I share this because, while the first several hours of D-Day were critical for gaining a foothold on the beaches, the battle was far from over afterwards. Once the troops were ashore, they then had to fight through the hedgerow country in order to then capture key objectives, including enemy strongholds, railway lines, highways, and above all, Cherbourg, with its permanent deep-water port on the Carentan peninsula, in order to supplant the temporary portable one made possible by the artificial “mulberries” floated over from England.
As I pen this blog post, it is June 9, 2019. Seventy-five years ago, today would have been “D Plus 3”. I thought it fitting to post a short piece shared with me by a lady in the church whose uncle went ashore in the second wave at Normandy, and then fought until he was later wounded on this date in 1944. The following piece, written for his family, is used with permission. I post it here in honor of the unparalleled bravery and sacrificial spirit shown by a whole generation of men just like this man, William H. Tilley, Jr.
MY EXPERIENCES THROUGH THE WORLD WAR II YEARS
By William H. Tilley, Jr. Jan. 22, 2007
When I was 18 years of age, I volunteered to go the Army. I was inducted at Fort McPherson in Atlanta, Ga on June 17, 1943 and after a few days I was sent to Camp Fannin, Texas, near Tyler. After about six weeks of basic infantry training I was turned loose to go home for ten days then I was to report to Fort Meade, MD where I was assigned to Co. A, 115th Infantry, 29th Division. After a few days there we were shipped to Camp Shanks, NJ. to get ready to go to England.
In Jan. 1944 we loaded on a small Ferry Boat and went down the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty and loaded on a small ship bound for Liverpool, England. It took us fourteen days to go across, the Sea was rough and I thought at times the ship was going to turn upside down. I had to stand guard on deck one night and it was cold, dark and wet. when we arrived at Liverpool a train was waiting to take us to Plymouth, England and this is where we stayed until a few days before D-day. (I can't remember the name of the camp near Plymouth) While we were at Plymouth we spent about three or four days a week in the Moor.
A few days before D-Day we were moved to another camp and were told what our mission would be. We were assigned to Omaha Beach in Normandy. We were told to the best information they could get was that we should meet with little resistance and be able to move inland very quickly. After a few days we were loaded on an LCI waiting for orders to go. June 5th. was set for the invasion date but the weather was so bad and the Channel was real rough they postponed it until the next day, June 6, 1944, a date we will never forget.
Sometime during the night our ship got underway headed for the coast of France and to join all the hundreds of ships that were also on the way for the largest military operation in history. The Channel was still rough and I was sea sick but we arrived near the coast of France that morning. The first wave of troops landing on Omaha Beach at around 8:00 AM. were from the U.S. 29th. Division, 116th Infantry Regiment and the U.S. 1st. Division 16th Infantry Regiment. I think it was about 8:30 am when we were told to get off of the boat and join the invasion.
The water was up to my neck and I was loaded down with ammunition but I made it to the beach. Machine gun and rifle fire was spraying the beach along with artillery and mortar fire. Just as I reached the edge of the water I laid down to get an idea of where I should go next. I took the plastic wrap off of my rifle and about that time a big wave came in and an artillery shell came in and landed near my feet at the same time dumping water and sand all over me and jamming my rifle but I am sure the wave saved my life. I decided the quicker I could get off of the beach the better off I would be.
I saw a sea wall out some distance and I decided to make a run for it but when I got there I didn't get to stay long, an (unknown officer) officer said "let’s go men" so we started inland through a mine field. The engineers had marked a trail with white string so we would not step on a mine. A big percent of the first wave were killed, wounded or washed away by the high tide. Many of them were still lying on the beach when the 115th Infantry took over the mission.
When we reached the top of the hill we were going down a dirt road and the soldier in front of me raised his hand and that meant for everyone to stop. I laid down in a shallow ditch beside the road and about that time a German machine gun opened up on me just missing my head, I don't think he could see me but he knew I was there. He kept me pinned down for a few minutes then he threw a hand grenade and it landed within my reach but it rolled into shallow hole made by a wagon in the mud. The grenade went off but by being in the hole it did not hit me. We met with heavy resistance because the 352nd German infantry Division had just moved into the area.
Moving on, I came upon our Battalion Commander, Col. Blatt, he bad several men gathered close to him and when he saw me he motioned for me to come there. I hesitated for a few seconds and he motioned again. I got up and started toward him and just before I got there, an artillery shell hit in the middle of them. I bad seen wounded and dead all day and seeing Col. Blatt and the soldiers with him blown up was hard for me to take.
It was getting late so we spent the rest of the day getting organized. We could see what was going on down on the beach. Bulldozers building a road and heavy equipment coming off of the ships and artillery shells coming in on them at the same time. The battle ships were still out there firing over our heads. When they fired those guns it felt like someone hit me in the chest with their fist. There was not much sleep that night but I did find a ditch to lay down in and get some rest after I cleaned the sand out of my rifle.
