A quick post about Memorial Day and my hope that on this solemn American holiday that you will pose and remember the dead who have been killed in conflict. This isn’t a post about politics its about asking people to remember this holiday and those who died in military service. From Lexington/Concord in the Revolutionary War, to Pearl Harbor and those who died in Afghanistan/Iraq…may we remember what this holiday is all about.
“We are fighting a battle against time. There will be no more retreating, withdrawal or readjustment of the lines or any other term you choose. There is no line behind us to which we can retreat.…There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end.…We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together.…I want everybody to understand we are going to hold this line. We are going to win.”
General Walker in the Korean War
“Only the dead have seen the end of war.”
The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need.2 He lets me rest in green meadows; he leads me beside peaceful streams.3 He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name.4 Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.5 You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings.6 Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23 NLT
June 6, 1944
Clip from We Were Soldiers “Broken Arrow”
This Monday we celebrate Memorial Day as a nation. I avoid politics here and will not dive into them at all, but I wanted to say a few things about Memorial Day, that I hope will give you some things to consider. Memorial Day is often the start of summer. Its the holiday that people kick off with grilling, taking their families to the beach, or city pool, or more. For many people it means a day off from work…and yet Memorial Day is so much more. Memorial Day is a holiday to remember those who gave their life while in service to this country. Its a holiday about remembering those who were lost. Those of us who live in the United States I believe are fortunate to live here. We take it for granted every day. If you ever doubt how good it is here travel abroad, go to Africa, parts of South America and see for yourself.
Embedded in the memory of this nation we call home is a number of places that became a part of out history. They are name likes Yorktown, Cold Harbor, Manassas, Shiloh, Antietam, Belleau Wood, Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Normandy, Anzio, Inchon, Chosin Reservoir, Pleiku, Hue, Khafji, and more. In the last decade there have been a number of new places that have also become a part of our national memory. They are places like Musa Qala, Helmand, Kandahar, Ramadi, Fallujah, are just a couple. The reality is that there will always be conflict in the next generation and the generations to come will have their own battlefields and places where they will give their life in sacrifice of service. This weekend is about remembering those who have died in service. And it’s my sincere hope before you light up that grill, or head to the beach that you will pause and reflect on the freedoms you have because of those who sacrificed their life in military service. Those people who gave their life, like those who have served in the military gave you the ability to practice what you believe. They fought for your ability to go to church and practice faith; or the fact that you choose not to practice and do not believe. That is something that we need to consider.
Also I have this request of you. If you have a veteran in your family, or know someone who has served in the military take some time and thank them for their service. Stop and shake their hand, send them a text message or call them up. If you live in a place like Washington, D.C., North Carolina, or Texas or elsewhere and see a lot of military…stop one of them and thank them. Thank them for the job that they are doing. After you do that then please enjoy your holiday with family and friends. Enjoy the start to the summer season.
Since its Memorial Day I decided to include a few stories from our history for you to read. They are personal accounts of conflicts from our past. Its my hope that you will read them and consider the sacrifices made in these stories. The stories I selected are a personal observation of the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg, as well as storming Omaha Beach on D-Day and a story of service in the recent Iraq War. Thanks for reading this and if you are military or have been…thank you for your service. I and others do appreciate it.
Lieut. William Wheeler of NY on Gettysburg July 1, 1863
Letter from Lieut. William Wheeler, Thirteenth New York Battery to Family regarding the Battle of Gettysburg
WARRENTON JUNCTION, VA., July 26, 1863.
DEAR GRANDFATHER AND AUNT, — You at home will I think begin to wonder where I am, and why I have not written home before, but if you had known how hard we have been at work and how constantly we have been marching, your wonder would change into surprise and thankfulness that I have not been used up entirely and that I am still able to do duty. As I am indebted to you both for letters, I take this opportunity to write you a double-barreled one, not knowing when I may have access to pen and ink with enough of quiet leisure to compose my ideas. From Boonesborough I dropped a line to mother, informing her of my safety up to that point, but was not able to give her any account of our doings and sufferings during the days of the battle of Gettysburg. I will now give you some description of those scenes from my point of view. After we had been quite refreshed by our halt in the pleasant camp on Goose Creek, and had, most luckily for us, got our horses into condition again, we marched, on June 25, to Edwards’ Ferry, and the next morning crossed the river on our pontoons, and marched up through Poolesville and past our old Camp Observation, where I had had my first real experience of a soldier’s life. The streets of Poolesville were full of people, almost all of them wearing the real old secesh scowl and I did not see a single United States flag displayed.
