America's Greatest Generation
Living Their Finest Hour:
Stories of Men and Women who experienced the greatest event in the history of the world -- World War II...As seen through their eyes and told in their words.
The page that follow in the category of "D-Day Heroes" are dedicated to the men and women served with distinction in the forces of the U. S. (Military) Army -- Navy -- Airborne and Air Corps.
These were the men and women who individually and as groups made the "greatest crusade" possible by being a witness to history on the 6th of June 1944 as the largest armada of ships, planes, and men began the assault of "fortress Europe" and Germany's stranglehold on Europe.
The following three stories are but a few of the stories lived by New Orleanians as they began their greatest adventure of their young lives. They were all heroes. We at the World War II Stories -- In Their Own Words off a salute to these men and the thousands of others who spearheaded the greatest adventure of the 20th Century.
Heroes: D-Day: June 6, 1944
Scroll down to read all three stories or you can click on the individual links below to read a particular story.
116th Infantry Regiment
D-Day, June 6, 1944
Naval Amphibious Assault Force B D-Day,
June 6, 1944
508th Parachute Regiment
82nd Airborne Divison D-Day,
June 6, 1944
Brave Men: Their Finest Hour
Byline: By ELIZABETH MULLENER Staff writer
It was 6:30 a.m. on June 6, 1944, the moment when the invasion of Normandy began. Infantryman Mac Evans was dodging bullets as he ran onto Omaha Beach. Naval engineer George Jones was watching the fire in the sky from a ship in the English Channel. Paratrooper Paul Bouchereau was moving in on a railroad station behind enemy lines, having jumped from an airplane at midnight.
Evans, Jones and Bouchereau are three of the many New Orleanians who took part in D-Day, eyewitnesses to one of the most momentous events in history. They are three of the 250,000 soldiers who were there, who helped turn the tide of the war and helped shape the political order of the 20th century. They were three of a generation of boys caught in the grip of terror. Their stories are three of the millions of stories there are to tell.
116th infantry regiment, 29th Division
"Truthfully now, if I could have run, I believe I would have," Evans said. "But there was nowhere to go. Forward was into enemy territory. Backward was into the water. Right and left, there was just chaos all up and down the beach - people dying, burning vehicles, weapons full of sand, wounded men, the dead. There were the dead, the dead floating in the water, the dead the waves would deposit on shore. There were dead all over."
As he bolted down the steel ramp of the boat, waded through waist-high water and scrambled onto the beach, Evans was among four companies of men who comprised the leading edge in the invasion. He wore an assault jacket and a steel helmet, he packed 40 pounds of gear and carried 60 rounds of ammunition. There was heavy machine-gun fire coming at him from the Germans behind the Atlantic Wall along the shoreline and some of his compatriots fell before they ever left the ramp.
Immediately Evans discovered that he was off his designated mark. He also discovered that the men of Company A down the beach were being slaughtered, that many of his officers had been downed and that his weapons were full of sand. But in the fashion of American soldiers of the day, he improvised.
By 9:30, along with a ragtag group of men from several regiments, he made his first penetration of enemy lines. By noon, they had arrived at Vierville, a tiny hamlet high on the bluffs not far inland, composed of a few summer cottages and a load of German soldiers. Hidden in foxholes and bunkers, the Germans were hard to get at.
"You can't see them," he said. "You're just shooting where you hope there will be a German. When they stop shooting back, you declare the place secured."
By 2 in the afternoon, the place was secured and the Americans moved on. They took another hamlet, called St. Laurent, and fought skirmishes where they encountered pockets of Germans. By dusk, they were only 1,000 yards inland and Evans' regiment, the 116th, had lost 800 men, about a fourth of their numbers. As night fell, Evans caught a few minutes sleep alongside a horse trough near a barn in a field.
Although the Allies had a foothold on the beach by the end of the second day, Evans and many others stayed in Normandy for a month and a half, capturing territory yard by yard. At the end of 45 days, 22 miles had been taken. But the first few feet - and the first few hours - were the most memorable because they were full of surprises. What surprised Evans most was his own mortality.
"I thought I was invincible," he said. "You know how a 17-year-old is. You think nothing's ever going to happen to you.
"When they talked to us before the invasion about people getting killed, it wasn't me; it was the guy next to me. It never occurred to me in all those talks that I could die. But when I hit the beach, all of a sudden I got this realization: Hey, this could he permanent."
Division 61, Naval Amphibious Assault Force B
George Jones had been sitting in the English Channel on an LST through much of the night, working in the engine room.
At H-hour, 6:30 a.m., he opened the escape hatch, a few feet square, and looked up.
"The sky was no longer blue," he said. "It was just fire. In other words, as far as my experience personally, the sky was on fire. It was horrendous. Like the earth was going to collapse."
The objective of LST 291 was to deliver 40 Sherman tanks and their crews to the beach, along with 40 Rangers ready to scale the cliffs, and then to take on casualties. But for several hours, they sat in a massive traffic jam, about four blocks from the beach. As they sat, the air began to fill with a deathly stench, the noise was so deafening that it cost Jones much of his hearing and the water began to turn khaki.
"The water was just tan with the bodies of paratroopers and other infantrymen who didn't make it," he said. "They were floating all around us, as far as you could see, just hundreds of them. Oh man, as far as you could see."
