Harley Reynolds

Harley Reynolds

Memories of Harley Reynolds, Omaha Beach

I could see things were going wrong as we slowed down to go in. Some boats were coming back after unloading, others were partly awash, but still struggling. Some were stuck, bottomed out, racing their motors and getting nowhere. Some were backing up short distances and trying again. The timing for the craft to land at intervals was as much awash as the storm. A washout. When we landed some of the assault wave was landing with us. We were supposed to land twenty minutes after the assault wave. Afterwards it was established that the assault wave was late and we were early. Confusion doesn't really describe it. Landing in this order did qualify our Company as an assault wave and gave us another Bronze Arrowhead for our ETO Ribbon and an Oak Leaf Cluster for our Unit Citation.

I was looking over the side often during these last minutes. We were moving slow because of other craft and obstacles the Coxswain had to avoid. I saw direct hits on craft still far away from land. I doubt those on board not wounded made it to shore. I saw craft sideways, being upturned, and dumping troops into the water. I saw craft heavily damaged by shellfire being tossed around by the waves. I saw craft empty of troops and partly filled with water as though abandoned, awash in the surf. Men were among them struggling for the pitiful protection they gave.

Memories of Harley Reynolds , Omaha Beach
Recalling my feelings of those last couple of minutes I became very calm and was analyzing things surprisingly well. I was looking back at the men, making sure that they were down and in their places and ready. I remember how calm and intent the Coxswain was as he guided our craft in. I cannot give this man enough credit. I often think he must have calmed me some. It was surprising how few machine gun bullets hit our craft. I kept listening for them to hit because they certainly were flying overhead and hitting the water around us. It could have been the direct approach to the beach making us a smaller target at that point. The Coxswain did a superb job. I heard later that he actually took wounded back on his return to the Samuel Chase.
 
I felt things then that I would later recognize as responsibility. I felt that getting as many men off as possible, and into positions of safety on the beach, and in formation was the greatest concern. On the last look over the side seconds before the ramp went down I saw many motionless bodies at the water's edge. I saw wounded struggling with the rough surf. I saw men kneeling and lying in the water with only their heads exposed for the protection it gave them. I believe these men were frozen with fear, unable to move because they began to move closer to the beach with the incoming tide. They were of no use at that point because they had no weapons. They just crowded the beach more, hindering movement. On this last look I decided what to do when the ramp went down. I told the two Squad Leaders to fan out and go straight in.
 
There was a huge pillbox to our right at beach level and at the base of a steep bluff. To our front a draw I believe designated as E1 on our map. To our left front a rounded Hill with the pond at its base that we were told in training we would have to cross.
 
The pillbox had large chunks of concrete blown out just above its left front aperture. It had wisps of powder smoke still visible. Direct fire from the Navy had just ended. I heard the shells whistle in and land close as we landed and I believe they had hit the pillbox.
 
It is quite a coincident that I met a man last year at our office that was on a destroyer during this time. John A. Fonner, Jr. of Largo, Florida was an observer on the control tower of a destroyer assigned to give infantry support; shore observers called in most of their targets. They couldn't see through the dust and smoke to deliver direct fire but I give the Navy credit for the success of the invasion. Their mission was to cruise up and down this section of the beach raking the shore in front of us with as much firepower as possible. John told me they were firing five-inch 38 shells at the rate of one shell every four seconds. I feel this fire gave us the relief to get organized.
 
When the ramp went down we were in kneeling positions. Private Galenti, the Radioman, and I rose to exit first. At about the second or third step I started my break to fan right. At this second Galenti was hit by what I believe was machine gun fire because it seemed there were more than one bullet The radio was hit also and fragments flew from it. Galenti went down on the boat ramp. The fire seemed to come from our left front. I was maybe two feet ahead of him saving me from being hit with the same burst of fire. I don't recall getting my feet wet. The account of Galenti and I can be viewed on a videotape titled 'True Glory' I believed this tape to be of our craft until I recently learned that the craft number was not assigned to the Samuel Chase. The incident as filmed is so close to what happened to us that I sent copies of the tape to two members of our landing team and they agreed until we learned different. PFC Stephen Cicon of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania agrees. He would have been the second man off behind me and had the same opinion I did.
 
The burst hitting Galenti went between Steve and me. The other man to agree is PVT Arthur Schintzel of Williamsburg, Virginia. He would have been the fourth man off on our side and he agrees the tape is very graphic of what happened. Arthur's story almost ended here. When he came off he went to the right, heading for a knocked-out tank, thinking it would give him cover. Wrong! A German rifleman had the tank covered. He believes it was a rifleman because only single bullets were being fired at him. He was hit and knocked down. He stayed down until he thought it would be safe to move. He got up and was knocked down again. This happened several times and he does not remember. He was unconscious some of the time. I did not see Arthur for forty years, thinking all the time he was dead.
 
