The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach
John C. McManus
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A white-knuckle account of the 1st Infantry Division’s harrowing D-Day assault on the eastern sector of Omaha Beach—acclaimed historian John C. McManus has written a gripping history that will stand as the last word on this titanic battle.
Nicknamed the Big Red One, 1st Division had fought from North Africa to Sicily, earning a reputation as stalwart warriors on the front lines and rabble-rousers in the rear. Yet on D-Day, these jaded combat veterans melded with fresh-faced replacements to accomplish one of the most challenging and deadly missions ever. As the men hit the beach, their equipment destroyed or washed away, soldiers cut down by the dozens, courageous heroes emerged: men such as Sergeant Raymond Strojny, who grabbed a bazooka and engaged in a death duel with a fortified German antitank gun; T/5 Joe Pinder, a former minor-league pitcher who braved enemy fire to save a vital radio; Lieutenant John Spalding, a former sportswriter, and Sergeant Phil Streczyk, a truck driver, who together demolished a German strong point overlooking Easy Red, where hundreds of Americans had landed.
Along the way, McManus explores the Gap Assault Team engineers who dealt with the extensive mines and obstacles, suffering nearly a fifty percent casualty rate; highlights officers such as Brigadier General Willard Wyman and Colonel George Taylor, who led the way to victory; and punctures scores of myths surrounding this long-misunderstood battle.
The Dead and Those About to Die draws on a rich array of new or recently unearthed sources, including interviews with veterans. The result is history at its finest, the unforgettable story of the Big Red One’s nineteen hours of hell—and their ultimate triumph—on June 6, 1944.
are my in-laws, but they are really like another set of parents. I can never repay them for all their hospitality and love, but I can say that Nelson’s taste in choosing a favorite baseball team is truly impeccable. My great appreciation to Nancy, Charlie, Doug, Tonya, the boys, David, Angee, and the girls for putting up with me. I am grateful to Mike and Nancy, my two elder siblings—much older, really!—for the many ways they have supported me and helped me over the years. Mike shares my love of
the gut-stabbing cramps of primal fear. “Some of the men froze on the beach,” Sergeant Fitzsimmons said, “wretched with seasickness and fear, refusing to move.” Lieutenant Joseph was deeply struck by “the apathy of the men toward death. As we lay on the beach, shoulder to shoulder, with our feet in the water, the tide kept rising . . . and I saw men watch their comrades die and not reach out a hand to pull them up. They had a dazed and unreal look. In all our combat operations . . . I never saw
cold water. One of the men smiled and yelled to his comrades, “Everything is okay now. G2 [intelligence] is on the ball again. They said the weather would be fair. . . .” Everybody laughed. The tension of the previous two hours had evaporated. If only they could have said the same about the rain.5 As always in combat, the most dangerous fire was coming from the flank. The strong points at WN-60 and WN-61, located as they were on the curvature and the cliffs at the eastern edge of Omaha beach,
Sergeants Frederick Frock, John Griffin, and Norman Holmberg. The NCOs led the way, along with Lieutenant Monteith, through the gap and up the mined draw without touching off explosions. As they carefully advanced, they were basically looking straight upward at the western side of WN-60. “The field was traversed by machine gun fire from . . . two enemy emplacements and from a pillbox,” Jones recounted. The “pillbox” might have been a bunker or perhaps one of the mortar Tobruks. Staff Sergeant
himself in the lead. As they approached the church, they began to take sniper fire from the steeple. The church was surrounded by a neck-high stone wall. The steeple, stretching nearly five stories high, dominated the whole structure. Private First Class Carl Atwell was trailing behind his buddy, Private First Class John Hastings, when he heard the sniper open up from the steeple. “He shot right down on Hastings,” Atwell said. “If I had been about three steps up, the Germans would have gotten