NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

June 7, 2014

On D-Day, resourceful men overcame 'screw-ups'

Bill Plante
Newburyport Daily News

---- — Big Freddy was late, and I had about given up hope before he came through the door and headed for our booth.

“Oversleep?” I asked as he settled in.

“Checking the D-Day anniversary morning coverage,” Freddy said.

“It’s going well,” I said.

“For dealing with the long ago and far away, it better had,” Freddy said.

“Amen to that — once in a lifetime like that one is one too many,” I said.

“Thanks be I was elsewhere at that time,” Freddy said.

“As was I,” I said.

“Doing what?” Freddy asked.

“Sent down to Washington and Lee in Virginia for special training,” I said.

“Lucky you,” Freddy said.

“It was luck of the draw for everyone else who was anywhere but Omaha Beach.” I said.

“Beach takers over in the Pacific had their own to deal with that went sour,” Freddy said.

“But there was nothing anywhere like D-Day in France,” I said. “That was an all time historic undertaking.”

“It came off as an all time historic screw up,” Freddy said. “Everything that could go wrong went wrong - heavy weather, off course landings, air bombings off targets, first wave of our forces all but wiped out while what the Brits had by comparison was a walk-in.”

“Our beach landing was a lot tougher than was counted on, and it was do the best you can to survive to get on to the beach, let alone do what you were supposed to do if you survived,” I said.

“It was all but a wipe out of the first wave of the 29th Division,” Freddy said.

“It was a disaster because of failures of our artillery, loss of men and tanks in the off loadings too far from shore, including losses of equipment, an inadequate air bombings of enemy positions,” I said.

Survivors of the first wave had all they could do just to take cover. It was the second wave of our 29th Division to make it all the way to the top.”

“Sheer guts, luck, and the Hand of God,” Freddy said.

“There was no way to get off the beach except straight ahead and up for whatever until dark if you made it, and that was just for starters,” I said.

“They get what sleep they can wherever they can, and then they have to deal with hedgerows bigger than anything they’ve ever had to deal with and Germans dug in at the corners to strafe them.

“Somebody figures out how to make plows out of who knows what for tanks to break through and the situations begin to turn.”

“They should have named the whole thing Operation Screw Up,” Freddy said.

“Not everything,” I said. “They couldn’t do anything about the weather that turned out to be more than somewhat, and the currents were a lot stronger than had been predicted.

“Back in England there was no way they could train any better for what they faced.

“There were so many there it’s a wonder it didn’t sink.”

“Which you and I weren’t until later,” Freddy said.

“With a lot of others, who wouldn’t face anything like D-Day,” I said.

“Where the Battle of the Bulge losses were a lot heavier than ours and the Germans,” Freddy said.

“Different setting, different consequences, different lessons learned, and Pray God no one will ever see its like again,” I said.

Bill Plante is a World War II combat engineers veteran and a former executive editor of The Daily News.