Soldiers who braved the beaches at Normandy recall bloody battle - - Columbia, South Carolina

Soldiers who braved the beaches at Normandy recall bloody battles 70 years later


On Thursday, a group of South Carolina veterans returned to the site of one of the most intensely fought battles of World War II.

Omaha Beach is one of five beaches where allied troops traveled on their mission to invade Normandy.

Many of the veterans, some now in their 90s were on the same beach 70 years ago as young men.

Over 150,000 American troops landed on the 50 mile coastline on D-day alone. It was known as one of the bloodiest beaches and one of the most well defended by the Germans. When all was said and done, the first wave of troops had a 30 percent casualty rate.

It was on the morning of June 6, 1944 that many soldiers were afraid they would never leave alive.

"I know you don't see it, but I see it," said Guy Benza who was assigned to the 505th Port Battalion. "But there's blood in this sand. I know you don't understand. But I see it."

After 70 years, Benza shared his experience, the story of the battlefield as if it were yesterday.

Benza said he can still recall being seasick as he trudged towards shore but he knew he still had a mission.

"As I jumped off the ramp, I was up to here in water, holding up my M-1 and my backpack. And the sergeant is yelling, if you drop your weapon, just get to shore as best as possible," Benza said.

But waiting on the wide shore and even in the shallow water were landmines, wired barricades and German gunmen enclosed in concrete boxes high above the beach.

"One man stepped on a landmine over there and it blew him up," said Joe Champey who was assigned to the 46th Signal Operations.

Clifford Dill of the 83rd Infantry Division remembers all the dead and wounded in the sand.

"There was dead and wounded on the beach and in the water," Dill said. "And we was running at full speed. And we were stepping on them, and everything we could to keep alive."

In the chaos, Coast Guard Capt. John Gattan, Jr. said he held steady to one site on the horizon that helped him safety land hundreds of American soldiers on shore.

"It always bothered me...did I really see a steeple?" Gattan said. "Of course I knew I had. I hadn't suffered Alzheimer's or anything like that!"

Although many soldiers never spoke openly about what happened at Omaha Beach, their latest and possibly last visit may help others understand what it means to wear the cloth of their nation.

"I am history! History! This made history," Benza said.

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