I stayed to the right for a short distance. Looking for any cover I headed for an obstacle made up of what appeared to be rails welded together. It reminded me of the balls and jacks we played with as kids. The beach was very smooth here, showing the absence of shell holes we were promised. I knelt by the obstacles to look around. From the craft to this point my constant thoughts were "What's keeping me up? I must be hit. What does it feel like when you get hit?" Too many bullets were flying not to be hit. While crossing the beach I felt tugs at my pants legs several times. Searching later I found too many rips and tears to identify any as bullet holes. I think it possible for bullets to pass close enough to tug at your clothing. Bullets coming so close, make a hissing sound as they go by. Those you hear are not the ones that hit you. There is another tape I've seen on TV a couple of times usually around invasion anniversary time. I saw it first on the 40th anniversary show narrated by Walter Cronkite. I have tried in vain to locate this tape or copy it to a VHS format. It portrays more graphically the kneeling at the Jacks obstacle. This film shows my actions as I recall them and I would like to know if, in fact, it is me. I didn't stay at the obstacle long. Bullets were coming through and hitting the sand at my feet. What was keeping me up? I could see bullets hitting the sand in bursts and ricocheting in front and to the side of me. I believe the bullets were coming from a long distance away as they seemed to have lost some of their energy and I could barely hear their hissing sounds.
 
I spotted the shingles, a sort of raised roadbed running parallel to the beach. Many men were lying behind it. Looking like the only cover, we headed for it too. As soon as I reached the safety of the shingles I called out to Sgt. Rummell and Sgt. Haughey and they answered very close from my right. I asked if they and the men were OK and they replied "Yes" not mentioning private Schintzel, so I didn't know that he was missing until later.
 
I don't believe the times of events would be very reliable, so I will tell of events as they happened. We had gone directly ahead to the shingles without wasting time. We passed men in the water that were driven to the shingles later by the incoming tide. It was near low tide when we landed and near high tide when we left the beach. We reached the temporary shelter of the shingles and snuggled in between others already there. As the tide came in others crowded in to snuggle in with us. Our area of the beach seemed relatively safer, but only if you stayed prone behind the shingles.
 
Many times after bursts of machine gun or shells landing close I called out to Rummell and Haughey, asking if they were OK and they replied, "Yes." Once I got an answer from Donald A. Heap of Atlanta, Georgia. Dale was our platoon comedian His comment was serious, but laughable at any other time. He said "Sarge, how long do we have to put up with this shit? We're going to get killed here." As though I could do anything about it.
 
Most of the time behind the shingles we kept our faces buried in the shingles. The shingles are small stones that resemble river rock and had been built-up like a roadbed. They were smooth and mostly flat, just right for skipping across a stream back home. But these stones burst like grenades when hit by a bullet and we had to keep our faces protected from the rock fragments.
 
At the top of the roadbed was concertina wire. It would have to be blown. This was another miss for the rockets that fell short.
 
Many times calls would sound out for company members. Efforts were being made to regroup without much success. One couldn't just answer "Here!" and stand up and walk over to the caller. You couldn't even roll over the man along side. This would put you too high and you were sure to get hit. You had to crawfish backwards and side crawl like a crab with your head towards the roadbed. This didn't give you much protection, as many men were hit while trying to shift along to regroup. Any movement seen above the roadbed would bring fire, both rifle and machine gun. The tide was now almost lapping at our feet. Dead bodies were washing in and I'm thinking, "It's time to do something, but what?" Sticking your head up would draw fire. Occasional incoming artillery fire was increasing. There obviously was no way backwards, only foreword. I began to raise my head up and down for real quick looks ahead. I could see a narrow pond ahead with marsh grass. Between the pond and us was the wire strung on the roadbed, and beyond that was a three -strand wire fence with tripwire only on the front of it. Beyond the pond was another fence without trip wires. There was a sign on the fence that was in German, but two words I did understand were, Achtung Minen.
 
The round hill to our front rose sharply from the far edge of the pond, almost ball shaped, rounding off to our right into a draw leading inland. On the right of the draw was a cliff-like high ground as far as the eye could see, and got more cliff-like in the distance.
 
