Two years ago I was was able to fulfill a longstanding wish to visit the beaches of Normandy where American, British and Canadian forces came ashore in their quest to defeat Nazi Germany in World War II.
It was a memorable experience to tour the beaches and fields where so many brave men fought and died for the cause of freedom and to pay respects at the American Cemetery to those who fell on that day.
|Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial|
You cannot help but feel emotion as you look at the beautiful views and countryside while also thinking about the bravery, commitment and sacrifice that was made 75 years ago.
I am re-posting a blog post I wrote six years ago about that day.
There are no words to describe how grateful I am to all those who embarked on that journey across the English Channel on that day. For all too many it was not their longest day---it was their last day.
The Longest Day
(originally published June 6, 2013)
June 6. The Longest Day.
How many people today remember the significance of this day?
My first real exposure to the events and sacrifices of that day were in 1962 when my father took me to see the movie, The Longest Day, about the Normandy invasion of Europe. He was a WWII veteran and he wanted to make sure that I understood what went on that day. He told me after the movie, "I hope you never have to go through anything like that but you need to appreciate the sacrifices these men made for you."
Over 6,000 Americans lost their lives that day 69 years ago on the beaches of northern France. By contrast, that is roughly equal to the total lives lost in over ten years of the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was a day of incalculable horror and heroism.
I hope we never forget men of courage like Walter Taylor who pushed forward as so many others fell (or drowned) around them.
This article from the examiner.com, "Remembering D-Day", written two years ago by Christopher Coughlin is worth the read (link not active in 2019). You might also want to read this 1960 account of the "First Wave at Omaha Beach" by S.L.A. Marshall, the U.S. Army's chief historian, for a more comprehensive view of what transpired on those beaches that day.
From "Remembering D-Day".
History shows that on June 6, 1944, 160,000 US and allied troops were involved in Operation Overlord, the code name for the invasion of Europe. It was and remains the largest amphibious operation in history.
June 6th was also expected to be one of the most lethal days for US troops in American history, with carnage unheard of since the American Civil War.
Allied high command was so concerned about the anticipated, epic levels of violence, destruction and death that would meet the first wave of troops that they were reluctant to assign veterans of other invasions, fearing the men would be overwhelmed and break down. As a result, two of the three US divisions assigned to hit the beaches at Normandy had never been in combat.
And as history turned out, the high command's expectations of violence were more than justified.
At Omaha Beach, the US 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions, and the 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, faced the veteran German 352nd Infantry Division, one of the best trained units in the German army.
Through acts of commission and omission, the majority of the allied landing craft missed their assigned sectors on Omaha Beach, causing confusion, and in some instances, landing American troops directly in front of German machine gunners.
As a result, casualties among the first wave of troops were nothing short of catastrophic, where surviving American solders were leaderless, isolated and traumatized by the violence surrounding them. The situation was so grave that senior commanders considered abandoning Omaha altogether.
But from the unspeakable carnage came a profound courage.
This is where Lt. Walter Taylor enters the story.
Slowly, small units of infantry, based on nothing more than individual initiative and survival instinct, formed up as ad hoc groups, and began to move the 1,000 yards off the beach to dunes to take on the German pillboxes and establish an allied foothold in Europe.
It was at that critical time of decision that Lt. Walter Taylor, Company B (or Baker), 116th Infantry, of the 29th Division, landed with the second wave.
Coming ashore, Taylor didn’t know that his commanding officers were already dead.
But, seeing the chaos, Taylor immediately took the initiative.
He led a group of men off the beach, crawling past the obstacles, barbed wire and mine fields, and eventually over the sea wall.
He continued to lead his men straight up the bluff and into the town of Vierville, where he engaged the Germans in a two-hour fire fight, and won without losing a man.
It was only later, meeting up with other elements of Baker Company, that Taylor realized that he was in command. The sergeant did a head count – there were only 28 men out of the original 240.
Undeterred, Taylor proceeded to lead the 28 men inland against an imposing German fortification with rock walls and artillery proof tunnels.
Taylor engaged the Germans there and continued the fight throughout the day, leading a force mixed from his company and several Rangers, trying to reach goals outlined in the Overlord plan for Day 1. This despite the fact, borne out on Normandy, that no battle plan survives the beginning of the battle.
By nightfall, Taylor and his men made camp near the village of Louvieres. An allied runner found them with a message to fall back to meet up with the remnants of the battalion, closer to the sea.
Taylor had led his men to a place a half a mile ahead of the rest of the United States Army in Europe. It was an incredible accomplishment.
From the "First Wave at Omaha Beach"
Taylor is a luminous figure in the story of D Day, one of the forty-seven immortals of Omaha who, by their dauntless initiative at widely separated points along the beach, saved the landing from total stagnation and disaster. Courage and luck are his in extraordinary measure.
Later, still under the spell, Price (one of Taylor's men) paid the perfect tribute to Taylor. He said: "We saw no sign of fear in him. Watching him made men of us. Marching or fighting, he was leading. We followed him because there was nothing else to do."
Thousands of Americans were spilled onto Omaha Beach. The high ground was won by a handful of men like Taylor who on that day burned with a flame bright beyond common understanding.
God bless Walter Taylor and all the courageous men who stormed the beaches of Normandy 69 years ago today. We all owe them a debt of gratitude. May the memory of their service and sacrifice never be forgotten. Let's hope that the flame that burned bright by their actions should never be extinguished
Second Lieutenant Walter P. Taylor, United States Army, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy while serving with the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division, in action against enemy forces on 6 June 1944. Second Lieutenant Taylor's intrepid actions, personal bravery and zealous devotion to duty exemplify the highest traditions of the military forces of the United States and reflect great credit upon himself, the 29th Infantry Division, and the United States Army.
General Orders: Headquarters, Ninth U.S. Army, General Orders No. 75 (1944)
Action Date: 6-Jun-44
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Regiment: 116th Infantry Regiment
Division: 29th Infantry Division
Source: Military Times Wall of Valor
Postscript: After I wrote this blog post 6 years ago the son of Walter Taylor posted this comment on my blog to complete the story.
"Walter P Taylor Jr who received the DSC on D-Day did survive the war but not until he received two purple hearts. One at St Lo and another in Belgium. Walter married my mother who was serving in the American Red Cross in Nice France. Lt Walter P Taylor was reassigned there at the very end of the war as part of a detail to detain "very bad Germans and Frenchmen" for the occupation forces. Walter was assigned here because he spoke fluent German. Walter studied German in high school and was sent to Germany in 1936 as an exchange student. Walter who was born in 1915 died in 1973. Pictures and documents available."
Geoff Taylor firstname.lastname@example.org
I also received this comment from Nicolas Bulte on this blog post post in February, 2018 (almost 5 years after I wrote the original blog post and several months after I had visited the Normandy). I wish he had seem my blog post earlier. It would have been nice to connect.
"I'm the owner of the farm-manour house of l'Ormel in Vierville where Lt. W. Taylor took shelter and so courageously distinguished himself on D-Day. Very happy to welcome you here if you happen to pass by Normandy and grateful for any additional information you may have about this particular action."
It all goes to show you what a wondrous thing the internet is.