As the few remaining veterans of that eventful day, each and every one a hero, gather in France for a time of remembrance, I thought I would share a story from one of their number who has now passed on.
Sergeant Leonard Lomell received the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions at Pointe du Hoc. Taking “the point”, as it is commonly known, was crucial in the Normandy landings. It is a promontory protruding out between the landing beaches codenamed Utah and Omaha.
The Axis powers had fortified Pointe du Hoc with numerous concrete casements and large gun emplacements, allowing them rain down lethal fire on either of the two beaches once the Allies attempted to wade ashore. For these reasons, capturing and taking these guns out of action was deemed mission critical.
To take them, American soldiers had to land and then scale 100 foot tall cliffs while under heavy enemy fire. One of those soldiers was Leonard Lomell. Here is his story, as recorded by Ronald J. Drez in Voices of D-Day: The Story of the Allied Invasion Told by Those Who Were There (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 1994)…
Lieutenant McBride, Captain Slater, and one-third of our company went down as their boat swamped. We landed and fired off our rockets, the ramp goes down, and I'm the first guy shot in the company, a machine gun through the right side. Then I stepped off into water over my head, and the guys pulled me out and we just rushed to the base of that cliff and grabbed any rope we could get, and up the cliff we went just as fast as we could go. The wound wasn't bad; it had gone through the muscle on my right side.
Captain Baugh of Company E was the first person I ran across on top. He had been shot and had his hand practically blown off, and wasn't in such good shape. We kept right on going saying, "Captain, we'll send you back a medic." My platoon couldn't wait for nothing; we had our assignment, and we in Company D depended on a lot of speed. My second platoon went ahead in a rush. We had some confrontations coming out of shell craters, and one of my sergeants, Morris Webb, as we were charging out of a shell crater, a machine gun opened up, and he jumped back into the crater right on top of one of his men's bayonet that went right through his side.
We didn't stop; we played it just like a football game, charging hard and low. We went into the shell craters for protection, because there were snipers around and machine guns firing at us, and we'd wait for a moment, and if the fire lifted, we were out of that crater and into the next one. We ran as fast as we could over to the gun positions -- to the one that we were assigned to. There were no guns in the positions!
We decided that they must have an alternate position, and we thought, well, we'll hear them. Maybe we'll see some evidence of the movement, but we never did hear them.
There was an anti-aircraft position off to our right several hundred yards, and a machine gun off to the left, and there was another machine gun that we had gotten on our way in. The anti-aircraft gun was firing flat trajectory at us, and by the time we got to the road, I only had about a dozen men left. We were up on top of the cliffs around 7:30.
The road was our next objective. We were supposed to get into the coastal road and set up a roadblock, which we did. We were the first ones at the coastal road. We were in the midst of doing this when all of a sudden we heard this noise and clanking, and we laid low in our ditch on this side of the road, and here came this very large force loaded with heavy equipment, mortars and machine guns, and it was a real, armed, large combat patrol of Germans, and here I've got ten or twelve guys and I was about to take on fifty or sixty when we've still got our mission to accomplish. They were headed in the other direction toward Utah, so we let them go. They went around down to the left. Then Jack Kuhn, who was my platoon sergeant while I was the acting platoon leader, and I saw these markings in this sunken road that looked like something heavy had been over it, and we didn't know if it had been a farm wagon or what.
Sergeant Koenig destroyed the communications along the coastal road by blowing up the telephone poles, and then Jack Kuhn and I went down this sunken road not knowing where the (expletive) it was going, but it was going inland. We came upon this vale or little draw with camouflage all over it, and lo and behold, we peeked over this hedgerow, and there were the guns. It was pure luck. They were all sitting in proper firing condition, with ammunition piled up neatly, everything at the ready, but they were pointed at Utah Beach, not Omaha. There was nobody at the emplacement. We looked around cautiously, and over about a hundred yards away in a corner of a field was a vehicle with what looked like an officer talking to his men
We decided that nobody was here so let's take a chance. I said, "Jack, you cover me and I'm going in there and destroy them." So all I had was two thermite grenades -- his and mine. I went in and put the thermite grenades in the traversing mechanism, and that knocked out two of them because that melted their gears in a moment. And then I broke their sights, and we ran back to the road, which was a hundred or so yards back, and got all the other thermites from the remainder of my guys manning the roadblock, and rushed back and put the grenades in traversing mechanisms, elevation mechanisms, and banged the sights. There was no noise to that. There is no noise to a thermite, so no one saw us, and Jack said, "Hurry up and get out of there, Len." and I came up over the hedgerow with him, and suddenly the whole place blew up. We thought it was a short round from the Texas.
What it was, was another patrol from Company E, led by Sergeant Rupinski, had come around to the left of us, and came upon the ammo depot of this gun emplacement, and blew it up. I never saw it. It blew up, and we went flying, and dust and everything was settling on us, and we got up and ran like two scared rabbits as fast as we could back to our men at the roadblock.
We had the guns out of action before 8:30 in morning, and Sergeant Harry Fate volunteered to go back to Colonel Rudder and report the mission was accomplished and that we had the roadblock set up; and Sergeant Gordon Luning volunteered to take the message via a different route.
Those guns had not been recently moved to that position. They'd been there a long time. There wasn't one bomb crater near them, therefore they were so well camouflaged that the air force and whoever did the bombings of them never saw them, and their photos never saw them. The rest of the Pointe was perforated. They'd been blowing the (expletive) out of that for four months. No wonder they'd moved those guns. You couldn't find a straight piece of land to do anything on at the Pointe.*
D-Day is not Memorial Day. Nor is it Veteran’s Day. But it is still a hallowed day! And if you encounter anyone at all who, in any way at all, participated in that “day of days”, whether tomorrow on its anniversary or any other day, be sure to express your gratitude to them. Their actions were gallant! But their willingness to offer themselves on behalf of others for the greater good of mankind was truly heroic! For these reasons, they deserved to be honored. For our part, may we always do just that!
NOTE: Much more about Sgt. Lomell and his many other acts of heroism can be found at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leonard_Lomell.