The artillery took a road for itself that day, in order not to be encumbered by the infantry, and we made a march of about thirty miles to reach Jefferson City, where we camped in long, wet grass, exposed to a heavy rain storm. The next morning my Battery marched with one brigade to Burkettsville, which lies at the foot of South Mountain, and was the scene of the battle of that name in last September, at which the heroic General Reno lost his life. Here we lived on the fat of the land, which is always one of the perquisites and advantages of going off with an independent force. The army had neither eaten out the country, nor raised the prices extravagantly, consequently spring chicken, fresh bread, milk, and butter were the order of the day. This pleasant state of affairs lasted only a day and we had to rejoin the Eleventh at Middletown, from which we marched, the same afternoon, for Frederick City.
Both at Middletown, and along the road, were numerous instances of enthusiastic and outspoken patriotism, which went right to our hearts, and made us feel full of fight; here a party of young girls and children stood and waved handkerchiefs and tiny flags; there a hotel or public building displayed a good expanse of red, white, and blue bunting; there a good old lady stood at her door with her servants, and dispensed cups of cold water to every thirsty soldier, while the gray-haired husband stood by her side, his eyes half filled with patriotic and sympathizing tears, and “Good luck to you boys, God bless you.” Our whole march in the fertile and beautiful county of Frederick was delightful; indeed its prosperity and richness, the “peace on earth and good will toward men” that reigned there, seemed to us all to be a type of our bountiful and happy Union, while the devastated crops, the deserted homesteads, the bitter and hostile faces of Virginia which we had just left behind us, represented, not less truthfully, the hideous and destructive nature of Secession, as well as its results. The spirits of the whole army were superb. When we passed through the towns flags were displayed, music struck up, cheers rang along the column of march and when camp was made, after a toilsome march, singing was heard from the quarters of the weary, footsore soldiers.We passed through Frederick after nightfall, and did not see the place; the next day we marched to Emmettsburg and rested there, preparatory to the approaching conflict.
Early on the 1st of July we started for Gettysburg, about eleven miles distant. I was ordered to report with my Battery to General Steinwehr’s Division, and thus got ahead of the other batteries, which were in reserve with the First Division. We were marching along, thinking of anything but an approaching fight, when suddenly one of General Howard’s aids came galloping up and ordered me forward at double-quick. The roads were very stony, and my wheels were in very bad condition, but ahead I went; the gun-carriages rattling and bouncing in the air; feed, rations, kettles and everything else breaking loose from the caissons, the cannoneers running with all their might to keep up, for the road was so very rough, that I was afraid to have them mount, for fear of the repetition of the accident which befell us while trotting to Chancellorsville. For at least four miles the race continued, and I brought my whole Battery safely into position on the right of Gettysburg, but luckily did not have to fire immediately; my breathless cannoneers made their appearance one by one, and soon each detachment was full.
On the left, and in front of the town, there was brisk fighting going on. Reynolds (who was in command of our Corps and his own, the First) had pushed his men forward through the town, and was most rashly trying to drive a much superior enemy from the opposite heights. After passing through the town, we came into a hollow, consisting of farms, orchards, and ploughed land, completely commanded both by the Gettysburg heights and by those in the hands of the enemy, and it seemed to be fated that whoever ventured into that hollow was sure to be defeated. We tried it the first day, and Johnny Rebs the second and third days. Captain Dilger’s Battery of our Corps was in front of the town, hammering away at a secesh battery on the heights; but, as he had only smooth bores, he was no match for his opponent and was getting cut up badly, so I was ordered forward to help him. I limbered up and went through the town at a trot, the ladies waving their handkerchiefs, and giving us all possible cheer and encouragement. I came into battery on Dilger’s right, and soon showed the enemy that they had a three-inch rifled battery to contend with, and they had to shut up entirely. At about the same time the First Corps, which was on our left, succeeded in driving the enemy along the slope of the hill, and we scared them well as they ran.