The next morning we started moving around clearing hedgerows of snipers and moving inland at the same time. We moved around all day and into the night. Finally we stopped for a while and about daylight we were on the move again. The main part of the German Division had moved inland but they left some snipers behind. We were still working our way through the hedgerows and that afternoon we went into an open field and stopped for a break. I saw a small branch near so I went to get some water, and while I was filling my canteen a sniper took a shot at me just missed my hand holding the canteen.
We went on from there and late that afternoon we moved into a village and started digging in for the night. I had just finished digging my fox hole when a Sgt. came to me and asked me to go with them to find a lost squad, so we went off down this road for several hundred yards and the Sgt. told me to jump over the hedgerow and see if I could see anyone. I jumped over and it was so deep on the other side I could not get back up, so I walked back to an opening in the hedgerow and got back on the road and everyone was gone. It was not a good feeling to be in a combat zone all alone. I had an idea which way they went but I decided rather than trying to find them it would be better to go back to my foxhole. I went back to my foxhole but I was scared, I knew the Germans had snipers in the area.
The next morning we bad caught up with the Germans they were just outside the village where we stayed that night They were dug in and we were laying artillery in on them and after while the artillery stopped and we attacked. We got about half way to their location and we could not get across the Aure River so we had to pull back and when we pulled back the Germans made a counter attack. My platoon Sgt. told me and another boy to stay there and hold them up as long as we could while the rest of the men went back over the hill and dig in.
I was laying on a hedgerow firing my rifle when an artillery shell landed just on the other side of the hedgerow about eight feet from me. A piece of shrapnel hit me in the right eye temporarily blinding me and the boy that was with me left me there and I don't know where he went. I do know that he was not hit by that shell. All of the other men in my unit had gone back across the hill but I could hear a rifle firing down the hedgerow about two hundred feet so I followed that sound.
An officer stopped me and gave me first aid and told two of his men to take me behind the lines and get some transportation to take me to a first aid station. A sniper fired at us one ti.me while we were going back and got pretty close. They put me on a litter and across the back of a jeep and took me to a first aid station. They started giving me morphine and got me ready to go out to the hospital ship just off the beach. That night the Germans came over and dropped two bombs on the ship but it did not sink. The next morning we arrived in England and I went through two more hospitals before I got to the one that could treat me.
While I was in this hospital they removed the shrapnel and a few days later the Doctor came to my bed and told me the eye was infected and it would be necessary to remove it. He said it would not be necessary to put me to sleep, the only time it would hurt would be when he cut the main optic nerve AND HE WAS RIGHT ABOUT THAT. The next thing they started making me a prosthetic eye out of plastic.
I was in that hospital for about two months and when I started to leave I asked the Dr. why he would not put me to sleep to remove the eye and he told me I was shell shocked and I would not have woken up.
Now I'm on my way again to a replacement depot for a few weeks and then back to France. I was in limited service since I bad lost the right eye so they kept me back behind the lines. I had been having bad headaches so I went on sick call and the Dr. ask me how I got back to France and I told him I could not get my name removed from the shipping list. He immediately put me on the list to fly back to England and go back in the hospital. They diagnosed my trouble there as sinus. They transferred me out of the 29th Infantry Division and put me in Detachment Headquarters of the 188th General Hospital as a Clerk Typist at Cirencester England. I was there at the end of the war in Europe.
On June 6, 1945, one year after D-Day, I was sent to London from Cirencester England for two days to be interviewed on a British Broadcasting Corporation program called "Salute to Service Men". This program was "spotlighted" to Station WSB, Atlanta, Ga and was heard by my parents and family and others in Blue Ridge and surrounding areas. They had been notified the time the program would come on. BBC gave me a written copy of the interview and also a recording of.
Awards I received:
Combat Infantry Badge
Bronze Arrowhead Bronze Star
2 Campaign Stars
EAMET Service Medal*
World War II Victory Medal
In his New Testament Letter to the Romans (chapter 13, verse 7), the Apostle Paul states: “Pay to all what is owed to them … respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.” Along with a whole generation of brave men and women who so willingly gave of themselves, Mr. Tilley deserves both our respect and our honor.
Jesus Christ, Who also fought a battle and came out on “D Plus 3” victorious, once told us there is no greater love that any individual can show for others than the willingness to lay down his or her life for them. Just like Jesus, Mr. Tilley was willing, if called upon, to do just that. And along with a great many others, I will never forget what he did for me and my freedom!
REMEMBRANCE SOURCE: A paper document shared with me personally by Ms. Sherwood.
SCRIPTURE SOURCES: https://www.biblehub.com/romans/13-7.htm;
NOTE: *"EAMET" stands for "European-Africa-Middle Eastern".