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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

Izzy ROZEN

 

29th Infantry Division

175th Infantry Regiment

G Company

My father was drafted out of high school and never had the opportunity to complete his high school education. He completed boot camp down in El Paso, Texas and was shipped over to England. My father was part of Operation Overlord, later know as the Normandy Landings of the D-Day invasion, arriving on what I thought was the Day 2 of the landing when in fact it was the Day 1 very first wave. As his regiment stormed the beach, my father witnessed many horrors as they fought against the heavily fortified Germans. Eventually, the remnants of my father’s unit made it up the cliffs. The battleships off the coast shelled the cliffs to allow the soldiers to get up and behind the German Pill Boxes. Until this day, both loud bursts of firecrackers during celebrations and the smell of fresh dirt being moved like the fresh cliffs of Normandy have triggered flashbacks. However, these more resent flashbacks in only the last 10-15 years struck me that from any type of construction where large quantities of dirt are being moved triggers traumatic memories of the cliffs being shelled and obliterated. The smell of fresh moved earth triggers an immediate reaction that reminds him of that day on Omaha beach.

It wasn’t until fairly recently that my father has been able to share some of these horrific experiences with me. He was drafted away from his family farm out of High School to perform his duty for his country, and ended up in France. He told me how distraught he was to witness the destroyed farmland and bloated, dead farm animals strewn throughout the countryside of France. Flies and stench were everywhere as it looked like barren wasteland and what best he could describe as a picture from hell.
The fighting continued as they fought to take every bit of land, foot by foot. My father then made it up to the outside of a town called St. Lo. They encountered heavy fighting in the thick hedgerows of brush that the French had planted there hundreds of years earlier to try to keep the Vikings out. My father’s unit was the first on the scene. The Americans had to scale hedgerows and encountered heavy fire as the Germans waited in ambush. My father managed to shoot 3 German enemy combatants before a sniper shot my father in the face. As he looked back for a quick moment to yell at his Sergeant, the sniper’s bullet entered the bridge of my father’s nose, blew out is left eye, and exited my father’s temple, ripping off the side of my father’s face. This event happened on June 6th 1944; the Day after my father’s 19th birthday. My father has since had over 6 different operations to work in his face and has worn a glass eye for most of his life.

Medics were close by. They tended to my father who was unconscious. As they loaded my father up on a gurney, a German Sniper dropped one of the medics with a single bullet. My father unconsciously got off of the gurney and helped the other medic load and carry the more seriously wounded medic off of the field, as bullets flew by between the soldiers. His action was noticed by a senior officer at the time. For his actions of trying to save that wounded medic’s life, my father later received the Bronze Star.
Then just when you thought things were over, the story continued as the medics readied my father to be airlifted back to England for medical attention. They tightly secured him to the gurney for the flight back, strapping him down so that he was unable to move and fall out during the flight. As the large Red Cross plane took off from the airfield in France, the German 88’s fired into the plane as they were shooting at any aircraft in the sky at this point.  My father couldn't see but could distinctly hear the pilot yelling to the copilot that the damn Germans were shooting at anything at this point and that they needed to get out of there.  As the Germans shelled their plane, the shrapnel now ranging from chunks down to about the size of sand grains ripped through the side of the plane and my father could see daylight through the wholes and feel the cool wind on his body through the opening in the plane. He then immediately felt a burning sensation; the shrapnel ripped through the plane and into his head bandages right into his skin. As the hot metal smoldered against his skin he couldn’t free up his hands to pull the bandages off and he had to sit there and endure the burning metal pain against his skin. Because the shrapnel was the size of small sand specks and because of the extensive damage to my father’s face, the doctors were not able to get it all out. Till only in the last 10 years after a routine visit to the eye doctor's office, he carried these “souvenirs” from the war under the skin on his face until doctors were completely surprised at the metal fragments and finally took a skapel and removed the remnants from his face during an eye exam.

Because of this experience during his one and only flight, he has been too traumatized to fly even to this day. As a result, he has been unable to attend many of the veteran events, since they are held a great distances away from his home in Sioux City, Iowa. He neither has the resources nor the ability to travel these great distances.  He doesn’t ask for accolades, but I think it must be hard not to be able to take part in these events and to share his experiences or get recognized for his service. He has been combat disabled since he was 19 years old and I just want to get him the validation that he so sincerely deserves.

Mitch Rozen

Copyright: Laurent Lefebvre