At this moment everything looked auspicious, and Captain Dilger told me that he would move his Battery, under cover of mine, about five hundred yards further forward, in order to give his guns better play, and then that I should follow him and support him. This he did, and as soon as he got into position a dreadful fire was opened upon him, and I had the chief benefit of this as I moved up after him; all the shots fired too high for him fell into my Battery; one struck a driver of a gun and swept him and his two horses right away; strange to say, while both horses were killed, the driver only lost a leg! As we came near the place where we were to take position, we came suddenly on a very substantial fence which the men could not tear down, and we had to wait, under a very heavy fire, until axes could be brought from the caissons and a hole hewed through the fence. While waiting here, I saw an infantry man’s leg taken off by a shot, and whirled like a stone through the air, until it came against a caisson with a loud whack. When we got into position we were again too much for the opposing battery, and were getting along finely, when suddenly, on our right, there issued from the base of the hill two great gray clouds, which moved steadily forward towards the infantry of our Corps.
At the same time the advance of the First Corps along the face of the hill was checked, and they were driven back. A fierce infantry fight began on our right; our men held a small wood, near the poor-house, with determination, and I turned one section of my Battery to the right and fired canister into the columns of the rebels, taking aim at their red battle-flags, which we knew only too well after the fight at Chancellorsville. This lasted for awhile, but the enemy had massed their infantry too heavily for us, and after losing tremendously our men had to withdraw. We held our position until the rebs had got almost in our rear, when we withdrew with our batteries to another position on the road, where we fired a few more canisters and then retired into the town. While crossing the fields, one of my guns was dismounted by a shot, and, after making the greatest efforts to get it off, I was obliged to leave it on the ground; but on the 5th of July, when we took possession of the entire field of battle, I went down with my blacksmith, mended the carriage, and brought the gun off in triumph.
We did not get into the town a minute too soon, as the enemy were there almost as soon as we were, and shot some of our men in the street. We passed through the town and took position on Cemetery Hill, which is a high bluff above the town, at the termination of its principal street. There was a lively musketry fight in the lower part of the town, which ended in the enemy’s getting possession of several cross streets below, while our men held on to the upper part; and during the whole of the next two days there was a constant skirmishing from doors and windows. From the tops of some of the houses the rebs managed to get an aim at Cemetery Hill and picked off many a man from the batteries there.
The sun went down on the 1st July, leaving us where we were in the morning; that is, having gained the Gettysburg heights and having been repulsed in an attempt to gain the other heights; while General Reynolds had fallen a victim to his own rash attempt, and both Corps had been very seriously cut up. During the night our much needed reinforcements came up; the Second and Third Corps on our left and the Twelfth on our right, and we took a good night’s rest, preparatory to the next day’s work. The next morning there was brisk skirmishing all along the front, but only desultory shots from the artillery. At about two o’clock in the afternoon the artillery of the Second Corps became hotly engaged on the left, and our boys all stood on tiptoe to watch the contest. Just then General Howard rode along and said, “Never mind the left, boys; look out for your own front”; and sure enough, a few minutes afterward, we saw puffs of smoke, — which we knew well enough arose from the hills opposite to us, — then the boom of the guns and the bursting of the shells among us. They soon got an answer from us; we had nine three-inch rifled guns in a row there, from Hall’s Second Maine Battery, Wiedrick’s Battery, and mine. Beside these, there were the brass guns of Dilger’s Ohio Battery, and “G” of the Fourth Regulars, although they were of more service at close quarters. We did not fire very rapidly, but every shot was aimed with deliberation and judgment, as my corporals were cool and skillful. The result was that in half an hour the enemy’s fire slackened, as they had to move their batteries to get out of our fire. Soon they opened again, more fiercely than ever; but we quickly got their new range and punished them severely.
