AMERICA AT D-DAY
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Covers both sides of the Atlantic in a swift narrative – woven out of recollections of combatants and civilians, news accounts and many memoirs, books and articles – that lets one feel the burst of fearful excitement at home when the invasion was announced.
Goldstein’s wide-angle observance of D-Day’s 50th anniversary is notable for the effective ways in which it spotlights events on the home front as well as in Normandy and links the past to the present… Although vivid accounts of combat-zone engagements constitute the centerpiece of the author’s panoramic narrative, he offers tellingly detailed glimpses of how the news of the invasion was greeted throughout Great Britain and North America… Pop history of a very high order. The resonant text is enriched by 90 splendid photos.
Writing in best journalistic style, Goldstein beautifully meshes personal anecdote with historical perspective in an even-handed account that juxtaposes heroic deeds and blunders; fear and courage.
An excerpt on the storming of Pointe du Hoc by the U.S. Army’s 2nd Ranger Battalion:
Lieutenant Jake Hill of F Company used some choice language to taunt the Germans into showing themselves.
Trying to flush out a machine-gun emplacement, Hill had taken cover behind an embankment. Then he stood up to look at the position and shouted, "You couldn’t hit a bull in the ass with a bass fiddle!"
That succeeded in drawing fire. Hill dropped back, then tossed a grenade that wiped out the machine-gunner.
A few minutes later, Lieutenant Lapres came down the road with a patrol from E Company. Hill’s outwitting the Germans may have kept Lapres and his men from being ambushed.
There was plenty of action as well at a vantage point south of [Lieutenant Colonel James Earl] Rudder’s command post. Sergeant Bill Petty and the nine men with him could see German troops – disorganized and possibly fleeing from the Omaha area – moving went along a country road toward Grandcamp. Petty had been turned down twice by Rudder when he tried to join the Rangers at Camp Forrest – he was a pale youngster from rural Georgia with no upper teeth – but he had persisted and finally won the commander over. Now, surprising the Germans with fire from his Browning Automatic Rifle, he cut down thirty of them during the afternoon.
But the Rangers were still fighting alone through the day, and they had little success communicating with the troops at Omaha Beach.
In the early afternoon Rudder sent out messages via radio and carrier pigeon: "Located Pointe du Hoc – mission accomplished – need ammunition and reinforcements – many casualties."
At 3:00 P.M., the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division replied, saying it had received a message but could not decipher it. About the same time a brief response came from General Huebner, the commander of the 1st Division: "No reinforcements available."
By nightfall more than one third of the two hundred Rangers who had arrived at Pointe du Hoc were casualties, among them Colonel Rudder. A shell – Rudder believed it came from a United States Navy ship – had killed an artillery captain and a Navy lieutenant acting as a spotter for the naval guns, and it knocked Rudder over, a piece of concrete from flying debris lodging in his arm. Then, while trying to direct fire, he had been shot in the left leg, a clean wound that entered and exited above the knee.
Captain Walter Block of Chicago, the battalion medical officer – a pediatrician in prewar days – found a subterranean chamber with sixteen bunks that had been abandoned by the Germans and began to work on the wounded, a flickering candle and a flashlight alongside him.
The Germans still held an antiaircraft position on the west bank of the Pointe as night came, and the Rangers were running low on ammunition, particularly grenades and mortar shells. A few Rangers who had lost their rifles were using German weapons, and the men at Rudder’s command post also armed themselves with German "potato-masher" grenades.
The Germans would stage three counterattacks during the night, preceded by whistles and shouts apparently designed to frighten the Rangers.
By the following day Rudder was left with only ninety men able to bear arms, and, as Ted Lapres would recall, "We were pinned back close to the cliff and holding on for dear life." But with help from strong naval fire, the Rangers stayed put. That afternoon two boats arrived with food, ammunition, and a platoon of reinforcements.
On D-Day plus two, the beleaguered force was finally relieved by fellow Rangers and units of the 29th Division arriving overland from Omaha Beach.
Even that had its harrowing moments. The Rangers had anchored an American flag to the cliff with rocks, but approaching American tank crews began firing, thinking the Rangers had been wiped out. Rudder waved the flag on a stick. The friendly fire ceased.
The flag still flew.