It seemed at this point that I was able to stick my head up and down without drawing fire from our right, as we had been getting from atop the cliff and the entrenchments over the huge pillbox. There was only occasional fire. It had slacked off. The base of the hill to our front started looking safe and inviting. I felt it would be just a short dash across the pond through a little flanking fire from the pillbox on our right to put us beyond the pillbox's side vision. It worked textbook style, but with some unexpected help and being in the wrong place at the right time. These events can be corroborated and it is my belief, the first time to be revealed.
 
The unexpected help came from a man small in size, pushing a long bangalore torpedo under the wire on the roadbed. I don't know where he came from; suddenly he was there within a few feet on my right. The torpedo was in two sections. He exposed himself to put the first section under the wire. I realized what was happening and I yelled to Rummell and Haughey and they answered. I yelled, "We're going through!" They must have understood to respond so fast.
 
The torpedo man exposed himself again to attach the second half of the torpedo. Then he very carefully inserted the fuse lighter, turned his head to the left (in my direction) and looked back to see if he could back up. He pulled the string to the fuse lighter and pushed himself backwards. I braced myself for the sprint forward but nothing happened. The fuse didn't light. After a few seconds the man calmly crawled forward exposing himself again. He removed the bad lighter, replaced it with another and started to repeat the first moves. He turned his head in my direction, looked back, pulled the string and made only two movements backwards when he flinched, and closed his eyes as he looked into mine. Death was so fast for him. His eyes seemed to have a question or pleading look in them. His head was maybe three feet from the explosion but didn't damage him. No fire from the Germans for a couple of minutes before and if only a couple of seconds later, who knows. My head was three or four feet from the torpedo and I was closest to the path it blew in the wire. My men were behind me better than we had even done in practice. I went through the trip wire high stepping just as we did on obstacle courses. I was running so fast I hadn't made up my mind what to do about the wire fence until I faced it. I literally dove through in a sideways dive. Hard to believe I completely cleared those strands. Not one rip or tear in my clothes or skin. I was into the pond in under ten seconds with all my men except Schintzel and Galenti following. Troops on the beach seemed to be holding back but not for long. They almost beat us to the top of the hill.
 
The pond was deeper than I thought, but we had been instructed not to throw away our life preservers for this purpose. I didn't need to inflate mine, but some of the men did. I felt more secure with my head and arms only above the water. I was the first across the pond and as I paused to take off the life preserver, I looked back to see how the men were doing. I heard my name called and I looked back to see Dale Heap about half way across the pond. Dale was the gunner on one of the machine guns. He was holding his one arm above his head and pointing his gun tripod at it. He was saying, "Stateside! Stateside! See! I didn't drop the tripod either!" Always the comedian, he was actually laughing. He had been shot through his upper arm, a good flesh wound. He handed the tripod to his assistant gunner, the first ammo carrier took the gun and we had a battlefield promotion right there in the middle of the pond. Dale waived goodbye and headed back to the beach. We had three men down now from the section. Dale made it stateside and that was the last we heard from him until in 2001 I found his son Dale Jr. living near Atlanta Georgia. His son told me that he received two wounds on the beach, which has to mean that he was wounded again before he was evacuated. He had been dead for three years when I finally located his son.
 
I went through the second fence and into the minefield. I didn't see the sign. It was hanging on a fence post facing away from us. This slowed us down but not much. The mines had been planted so long ago the grass over them had died, making it easy to see the large ones. There were smaller snuffbox types that were harder to find and trip wired mines.
 
The better path led left along the fence. I was leading and had gone maybe fifty yards when a man I didn't know rushed by. He got maybe fifteen yards past me when he tripped a mine hanging about waist high on a fence post. It blew him in half and splattered me. I was sick every time I thought about it for days. This slowed us down again. Everyone seemed glad to let me pick the way for while, so I then turned uphill. About two-thirds of the way up the hill more men I recognized from our Company B started passing and fanning out to the left. Another man from Company B passed in my direction. After a short distance, he stepped on a snuffbox, blowing his heel off. Medics had not gotten to him and he was trying to get off what was left of his shoe as I moved on. His name was William Boyd, and because of his size, we'd nicknamed him Wee Boy. He was Platoon Runner for the Second Platoon, and thinking his platoon leader was ahead, he was trying to catch up. He just didn't know there was no one ahead of us.
 
Another pause gave me the chance to look back at the beach. Men were now pouring through the blown wire where we came through. By chance I was looking to our left when a second torpedo blew wire about three to four hundred yards away from us. Men started streaming through there just as fast as we did. I believe they were the first men through the wire in that area. Coast Guard After Action Reports lists only one explosion in this area. I think this is where Lieutenant Spaulding came through the wire and is recorded in an interview with him. I, along with my platoon sergeant, saw this exit blown from near the top of the bluff.
 