They placed one battery of very long range on our right flank, and completely enfiladed us; luckily for us they did not get the range for some time. A twenty-pounder Parrott battery was brought up from the Reserve, and this kept them very quiet. By 4½ P.M. my ammunition was exhausted, and Major Osborne, our new Chief of Artillery, relieved my Battery with another, and sent mine back to replenish; at the same time he asked me to remain with him and assist him in his very arduous duties, as he had charge of all the batteries on Cemetery Hill, and his regular adjutant was completely used up. This exactly suited me, as my blood was up, and I did not like the idea of going back with my Battery. Until nightfall I was hardly out of fire once, and I was raised to the highest pitch of excitement; the danger was so great and so constant that, at last, it took away the sense of danger. I placed several batteries on the hill, under the Major’s orders, and at length I went back to the Artillery Reserve to bring up a supply of ammunition. While proceeding down the Taneytown road I was a witness of the tremendous attack upon the Third Corps, and of their breaking and fleeing, after a fierce conflict.
As this Corps held our extreme left wing at that time, my first thought was that all was lost, and that the enemy would push through to the Baltimore Pike and cut off the three Corps at the front; but I had underrated General Meade’s capacity of husbanding his reserves and massing his forces. Hardly had the broken fragments of the Third Corps crossed the pike when the firing was renewed in the woods, and on the crest of the hill, where the whole Fifth Corps had been thrown in to reinforce the left wing, and a few minutes later, as if to make assurance doubly sure, I met the First Division of the Twelfth Corps going at double-quick for one of the cross-roads from the right to the left wing; and in case this should not prove enough, I saw another further back, among the woods, the dark masses of the Sixth Corps, the strongest corps in the army, waiting to be moved to any point. However, the dose administered by the Fifth Corps proved sufficient. Our line of battle was almost in the shape of a horseshoe, with the reserves on the inside, and these had to march only a short distance in order to reinforce any point threatened. I went back to the Major, and hardly had I got there when the enemy made a most desperate attack upon our extreme right, where a portion of the Twelfth Corps was intrenched.
This fight continued a good part of the night, and was renewed at day-light; but the point having been well reinforced, the enemy was repulsed with terrible loss. Late at night, I went down the Baltimore road, to the camp of the Artillery Reserve, to see that my Battery was put in shape for work early the next morning. Our Chief of Artillery, and all of us who commanded batteries, felt a little pride in keeping Cemetery Hill manned by Eleventh Corps Batteries as constantly as possible, although there were thirty batteries which had not fired a shot. I had a great hunt for ammunition, and even then did not find what I wanted, or what suited my guns; but I managed to get about fifty rounds apiece, (I should have had two hundred), and went back to the hill again. As on the previous day, it was brisk skirmishing along the front, some hard fighting in the town, and desultory artillery firing; but at about 1 P.M. Lee’s one hundred pieces (I believe that he had more in position), opened all at once, and as far as noise went, it was the most terrible cannonade that I ever witnessed, and the air was literally alive with flying projectiles, from the six-pound solid shot, which looks like a cricket ball, to the long Whitworth rifled shot, which has probably given rise to the story of the rebs firing railroad iron.
My pieces stood in a peculiarly bad place, as they were at the foot of the hill, and got the fire from all three sides; but the enemy’s artillery practice was not as good as it used to be, and the situation was not as deadly and dangerous as on Friday afternoon at Bull Run, or on Sunday morning at Chancellorsville. In this place I lost some horses but no men. The fire was still at its height, when a request came from General Hunt, Chief of Artillery, to Major Osborne to send him a battery for General Webb of the Second Corps, who feared an infantry attack. The Major handed me the order and off I went to the hill where the Second Corps was, just above General Meade’s head-quarters, and reported to General Hancock, who showed me the position I was to take. As I came up and unlimbered on this crest, the rebels were within four hundred yards and were making a charge across our front upon a battery which stood at my right. Luckily for us, they did not see us until we had got into position, and had poured a couple of rounds of canister over the heads of our own infantry, who were lying behind a stone fence in front of us. Then they turned their attention somewhat to us and a battery of theirs opened very fiercely upon us, and made things very hot; but we paid no attention to their battery, and just kept the canister going into them.
