NORMANDY, FRANCE--“Ashore, facing us, were more enemy troops than we had in our assault waves. The advantages were all theirs, the disadvantages all ours,” wrote World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle in his June 12, 1944 column, “A Pure Miracle,” recounting his arrival with the second wave of soldiers to hit the Normandy Beachhead the morning after the invasion began.

Seventy-five years ago today, June 6, 1944, the Allied Forces of the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Norway and Free France initiated Operation Overlord—an assault designed to established a foothold in France to wrest the country back from Nazi occupation.

According to information from the National World War II Museum, the invasion force included over 5,000 ships, 50,000 vehicles and 11,000 airplanes assaulting a 50-mile stretch of the Normandy coast.

The Allies code-named their landing points, Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword.

More than 156,000 soldiers stormed these beaches, including Americans from Pointe du Hoc, Easy Company, the 82nd Airborne Division, the 29th Infantry Division and others.

They risked life and limb to open a landing site which would allow droves of Allied Forces to push inland, capturing Paris before the end of August and receiving a German surrender on May 8, 1945.

Noting the dangers soldiers faced, Pyle wrote, “The Germans were dug into positions that they had been working on for months...A one-hundred-foot bluff a couple of hundred yards back from the beach had great concrete gun emplacements build right into the hilltop.

“These opened to the sides instead of to the front, thus making it very hard for naval fire from the sea to reach them. They could shoot parallel with the beach and cover every foot of it for miles with artillery fire.”

Pyle also described hidden machine-gun nests providing cross fire and zig-zagging, v-shaped trenches dug 15 feet deep which halted advance.

“The Germans had masses of those great six-pronged spiders, made of railroad iron and standing shoulder-high, just beneath the surface of the water for our landing craft to run into,” wrote Pyle.

“They also had huge logs buried in the sand, pointing upward and outward, their tops just below the water. Attached to those logs were mines.

“In addition to these obstacles they had floating mines offshore, land mines buried in the sand of the beach, and more mines in checkerboard rows in the tall grass beyond the sand. And the enemy had four men on shore for ever three men we had approaching the shore.

“And yet we got on.”

Describing the battle, Pyle noted naval artillery fire took out the large gun emplacements providing an opening for the assault to press on.

Foot soldiers pushed forward and surrounded the machine gun nests and shutting them down.

All of this was supported by paratroopers deployed behind enemy lines and assaulting from the rear.

By the time the four beachheads were secured on June 11, more than 326,000 troops had crossed from England with more than 100,000 tons of equipment, states the World War II Museum.

The cost of invasion

Statistics from The National World War II Museum show there were over 10,000 Allied soldiers killed, missing or wounded during the D-Day assault.

Of those, 6,603 were Americans, 1,465 of which died securing the beachhead.

Reports published in The Wayne Independent (TWI) two weeks after the invasion note the Allied Supreme Command stated the casualties were fewer than expected and “...less than one percent of the American wounded who reached medical stations died.”

The report, published June 22, 1944, goes on to say hospitals were up and running within four days of the assault, less than five miles away from the battle site.

“The most frequent type of wound was from high explosive shell fragments in the arms and legs,” states the article.

Penicillin shots, whole blood and plasma, and other medical supplies were shipped in by air and sea to keep the hospitals stocked.

Pyle, after taking a long walk along the Normandy beach following the battle, wrote in his June 16 column, “The Horrible Waste of War,” “It was a lovely day for strolling along the seashore. Men were sleeping on the sand, some of them sleeping forever. Men were floating in the water, but they didn't know they were in the water, for they were dead.”

Among trashed vehicles, discarded equipment and now ownerless personal belongings in what Pyle dubbed the “shoreline museum of carnage,” he wrote, “On the beach lay, expended, sufficient men and mechanisms for a small war. They were gone forever now. And yet we could afford it.

“We could afford it because we were on, we had our toehold, and behind us there were such enormous replacements for this wreckage on the beach that you could hardly conceive of their sum total.

“Men and equipment were flowing from England in such a gigantic stream that it made the waste on the beachhead seem like nothing at all, really nothing at all.”

Wayne County on the beaches

Weeks after the assault had succeeded, letters poured into the homeland from soldiers overseas, letting their loved ones know about their wellbeing.

On June 29, 1944, TWI published a letter from Corporal Everett C. Eck of Dyberry, writing to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. William C. Eck, from his station in England.

Eck Wrote:

“Dear Mom and Dad,

“Yes, I guess D-Day was a surprise to you folks even though it has been expected for quite some time. Our outfit took part in it, as you probably have guessed. There was very slight loss fortunately. My squadron didn't lose a man or have any hurt. The ships were shot up but not too bad. Everyone was tense the next morning, waiting for them to come back and were sure happy when they all came back.

“My little radio has hardly cooled off. We get all the news reports and according to them everything is going all right.

“I heard on the radio how the Americans responded to the invasion—how the churches were open and the defense workers pledged more work and production. It will still be a hard fight but it may not last too long.

“When I got my rations today, got a good ole peppermint patty. I'm eating it now. Boy is it good? Enclosed is a shoulder patch of the 9th Air Force. Hope you get it.

“I'll close for now.

“Lots of love,

“Bud.”

The TWI June 29 edition also noted Edward W. Stinnard of Honesdale was among the American assault force which stormed Normandy.

A Seaman Second Class, Stinnard's participation on D-Day was his first interaction with the enemy, notes the paper.

Not quite as fortunate as Eck and Stinnard, Hawley native Staff Segeant Barto Theall participated in the Normandy invasion as a paratrooper, but was killed in action.

As recorded in the June 24, 1944 TWI, Theall was 23 at the time and had been fighting since October 1943. He left behind a wife, three siblings and his parents.

Also wounded in France during the assault was Private First Class William Maynock, of Cold Springs.

Arriving to Normandy seven days after the initial assault was Bernard “Bernie” Southerton, a heavily decorated Army veteran who received a Purple Heart and four Bronze Stars for his service.

Southerton survived the war and a German POW camp, passing away in 2015. His wife, Florence, noted both he and his brother, George, a participant in the Normandy invasion, did not often speak about their time in France.

Ernie Pyle

A native of Indiana, Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose columns about the common soldiers fighting on the ground reached more than 14 million homes.

His columns provide a perspective into the daily lives of those often lost when recounting events on the global scale.

Pyle was struck by a Japanese machine-gun bullet while on assignment and died on the island of le Shima in 1945. He was 44 years old.

More information about Pyle and his contributions are available from the Ernie Pyle World War II Museum, located in his birthplace, Dana, Indiana (www.erniepyle.org).

Reproduction and reprinting of Pyle's columns was provided courtesy of the Scripps Howard Foundation.

WW2 Museum

The World War II National Museum, located in New Orleans, Louisiana, began as the National D-Day Museum in June 2000, later evolving into an encapsulation of all aspects of World War II.

More information about the museum and the war for which it is named can be found online at: www.nationalww2museum.org.