I cannot explain my heading slightly to the right at this time, but I was following a better path through the mines. At the rim of the hill the path led to trenches. Noticing tracks in the bottom I felt them safe and got in to see where they led. I was armed with a rifle with a grenade launcher. I pushed the safety to off, as I knew if I ran into Germans I might not have the time to push it off and pull the trigger. With the grenade pointed down the trenches, I hunched over to the height of the trenches and went all the way to the end without seeing any Germans.
 
The trenches followed the rim of the draw going inland. In a very short distance we could look across the draw and down on to entrenchments above the big pillbox. Coming back to the men I had left while scouting out the trenches we noticed movement in the entrenchments across the draw. Germans were carrying what appeared to be cases and satchels from a dugout type shelter on the edge of the cliff over the big pillbox. They were using trenches leading inland, away from the shelter. They were sitting the things down at the end of the trench, picking up other things and taking them back to the shelter. It appeared they were exchanging things; maybe empty ammo cases for full ones, I didn't know.
 
I directed one machine gun setup and started firing on them. It was out of range for a rifle grenade so I removed the one on my rifle and started firing also. I saw several Germans go down, it caught them by complete surprise and the ones standing ran back into the shelter. At this time a man I recognized as one of our own stood up just beyond the trenches and threw a grenade at the shelter. He had come up over the cliff on the west side of the shelter. I believe the man realized we were firing at the Germans instead of him because after throwing the grenade he motioned to other men that came into sight and threw grenades also. The Germans then started coming out with white flags and their hands held up. One of the Machine Gun Squads had gone ahead during this time and now the squad that was doing the firing broke down and followed, as the first squad was out of sight. I told them to catch up as I paused for a moment, watching the scene below. The men were searching the shelter and the trenches. Suddenly Germans were sneaking up on them from the rear where they were exchanging cases. I started firing at them and they jumped up, raised their hands, and moved very fast towards the men cleaning up the trenches. These men didn't know the Germans were there. They were quick to see if there were any more.
 
The situation on the bluff I had been watching across the E1 draw, seemed to be secure and as I was leaving to catch up with my section, I happened to notice movement that got my attention. From out of no where this vehicle is making a run for it. It is heading straight inland with (2) two of what I assumed to be German troops chasing to catch it. As I recall there was one soldier driving, another just behind him, and one hanging on but mostly being drug; trying to get aboard, with another just catching up when I first saw them. It seemed the last man was going to be left, but the vehicle had to slow for a partial turn to the right, and the last man made it close enough to grab the hand being held out to him from the man that had just made it aboard. The man aboard had one leg inside and one out side the tailgate so he could reach farther backward. The man behind the driver just seemed to be watching. The man doing the reaching did get hold of the last man and helped him get partially aboard, and was hanging on and being held by the man helping him as the vehicle went out of sight in the shrubbery.
 
The vehicle was a half track moving away inland when I first saw it. One thing that stands out vividly in my mind was a solitary tree maybe 15 to 20 feet tall, that the vehicle seemed to be moving away from. There was very little shrubbery from the trenches on the bluff to this tree, The Germans that had tried to slip up on our men cleaning up the trenches just a few seconds earlier had come from this same location.
 
The half track was smaller than ours and as I recall did not have a deep bed. It seems to me that it did not have a partition behind the driver, but I can't remember that well. I can't remember if the tailgate lowered, but it seems the sides that formed the bed were the same height, but I can't swear to this. I had only enough time to get my rifle to my shoulder. The whole scene lasted for only a few seconds and I did not get a shot off. It did not get the attention of the men that had taken the entrenchments. I have since established that the men taking that bluff top were 29th Division men.
 
I started to follow the squad but they were out of sight and I couldn't see anyone ahead. It seemed that everyone had shied away or were led away from the draw. I backtracked until I saw troops in large numbers only slightly to my left. They were moving at a very fast pace away from the beach. I could now look back on the beach. It was filled with vehicles and troops. The troops were streaming inland. Occasional German artillery fire was now coming that I believed to be 88 mm.
 
A two and one half ton truck loaded with Jerry cans of gasoline that was moving parallel to the beach towards the draw was hit by one single shell from a gun firing at random. One or two seconds either way and it would have missed. There was a huge fiery explosion. The largest pieces left were the frame half buried in the sand and one single wheel, continuing to roll down the beach as though nothing had happened. This was my last look at the beach as I headed inland. .