Once a double round of canister struck close to their flag, and I saw a dozen of them drop, and the whole column wavered and halted; but the standard-bearer waved his flag and they moved on again, but in a weary and spiritless manner. Just at this moment what should the infantry in front of us do but get up and leave! The Battery seemed lost, but I got hold of some of them, told them not to let the Eleventh Corps’ boys laugh at them, and in this way, first a squad, and then the whole regiment, was rallied and got back to the fence again, and about every reb who came up on to that hill was either killed, wounded, or captured. We then went back to our Corps and soon the fighting for the night was over. I went over a part of the battle-field that night, and did what I could to make the wounded comfortable; but very soon this seemed a hopeless undertaking; our wounded were removed in ambulances as fast as possible, but the rebel wounded, who were almost all of them in our hands, received extremely little attention, and lay scattered over the field in groups of twenty, fifty, or even a hundred, trying to help each other a little.
Our men could not help it; most of them were too much worn out to raise a hand, and the regular Ambulance Corps could not I begin to attend to our own wounded boys. I was glad to do a little something for them, even if it were only to turn them on their side, and give them a glass of water. Utterly as I detest a living active rebel, as soon as he becomes wounded and a prisoner I don’t perceive any difference in my feelings towards him and towards one of our own wounded heroes. I suppose this is very heterodox, but I can’t help it. I found a Colonel of a Mississippi Regiment shot through the breast, a man of stately bearing, and a soldier of his regiment told me that he was judge of the Supreme Court of that State. Now here was a man, evidently one of the real old original Secesh; but I forgot that, took him into a barn, made him a straw bed, fixed a pillow for him, got him a cup of coffee, and ignored the fact that he gave me no word of thanks or farewell when I left him. The scenes of the battle-field were very rough, and I will not trouble you with any description of them; I will only mention a rencontre, which I had with General Meade on Friday afternoon.
I was with my Battery at the foot of the hill, waiting for orders and expecting to be called upon to relieve one of our Corps batteries, when an elderly Major General with spectacles, looking a good deal like a Yale Professor, rode up and asked me if I had a full supply of ammunition. I told him that I had as full a supply as I could get on the field having been to the ammunition train with an order from Major Osborne, but without success: whereupon he got excited and said, “You must have ammunition; the country can’t wait for Major Osborne or any other man; go immediately to the Artillery Reserve and order General Tyler to send up a wagon load.” Now I might have told him that there was not a round of three-inch ammunition left with the Artillery Reserve, as I had been there myself shortly before; but something in his face warned me against answering back; so I put spurs to my horse, and got round the corner of a wood, where I stayed until he had left the premises and then came back, to learn that it was General Meade himself. And so the battle closed. We had repulsed the enemy at every point, with very great loss, had taken an immense number of prisoners (I saw several thousand with my own eyes, besides the wounded ones), and had remained in possession of the field, to say nothing of pursuing the enemy from the 5th until this day. I am sure that the importance and decisiveness of the victory cannot well be overrated. I have no time to tell you of our forced march back to Emmettsburg, Middletown, Boonesborough, and Hagerstown. The enemy’s crossing under our noses, at Williamsport and Falling Waters, was a masterly maneuver, but I do not think that Meade is at all to blame for it.
Our marches since then have been severe, and the men are getting sick with bilious fever on all sides. Thus far I have borne up splendidly and have not been off duty for an hour. I hope and pray that I may continue as well. Major Osborne has forwarded a new demand for my commission to Governor Seymour, and accompanied the request with expressions of approbation, both toward me and the Battery, which have made me feel very proud. I have enjoyed the Major’s society greatly. He is a gentleman and a soldier, a most energetic and gallant man, and he contributed greatly, by the management of his artillery, in restoring their lost prestige so brilliantly to the Eleventh Corps. I am now entirely without officers. I have applied for a commission for Henry Miller, my Orderly Sergeant. I hope in a month or two to get everything fixed up in good shape and to get two more guns . . . . . The time may vary a few months, a few years, or even a few decades, but the job will be settled and that all right too. I am, in this matter, like St. Paul’s Charity, ready to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things for the cause, knowing that if we do so, we also, like Charity, shall never fail. This has been a most egotistical letter, but I know you want to hear about me, and not about the army in general or anybody else.