By midmorning, Jones and his fellow sailors had made their way to shore and completed their deliveries. Next they meticulously scrubbed down the ship and prepared the operating theater on the tank deck, manned by three doctors and 29 paramedics. Then they lowered the steel ramp of the LST and hoisted a white flag with a red "M" on it, indicating they were ready to take on casualties.
"We don't know where they came from, but they came too fast," Jones said. "They came in Jeeps, in army trucks, they came on litters. They just kept coming. We never could stop them. Some of the bodies were thrown on top of tanks. They would just drive up the ramp and onto the ship.
"We had guys with no legs on, some men that had touniquets that were improvised, one guy with the top of his skull blown off. These weren't broken arms or foot injuries. These people were about 90 percent dead. We would have guys come on carrying their buddies and they would say 'Look, this is my buddy, can't you do something for him?'"
Within three or four hours, every single foot of deck space on LST 291 was covered with bodies. Jones learned on the spot how to administer morphine and spent the next few days, when he wasn't tending to the ship's engines, trying to make wounded soldiers comfortable.
"I spent much of my time inserting morphine syringes," he said, "and passing out cigarettes and pulling the eyelids over those who didn't make it."
For the rest of D-Day, Jones and his shipmates fought the bombs and bullets, the weather and the pathos of what they had seen. For the rest of the week, they shipped out some of their casualties on transport boats and took on others. Finally, on June 11, they pulled out of Normandy beach, sat down and ate their first full meal in five days. Then they headed to Southampton, England, where they brought 900 wounded soldiers to hospitals.
"In my wildest imagination, when I look back at that day," Jones said, "I wonder how the hell a bunch of young men, 18 to 20 years old, with officers not much older, ever put this thing together and made a success of it.
"I often think I'm glad I was there. I'm glad I could see what took place. I'm glad I could relate it to somebody else when it was all over. But I wouldn't want to wish this kind of catastrophe on anyone."
508th parachute regiment, 82nd Airborne Division
Image taken in 1941
Used with permission of Paul Bouchereau.
It was shortly after midnight when Paul Bouchereau looked out the door of the C-47, made the sign of the cross and jumped.
"I was scared," he said. "Very scared. There was small arms fire coming up at the plane and searchlights all over the place."
Within a few seconds, his parachute opened and gave its harsh but comforting jerk. Within two minutes, he was on the ground, alone in a field surrounded by hedgerows, about 15 miles inland. Within another few minutes, he met up with two other paratroopers and, realizing they were off-target, they began marching north, toward the Normandy shore. As they marched, they picked up scattered paratroopers until the group grew to about 50.
Their mission was to take out bridges, destroy communications and generally deter the Germans from moving toward the beaches, where the Allies were about to invade.
Just before daybreak, they took a railroad station near Etienville, guarded by 15 or 20 Germans. Later, they blew up some railroad tracks and cut some communications lines. That night, they slept in a fruit orchard, taking turns standing at guard.
The next day, they got involved in a bigger fight, at a German motor pool. They prevailed, and left behind a massive bonfire. Their numbers still growing, they marched farther northward, toward the beaches.
But they never arrived. On the third day, June 8, Bouchereau and his companions were captured and taken prisoner. They were disarmed, lined up and sent on a forced march with their hands over their heads.
"There's one thing you have to understand about this," Bouchereau said. "When you're trying to kill someone and they're trying to kill you, you may throw your hands up in the air, but that doesn't make you buddies. They're still mad at you."
As the prisoners marched down the road a German soldier took out a submachine gun and opened fire, wounding Bouchereau in the knee. He fell to the ground, but was shortly yanked up and ordered to walk despite his injury. The pain, he said, was excruciating. Soon he fell to the ground again.
"Then a German soldier came over, rolled me onto my back, cocked his rifle and put the end about 6 inches from my head," Bouchereau said. "I literally looked down the barrel of a Mauser rifle. What I did was, I prayed. I must have set an all-time speed record saying the rosary.
"Then he laughed, the German. It was a sadistic kind of laugh. And then he put down his rifle, lit a cigarette and handed it to me. I even remember what brand it was: It was an Old Gold."
Bouchereau was held prisoner for two weeks and then released to a hospital in England, on the assumption he would never walk again. Within a few months, he was back in combat and jumping out of airplanes.
When he looks back on D-Day, the picture Paul Bouchereau remembers most vividly is the one he saw from the airplane door as his C-47 flew over the English Channel.
"We saw all these ships," he said. "Just thousands and thousands of them. It was a magnificent sight. It seemed to be endless. From one side of the channel to the other.
"We were scared. This was our first action. Our baptism by fire. But when we saw this armada, it gave us a feeling of confidence. Just the whole Channel covered with ships. I can't think of anything more spectacular than that."
Article reprinted from The Times Picayune,
National Section, Pg. S3,
D-Day Supplement, "D-Day - June 6,1944".
©1994, The Times Picayune. All rights reserved.
Used with permission of the Times Picayune.
The Times Picayune @ nola.com
Story originally submitted on: 17 August 2001.
September 5, 2002.
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Updated on 26 January 2006...2114:05 CST