D-Day + 2


My father-in-law, Bud or Hank to his friends, landed on Omaha Beach with the 30th Infantry Division, (Old Hickory), on June 8, 1944–78 years ago today. He was in a cavalry unit–in his words, we were to find Germans. He had suffered a childhood eye injury that would have disqualified him from service; he cheated on the eye exam at his induction physical so that he could enlist. An instructor at the rifle range noticed him compensating for the eye injury; Hank begged him not to turn him in–since he was hitting the target, the instructor passed him on.

Hank rarely spoke about his wartime experience but I caught him with his guard down one day and asked him what it was like to land on the beach, what he was told before disembarking the ship. Hank said he and his unit were told they would fight their way inland and win, or die or be taken prisoner–there was no option to fail and retreat to the beach and be evacuated. The sight of the beach, though two days later, was still an intimidating sight. He chased the Germans until early September, when he and his best friend were crossing an open field between treelines, he stepped on a mine. He lost part of his foot, ending his war–sadly, his friend was killed. Every time he would try to move, he was fired upon by Germans in the opposite treeline. So he played dead for the better part of the day; his unit came after him when darkness fell.

He spent a year and a half in hospitals, first in England, then in the states. His medals were stolen while he was in hospital. His family offered to contact the VA and see if he could get his medals–his response, gruffly: “I didn’t fight for medals; the real heroes are the ones who didn’t come back”. So we honored his wishes.

I share his story, not because it was extraordinary, though it is. I share it because, I think, the extraordinary was ordinary.

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  1. WiesbadenJake Coolidge

    Interestingly, Wikipedia states the 30th ID did not land until June 11; since my father-in-law was not prone to exaggeration, boasting or lying, I take his word for it that he landed on the 8th. It may be, in the fog of war, since he was in a cavalry unit, his particular unit landed prior to the main division units. Someone out there may have a clearer picture. 

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  2. Some Call Me ...Tim Coolidge
    Some Call Me ...Tim

    Thank you for sharing his story.  It seems a common thread that those who came back were very reticent to talk about their experiences.  That’s a shame as so much history is being lost as they pass away.

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  3. Susan Quinn Contributor
    Susan Quinn

    I am so grateful that there were men who were prepared to fight for this country, in spite of physical issues. Clearly he felt the need to be engaged, and I honor his story and courage. Thanks, Jake.

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  4. Headedwest Coolidge

    My Uncle Carl arrived on the beach about a week after D-Day. He was part of the army that fought its way east through France, Luxembourg, and on into Germany before the surrender.

    He was in the battle of the Huertgen Forest, which is little remembered now but it was brutal.

    At the end, in Germany, he and his peers liberated one of the smaller and less famous concentration camps. That did not mean it wasn’t a horror show.

    After May 8, 1944, he was ordered to return to the US and then on to the Pacific as part of the invasion of the Japan mainland. Luckily for him, the atomic bombs negated those orders.

    From the time he came home until the late 1990s, he would not talk about anything he saw or did during the war. Fifty years on, he started attending reunions of his old division, and after that he was willing to share stories and his photographs of the war into Germany.

    I am proud to have known him.

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  5. navyjag Coolidge

    Great post. When I was a boy my best times with my Dad were when he would talk about the WWII stories. Marine Corps transport pilot who got drafted by Chesty Puller, with several other Marine pilots, into the Marine infantry for a few days when the airfield in the Pelilue campaign was shut down briefly. Then Iwo Jima. What a generation. 

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