Personal Account of Omaha Beach: June 6, 1944
“Our assault boat hit a sandbar. I looked over the ramp and we were at least seventy-five yards from the shore, and we had hoped for a dry landing. I told the coxswain, “Try to get in further.” He screamed he couldn’t. That British seaman had all the guts in the world but couldn’t get off the sandbar. I told him to drop the ramp or we were going to die right there.
We had been trained for years not to go off the front of the ramp, because the boat might get rocked by a wave and run over you. So we went off the sides. I looked to my right and saw a B Company boat next to us with Lt. Bob Fitzsimmons, a good friend, take a direct hit on the ramp from a mortar or mine. I thought, there goes half of B Company.
It was cold, miserably cold, even though it was June. The water temperature was probably forty-five or fifty degrees. It was up to my shoulders when I went in, and I saw men sinking all about me. I tried to grab a couple, but my job was to get on in and get to the guns. There were bodies from the I I6th floating everywhere. They were facedown in the water with packs still on their backs. They had inflated their life jackets. Fortunately, most of the Rangers did not inflate theirs or they also might have turned over and drowned.
I began to run with my rifle in front of me. I went directly across the beach to try to get to the seaway. In front of me was part of the II6th Infantry, pinned down and lying behind beach obstacles. They hadn’t made it to the seaway. I kept screaming at them, ‘You have to get up and go! You gotta get up and go!’ But they didn’t. They were worn out and defeated completely. There wasn’t any time to help them.
I continued across the beach. There were mines and obstacles all up and down the beach. The air corps had missed it entirely. There were no shell holes in which to take cover. The mines had not been detonated. Absolutely nothing that had been planned for that part of the beach had worked. I knew that Vierville-sur-Mer was going to be a hellhole, and it was.
When I was about twenty yards from the seaway I was hit by what I assume was a sniper bullet. It shattered and broke my right leg. I thought, well, I’ve got a Purple Heart. I fell, and as I did, it was like a searing hot poker rammed into my leg. My rifle fell ten feet or so in front of me. I crawled forward to get to it, picked it up, and as I rose on my left leg, another burst of I think machine gun fire tore the muscles out of that leg, knocking me down again.
I lay there for seconds, looked ahead, and saw several Rangers lying there. One was Butch Bladorn from Wisconsin. I screamed at Butch, ‘Get up and run!’ Butch, a big, powerful man, just looked back and said, ‘I can’t.’ I got up and hobbled towards him. I was going to kick him in the ass and get him off the beach. He was lying on his stomach, his face in the sand. Then I saw the blood coming out of his back. I realized he had been hit in the stomach and the bullet had come out his spine and he was completely immobilized. Even then I was sorry for screaming at him but I didn’t have time to stop and help him. I thought, well, that’s the end of Butch. Fortunately, it wasn’t. He became a farmer in Wisconsin.
As I moved forward, I hobbled. After you’ve been hit by gunfire, your legs stiffen up, not all at once but slowly. The pain was indescribable. I fell to my hands and knees and tried to crawl forwards. I managed a few yards, then blacked out for several minutes. When I came to, I saw Sgt. Bill Klaus. He was up to the seaway. When he saw my predicament, he crawled back to me under heavy rifle and mortar fire and dragged me up to the cover of the wall.
Klaus had also been wounded in one leg, and a medic gave him a shot of morphine. The medic did the same for me. My mental state was such that I told him to shoot it directly into my left leg, as that was the one hurting the most. He reminded me that if I took it in the ass or the arm it would get to the leg. I told him to give me a second shot because I was hit in the other leg. He didn’t.
There were some Rangers gathered at the seaway – Sgt. William Courtney, Pvt. William Dreher, Garfield Ray, Gabby Hart, Sgt. Charles Berg. I yelled at them, ‘You have to get off of here! You have to get up and get the guns!’ They were gone immediately.
