Larry LeSueur on D-Day
June 18, 1944
ROBERT TROUT: And now Admiral takes you direct to the invasion beachhead in France, Larry LeSueur reporting.
LARRY LESUEUR: This is Larry LeSueur speaking from the American sector of the Normandy battlefront. Tonight the American troops hold the entire neck of the Cherbourg Peninsula firmly in their grip.
The picturesque little town of Bonneville on the western side of the peninsula has been captured, and we are now astride every road leading to Cherbourg. Thus the big French port, with its large garrisons, is cut off from the German Army in the interior of France.
Although today is D-Day plus thirteen, the boys who are up on the front lines still find themselves talking about their adventures on D-Day whenever they get a chance to smoke a cigarette.
My experience was similar to that of many of the men in the 4th Division who made the assault on our beach. The 4th Division has the enviable record of being the last American division to leave Germany after the occupation in the last war, and it was chosen to be one of the first American divisions to land on the continent.
It was very rough on the Channel, and after hours of seasickness we all felt pretty gloomy. Most of us had spent the time resting in our soaking wet [inaudible] waves had crossed over the sides of our little landing craft. But after a sleepless night, D-Day dawned. And we tramped forth from our barge towards tiny personnel assault craft. And with the regimental combat team, we began a rough ride into the beach.
It was a fantastic sight. We could see great geysers of sand shooting up from the beachhead as our planes drenched the area with bombs in great green and yellow flashes. Every time a salvo of bombs hit the beach, our assault craft seemed to bounce back about ten feet. We were the first regimental command post to make the landing.
I don't remember wading ashore—I think I must have just skipped in to get my feet on the ground. Every one of us felt the same way. We didn't care what happened to us as long as we could get off that bucking, bouncing boat.
The din of gunfire was deafening, and the first thing I vividly remember was a little sergeant with a Brooklyn accent. He was standing on the beach, and he said to me with a grin, "Boy, we made it." Out of all things, he handed me a cigar.
The stunned Germans defending the beach were being gathered in, and I remember their tall, blond Nazi captain. Dressed immaculately, he was, and as arrogant as ever. He refused to lie down with the rest of his men, although German shellfire was hitting the beach, and when my colleague Bob Landry of Life magazine tried to take his picture, the Nazi officer turned his back on him and on the whole American landing with deepest scorn.
A few minutes later a German shell hit the beach, and the German captain went down forever. He was killed by his own shellfire.
The colonel of the regiment quickly made contact with his men and led them off the beach across the green watery wastes of the port of Carteret in the rear. We followed them—long, soaking lines of men armed to the teeth. The first tank that tried to cross was hit by a German antitank shell. The second American tank fired one shot at the German antitank gun and silenced it. We were on our way.
In ten minutes I had reached the position of the German gun. It was trained perfectly on the only road by which we could cross. But that first shell had panicked the German gunner, and he had fled leaving his gun perfect condition.
I looked back at the beach from his observation post. With just that one gun he could have held us up on that single road crossing the swamp for hours. Now I could see other German cells docking and pulling up sand on the beach in back of us. And landing craft was going skyward as they hit underwater mines. But I was already inland, and I was glad I had chosen an early landing before the enemy had time to recover from the bombings, the shellings, and his surprise.
The colonel kept pushing ahead—gathering his men, advancing his command post, and sending out the code to wipe out the machine gun nest that harassed us from time to time.
By mid-afternoon, Bob Landry and I were already in the little town of Sainte-Marie-du-Mont some three miles inland. Here we met the paratroops. They were fighting a steep battle with the Germans. While I watched one paratrooper in hand-to-hand combat with a German, a shot rang out from a church steeple, and both the paratrooper and the German fell together—killed by a German bullet from that church.
Other paratroopers immediately turned their attention to the church steeple, tossing grenades as high as they could. And meantime, a Frenchwoman doctor refused to take cover and was giving a wounded paratrooper morphine as he lay wrapped up in his red parachute on the village green.
Whenever the machine guns opened up or a grenade exploded, the French people of the town would run for cover. And as soon as it stopped, they would emerge again. It was a most confusing scene—like a Hollywood movie set, only the dead men littering the streets made it appear real.
It was glowing dusk by this time, and we decided to set down on the grass for the night. Nobody had bedrolls or blankets, but we were wildly excited over the success of the Second Front. As it hit dusk, the planes from England started to come in towing gliders. They put down in fields all around us—meeting us, murderous ground fire from the Germans who seemed to be all around us judging by the screams of color tracers that went up to meet the gliders.
And then I talked to the soldier next to me. He was a youngster from South Carolina, and he'd been carrying a flamethrower all day long. He allowed as to how he was tired and his legs hurt him. I rolled up his pants, and I saw a wicked shrapnel wound in his leg. He had walked all day long with it, and never complained.
Those were the American soldiers on D-Day. And this is Larry LeSueur returning you now to New York.