by flying debris.
They give him an oak leaf cluster for his Purple Heart.
Pvt. Lewis Harrower goes ashore with the combat engineers on D-Day and continues inland for several more days until he finds a chance to snuggle up in a Normandy foxhole and write home to his mother in Hagaman. D-Day was “some experience,” he tells her. But right now he's not reliving the battle. He's simply dreaming of a warm bath and clean clothes to replace the ones that are growing on him, and maybe a little peace.
And he's thankful for God's peace. Hasn't run into a foxhole atheist yet, he makes sure to tell his mother. He doesn't know a man who isn't thanking God for bringing him safely through that landing.
* * *
Francis J. Going, SK 2/c
Navy 168 c/o Fleet PO
New York, N.Y.
June 19, 1944
I'm sorry that I haven't written you sooner but I honestly haven't been able to. This is the first letter I've been allowed to write and will probably be the only one for a time so please be patient and don't worry.
I'm safe and well so there is no cause for worry. We received our first mail in some time yesterday and yours of June 6 was among them. I also received the first copy of the newspaper but no packages. As yet I have only received your last package. I remembered the baby's birthday and was thinking of her yesterday but unfortunately I was in no position to send greetings of any sort. Please tell sis that I didn't forget anyhow. I'll make it up to the kid some day. Have been attending Mass and receiving Communion daily as we have the Catholic Chaplain with us. I thank God for that opportunity. It's a great help at a time like this. My love to all and regards to Des. Please continue to write and be patient until you hear from me.
All my love
[June 19 is the day he leaves England for Normandy. But don't worry.]
A fair number of the Bigelow-Sanford Uniteds take part one way or another in the D-Day invasion and subsequent campaign.
UPX, July-August 1944, from Milt Yates in European waters: I'm ok after taking part in the invasion of France on D-Day. We really were there to see the excitement and it was plenty exciting. I wouldn't have missed it.
From Carl Hartig in Normandy: Landed D-Day and we've been sort of busy for the past month and a half. . . . [K]ept going until Cherbourg fell; hope the rest of the Huns give up so we can get back home.
From Bruno Petruccione, somewhere in France: The place looks like anyplace else. . . . Still in France looking over the situation. All I have to do is pick up a newspaper to see how the war is going. Guess this can't be the part of France that everyone raves about because I can't see anything very wonderful around here.
From Harold “Peanuts” Brown, in France: Well, here I am over in war torn Normandy. Just got here a while ago and am getting along OK. The only trouble is trying to talk to those French people. I have to use the sign language on them. Some understand and some don't. One thing sure, you can get all the cider you want. Anyway, they call it cider. All I can say is, it sure has a lot of kick to it for cider. Also this cognac they have here. They call it bottled lightning. I'm a little bit afraid to take any. They say it will make your toe nails bend over. Maybe so.
From James Jasper, somewhere in Italy: after reading your description of D-Day which was very good, I started to think of where we were when we heard the news. Yes, we were up around 21,000 feet and had just come off an important target in the Balkans which at that time was on the receiving end of a bombing mission. We were all congratulating our Ball Turret Gunner on his 200 and some odd gun salute he had received for his birthday. Our Ball Turret Gunner was answering us over tinter-phone saying “Well fellows I didn't ask for that many guns” and just then someone tuned in and said, “Turn to Liaison” and we all did and they were announcing the first reports of the invasion. So you see we were flying high when we heard the Great News of D-Day.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the globe:
From Johnny Campbell in Saipan: Just a few lines from Saipan and a toast to the taking of Tojo's front porch. The fighting has been darn tough these past few weeks and I'm ready to come home for a rest now. Seventeen months over here and seven to go before I am eligible for leave. I'll be skin and bone if I have another one like this. I went down to 163 pounds. Occasional snipers and small groups bother heck out of us and we go chasing then through the hills. They run like scared rabbits with our boys after them. I've lost quite a bit of my running ability, but the Japs still can't out-run me. It is actually comical sometimes when they scatter and take off for a cave somewhere. It's just like skeet shooting. This is rather short, but I haven't much time. Knock on wood and I believe I'll come through this in one piece.
1Bedford, Virginia, a village of some 3,200 souls in 1944, loses 19 sons in Company A on D-Day, and three more later in the Normandy campaign
2Contemporaries remark about what a good singing voice Albert Sochin has in high school. After serving in the war, he takes up a musical career, and, under the name Albert DaCosta (his mother's maiden name), performs for seven seasons with the Metropolitan Opera. He then stars with several companies in Europe, where he dies in a car accident in 1967 at the age of 40.