My platoon sergeant, Bill White, an ex-jockey whom we called Whitey, took charge. He was small, very active, and very courageous. He led what few men were left of the first platoon and started up the cliffs. I crawled and staggered forward as far as I could to some cover in the bushes behind a villa. There was a round stone well with a bucket and handle that turned the rope. It was so inviting. I was alone and I wanted that water so bad. But years of training told me it was booby-trapped.
I looked up at the top of the cliffs and thought, I can’t make it on this leg. Where was everyone? Had they all quit? Then I heard Dreher yelling, ‘Come on up. These trenches are empty.’ Then Kraut burp guns cut loose. I thought, oh God, I can’t get there! I heard an American tommy gun, and Courtney shouted, ‘Damn it, Dreher! They’re empty now.’
There was more German small-arms fire and German grenades popping. I could hear Whitey yelling, ‘Cover me!’ I heard Garfield Ray’s BAR [Browning automatic rifle] talking American. Then there was silence.
Now, I thought, where are the 5th Rangers? I turned and I couldn’t walk or even hobble anymore. I crawled back to the beach. I saw 5th Rangers coming through the smoke of a burning LST that had been hit by artillery fire. Co!. Schneider had seen the slaughter on the beaches and used his experience with the Rangers in Africa, Sicily, and Anzio. He used the smoke as a screen and moved in behind it, saving the 5th Ranger Battalion many casualties.
My years of training told me there would be a counterattack. I gathered the wounded by the seaway and told them to arm themselves as well as possible. I said if the Germans come we are either going to be captured or die on the beach, but we might as well take the Germans with us. I know it sounds ridiculous, but ten or fifteen Rangers lay there, facing up to the cliffs, praying that Sgt. White, Courtney, Dreher, and the 5th Ranger Battalion would get to the guns. Our fight was over unless the Germans counterattacked.
I looked back to the sea. There was nothing. There were no reinforcements. I thought the invasion had been abandoned. We would be dead or prisoners soon. Everyone had withdrawn and left us. Well, we had tried. Some guy crawled over and told me he was a colonel from the 29th Infantry Division. He said for us to relax, we were going to be okay. D, E, and F Companies were on the Pointe. The guns had been destroyed. A and B Companies and the 5th Rangers were inland. The 29th and Ist Divisions were getting off the beaches.
This colonel looked at me and said, ‘You’ve done your job.” I answered, ‘How? By using up two rounds of German ammo on my legs?” Despite the awful pain, I hoped to catch up with the platoon the next day.”
A Personal Account of the Iraq War
This was written by Chris Clark and is re-printed.
The night-vision goggles cast the road in a soft green glow, a familiar if otherworldly view of Iraq. We watch for five, maybe 10 minutes, but we see nothing unusual. To 26 Recon Marines, it’s just an ordinary dirt road, marked by a few potholes, weaving its way to a village. Nothing looks out of place.
The night air seems cooler, that is to say it’s only about 100 degrees. The sand and occasional brick house still radiate the scorching heat that blistered the land throughout the day. We’ve had to hang our bottles in wet socks outside Humvee windows just to bring the near boiling water to a drinkable temperature. Inside the armored vehicles, we sit cramped and drenched in sweat, wishing for even the slightest breeze.
I can’t help but think back to the year before. Will it be different this time? Will we see as much combat? I pray not.
We are a special operations unit, sent on a deep reconnaissance mission into unfriendly territory. For most of us, this is another day on the job. Only two “boots,” Marines on their first tour, have yet to witness the brutality that not even the most elite training prepares you for. The rest of us are on our second, third or fourth tours.
The moon and stars illuminate the desert landscape, and Humvee headlights catch the odd cat or dog scampering across the road. We almost always travel at night. At least, since we learned the hard way a couple years back, when a “daisy chain” of IEDs hit us one morning.
With every rock and pothole the Humvee hits, I bang against the metal armor surrounding me, my helmet the only thing between me and a concussive injury. The 100 pounds of gear and ammunition that I carry weigh more heavily as the hours pass in the tight, stuffy space. The M249 squad automatic weapon between my legs adds to my claustrophobia.
