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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

Vincent BOGNANNI

 

29th Infantry Division

115th Infantry Regiment

L Company

The weather was rough and after about a week on this boat, we wanted to get off. Well, finally the big day was here - June 6, 1944. We had heard planes most of the night coming and going. When we went topside, we knew that this was the day. The weather had calmed down and we could see the planes going in dropping their bombs and coming back. We figured nothing could live under this saturation of bombs.

The first troops went in at 6:30 a.m. We were still waiting; we could see the smoke on the beach but didn't know what was happening. At 10 o'clock our Captain called us all together and read us a news report, which went on as follows... The 16th Regiment of the First Division and the 116th Regiment of the 29th Division landed on Omaha Beach. They are still on the Beach. Casualties are extremely high. Our Regiment, 115th, is next to go in and we are going to take and secure this beach and with this communicate over, he turned it over to the Boat Commander who told us that he would do his best to land us dry. It wasn't long after this that our boat was headed for the beach. We were inside and we heard one thump as the boat hit bottom. When we hit bottom again, the boat stopped and the ramps went down. But before we ran down, I put on Charlie Spivak's Besema Mucho record as loud as it would go and of f we went. I could still hear the record playing as we laid on the white strip of sand on the beach and then a direct hit on our boat from the shore batteries stopped the music and some of the sailors joined us on the beach.

We now were tasting our first combat experience. There were dead and wounded soldiers all over the place. Teams of soldiers were evacuating them by placing them in LST’s or whatever seaworthy craft was available. This had to be done because nobody wants to see a pile of dead soldiers because they will start thinking "I'm next." Things were happening too fast. There was a lot of confusion, but one thing we realized - we had to get to the base of the cliff if we wanted to stay alive. The beach was exactly like the mock-up that we studied while in the marshalling area. The white strip of sand. We went in about 100 yards and a trench was dug about four feet deep. This was to slow you down because it was flooded and here is where most of the casualties occurred. So realizing this, we started running inland, keeping our rifle over our heads and we reached the base of the cliff. Now all we had to do was get to the top, but the whole face was littered with personnel mines, some you could see and others were buried. For some reason, the machine gun fire had stopped and we figured that they were either out of ammunition or playing possum, so we had to make a decision. There was a soldier nearby that had a mine detector. This consisted of a round metal dish about 12'' in diameter that could detect mines. We went over and told him to lead us up the cliff. He refused, saying it was suicide. While we were arguing with him, trying to convince him that the safest place was at the top of the cliff, our Lieutenant walked up and asked us what we were arguing about. When we told him, he gave him a direct order and told us that if he doesn't follow our orders, to shoot him, take his equipment and go up ourselves. The soldier, hearing this order, decided to go up.

Up the cliff we proceeded. Strapped to his back was a roll of white tape that they used in tailoring to strengthen seams. As he would locate a mine, we would roll out this tape and mark the path that everyone was to follow. Some soldiers behind us would veer of f the tape and every now and then you would hear an explosion behind you. Before long we were at the top. We now could see the slits in the bunkers but everything was quiet. So Kurt and I crouched down low and ran by the bunker and into the field next to it. This field, according to intelligence reports, was supposed to be mined. The grass was about two feet tall, but we decided that this was an escape route and it wasn't logical that it was mined. After we were in about 100 yards, our Lieutenant had reached the top and he was yelling for us to come back because he felt that the intelligence reports had been accurate up to this point and there was no reason to doubt them now. So very carefully we retraced our steps back through the grass that we had knocked down. As soon as we got back to the bunker, a steel door on the side opened and four soldiers that looked like small Japanese came out. This was another thing that we were told. That this portion of the beach was defended by Russian Mongolian Troops, professional soldiers that Hitler had hired, but we all expected that these guys would be big guys not scrawny, little punks like they were. By now we were starting to get crowded and we told our Lieutenant to let us go in. He decided that maybe this field was not mined and as it turned out, it wasn't. As we were advancing we were suddenly stopped. It appeared that a sniper was having a field day picking off the forward elements of our company to our left. So it was decided that our own snipers, which included me, were to take up positions and observe the areas in front of us. I was the lucky one. I heard a shot and pinpointed the sniper. I summoned my squad leader who was equipped with a pair of binoculars to verify my target. I knew that as an anti-sniper, you don't get too many chances to make a mistake. So, with my Staff Sergeant looking at my target, which was about 306 yards or so away, I took My Bead and fired. I heard my Sergeant yell "you got him'', I fired another shot for insurance. He had been tied to the top of a tree. Our Lieutenant then notified the Company on our left that the sniper was killed and to continue to advance. No more soldiers were fired on, so the mission was a success. We proceeded to advance at a very slow pace and we met all kinds of resistance but mostly from small groups. As night fell, we dug in and just waited till the next day when we knew we would be tested.

June 7 was just another day of small skirmishes. We went through a town called Formigny and the townspeople welcomed us and handed us bottles of homemade wine which we drank and some of us got dangerously drunk. But at this point, we couldn't really care...

Copyright: Laurent Lefebvre