Bill Mauldin: October 29, 1921 - January 22, 2003Originally published October 29, 2014.
When my great-uncle Jack’s landing watercraft approached Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, a superior officer explained a few of the rules. The water was choppier than they had anticipated, and so water would likely be above their heads. He asked if any of the infantrymen did not know how to swim, and a few men raised their hands to admit they could not. The officer quickly gave a pantomimed demonstration of how to swim, just moments before the gates of the craft would drop and all soldiers on board were expected to storm the beach. Seconds before dispatching, the officer gave one final piece of advice: the beach was covered with defenses – large timber poles, garlanded with barbed wire – and casualties would be strung up in the barbed wire. Some were gravely injured, many would be dead. He warned that German infantry would intentionally shoot at the snared corpses in an attempt to draw out appalled, sympathetic soldiers. Soldiers who couldn’t stand to see the indignity of a fallen comrade being mutilated and destroyed. The goal was to draw these soldiers out to cut these bodies loose and make themselves sitting ducks. “Whatever you do,” Jack was warned, “do not try to cut one of these men loose!” The gate of the craft dropped, Jack made his way through the choppy water and onto the beach. Where he saw a dead soldier trapped in barbed wire, his corpse being intermittently punished with bullets.
And so my uncle Jack stood up, went over to the soldier’s body, began to cut him loose, and within a few seconds was shot through the stomach.
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