I scan ahead and to our flank. The dirty 4×4 bulletproof window to my left and the legs of the machine gunner in the turret limit my vision, but anything helps. We have escaped death before because one person spotted something out of place
Irrigation canals and patches of reeds and bushes pass by on either side of the road. Over the roar of the engine, I can hear the muffle of radio traffic and the broken a/c spinning. The constant rattle of grenades, bullets and weapons is almost comforting. We have enough suppressive fire to withstand any attack.
Around 2:00 a.m., we dismount at a house on the outskirts of a village. We sleep in shifts until dawn, six men pulling security and 20 men on the packed dirt floor. After a breakfast of stale MREs and warm water, we begin a day of patrols and “knock-and-talks” to gain a feel for the locals.
This place is like the countless other villages I’ve been to. Many of the 30 or so flat-topped, brick houses look as if they’re in mid-construction, with holes punched through walls and unfinished stairways. Children run and play in the streets, some kicking a beaten-up soccer ball, others holding out their hands to us, “Mister, mister, chokoolat.” Men squat outside their homes, smoking cigarettes and drinking tea, while veiled women return from the river in twos and threes, heavy baskets of water on their heads.
We observe custom and speak only with the men. They’re polite, but hardly forthcoming. They don’t want us here any more than we want to be. By the end of the day, we pack up to leave with no new intel on insurgent activity in the area.
I cram into the fourth vehicle with five other Marines. We are hot and tired, and the Humvee is like an oven. No one looks forward to another night-long drive through the desert. But we are in unusually high spirits. We joke with one another and try to make light of having eight months still ahead of us until we’re home, safe, with our loved ones.
As my eyes adjust to the night-vision goggles, Iraq again turns an eerie green. I feel as if I’m entering some sort of dream, a hazy consciousness that can be sparked to clarity at any moment.
Leaving the village, we round a small bend that wasn’t entirely visible from our vantage point the night before.
First there’s a blinding flash, then a deafening sound as my Humvee lurches into the air. My heart jumps to my throat, and in that split-second I know: A roadside bomb. A pressure-plated IED that, somehow, four vehicles passed without detonating. Vehicle Five, about 15 feet behind us, is hit hard, its entire front end gone.
I scramble out of my Humvee, and enter a nightmare. Gunny, our platoon sergeant, lies in a crater the size of a Volkswagen, his legs blown apart.
Flesh and blood are scattered across the road and paint the inside of the wrecked vehicle. Dazed Marines stumble through the smoke and dust, unsure if they’re hit. Doc, our corpsman, is tying tourniquets to Gunny’s mangled legs as the ground around them turns darker. I run my team’s trauma pack to Doc and hear Gunny, his face twisted in unimaginable pain, ask Doc to kill him.
In a rational world, there would be shock and emotion. I am staring at a man near death, the corpsman who tends him kneels on a gruesome composite of turned earth and flesh. No mind should take in such horror. But in war, cruelty is commonplace. So there is calmness in our movements. We have to focus on staying alive. I join Marines on security, as a radioman requests an immediate casualty evacuation.
Time becomes abstract. I don’t know if hours or minutes pass before the CH-46 hovers above. The steady beat of the blades are deafening as the chopper sets down. Through the night-vision goggles, the dust-filled air looks like a lunar sandstorm. We load Gunny into the chopper, and the bird takes off.
We are ordered to stay until backup comes.
I dig in on the side of the road, hidden in some reeds. Through a sleepless night, I again watch Iraq basked in a surreal green. Marines about me quietly shift their weapons and whisper into radios. There is no movement in the desert. Even the village is dark and lifeless.
At daybreak, I am relieved that I’m still alive. But it starts up before long. First come the mortar rounds and 50 cal. sniper fire, then the cracking of AK-47s.
I wonder if I will live to see the next day. Humvee wreckage and a deep crater are yards away, a grim reminder that nothing is certain in Iraq, not even an ordinary dirt road.
The author deployed to Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and in 2007. He is now a college student in Northern California majoring in international affairs.
(Published February 6, 2010, on New America Media)