Ted Schwartz - platoon sergeant US Army ww2 - 346th EngineersDrafted in 1942, he was a platoon sergeant in the 346th Engineers that landed at Normandy, France's Omaha Beach in D-Day's second wave. The regiment's only advantage was that, with the first wave already scrambling ashore, the waiting Germans had more targets to choose from. Better survival odds.
"If anyone tells you we weren't afraid," he says, "they're all wet."
The smell of diesel. The thud of exploding artillery. The crack of rifle fire. The feel of wet and cold and fear.
"Awful," Schwartz says. "Guys dropped out of the boats and drowned." Their 50-pound packs anchored them to the sandy bottom of the English Channel.
Everywhere, confusion. Rough seas. Only five of the 16 engineering groups arrived at their assigned locations.
Using explosives, their job was to clear beach obstacles designed to rip the hulls off landing craft with the rising tides: Belgian gates, hedgehogs and lines of logs driven in the sand, angled toward the sea like do-not-enter parking-lot spikes.
Nineteen engineers alone died or were wounded when German artillery fire detonated the Allies' explosives. Forty percent of engineers didn't make it beyond the beach.
"Chaos," Schwartz says. "We couldn't get anywhere on the beach, until we found some shelter."
Shelter? Beyond the German obstacles, what was available? The craters that were supposed to have been pocked in the sand by Allied planes were few and far between.
"Bodies," Schwartz says. "It's a nasty thing to say, but it's the truth."