Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter

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Overview

"Slaughter vividly conveys the reality of combat during World War II in his book with sweeping passages that literally place his reader on the battlefield beside him." Belvoir Eagle

Before D-Day, regular army soldiers called the National Guardsmen of Virginia's 116th Infantry Regiment "Home Nannies" and "Weekend Warriors" and worse. On June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach, however, these proud Virginians who carried the legacy of the famed Stonewall Brigade showed the regular army and the world what true valor really ...

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Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter

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Overview

"Slaughter vividly conveys the reality of combat during World War II in his book with sweeping passages that literally place his reader on the battlefield beside him." Belvoir Eagle

Before D-Day, regular army soldiers called the National Guardsmen of Virginia's 116th Infantry Regiment "Home Nannies" and "Weekend Warriors" and worse. On June 6, 1944, on Omaha Beach, however, these proud Virginians who carried the legacy of the famed Stonewall Brigade showed the regular army and the world what true valor really was. In this moving World War II memoir, the author captures the life of GI Joe from pre-Pearl Harbor days through training, deployment overseas, and more training. All leads up to D-Day and Normandy on June 6, 1944, when Sergeant Bob Slaughter came across Omaha Beach with Company D of the 116th Infantry and the Bedford Boys.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
I have been privileged to know Bob Slaughter for almost twenty years, a period during which I observed his passion to keep alive the spirit of those men, living and dead, who participated in the great D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. His commitment to the history of that great event, in which he was a participant, has never wavered. In Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Bob Slaughter readers can now learn firsthand the story of this remarkable American soldier and patriot. —Joseph Balkoski, Maryland National Guard Command Historian and author, Beyond the Beachhead: The 29th Infantry Division in Normandy

The long march of Sergeant Bob Slaughter as told in Omaha Beach and Beyond gives the reader the memories that Bob has lived with every day for the past sixty-three years.  After reading this, his memories will live with you too, forever! —Major Richard D. Winters, Distinguished Service Cross, E Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne (“Band of Brothers”), U.S. Army, World War II

Bob Slaughter’s recollection of the fighting in France after the D-Day invasion is a firsthand account of a soldier’s experience that tells it like it was for all of us who were there.—Staff Sergeant Walter D. Ehlers, Congressional Medal of Honor, Company D, 18th Infantry, 1st Division, U.S. Army, World War II

Omaha Beach and Beyond is an excellent account of a Ranger-trained 29th Division infantryman in World War II.  It’s a quick, exciting, and rewarding read. —1st Sergeant Leonard G. Lomell, Distinguished Service Cross, Company D, 2nd Ranger Battalion, Battlefield Commission, U.S. Army, World War II

Belvoir Eagle, July 25, 2007

“Slaughter vividly conveys the reality of combat during World War II in his book with sweeping passages that literally place his reader on the battlefield beside him.”

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780760337349
  • Publisher: Zenith Press
  • Publication date: 11/8/2009
  • Edition description: First, Paperback reissue
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 608,639
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

John Robert Slaughter enlisted in the Virginia National Guard well before Pearl Harbor in early 1941 at the age of sixteen. Just twenty at the end of the war, in 1947 he married and settled in Roanoke, Virginia. Upon his retirement from the Roanoke Times in 1987, Slaughter, who had become active in veterans affairs over the years, started to work on the creation of a memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of the American soldiers at Normandy. On June 6, 2001, the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated. Bob Slaughter lives in Roanoke, Virginia.Alex Kershaw is author of the widely acclaimed World War II histories The Bedford Boys: One American Town's Ultimate D-Day Sacrifice, The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon, and The Few: the American "Knights of the Air" Who Risked Everything to Fight in the Battle of Britain. He lives in Bennington, Vermont.

John Robert Slaughter enlisted in the Virginia National Guard well before Pearl Harbor in early 1941 at the age of sixteen. A veteran jopurnalist, he retired from the Roanoke Times in 1987. Active in veteran affairs for many years, Slaughter then began to work for the creation of a memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of the American soldiers at Normandy. On June 6, 2001, the National D-Day Memorial was dedicated. Bob Slaughter lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

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Table of Contents


Foreword   Alex Kershaw     7
Introduction     11
How It All Began     17
Stateside Training     27
Going Abroad     45
The 29th Rangers     59
Assault Training     77
The D-Day Plan     95
Rough Ride to Hell: Omaha Beach, Dog Green     103
Omaha to Saint-Lo     119
Saint-Lo and Beyond     139
Shrapnel Wound at Hill 203     147
Recovery and Return     155
A Long Winter into Spring     167
My War Ends     181
Epilogue     191
Eyewitness Accounts of Omaha Beach, 29th Infantry Division     213
Tricky Tides at Omaha Beach     273
Fatalities, 1944-1945: D Company, 116th Infantry Regiment     277
Additional Documents     279
Acknowledgments     286
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Introduction

Historians, scribes, and screenwriters have long featured World War II as the global event of the twentieth century, and D-Day at Normandy on June 6, 1944, was indisputably one of the greatest battles of the war. Yet by 1944, the German army was severely crippled and stretched to the limit. Through 1944 and 1945, the once-potent Luftwaffe was almost nonexistent.


Why then, did the twelve-nation Allies have so much trouble bringing the war-weary Nazi empire under control? The cost of the war had reached into the billions and billions of dollars, and had caused the loss of many millions of human lives. Why then, was this war so difficult for so long?

This book fails to answer any of that.

My purpose instead is to tell the untold story of a few young citizen soldiers, including myself, who were caught up in a world war that turned out to be so utterly brutal that it still remains difficult to write about it even now, over sixty years later. Much of this account tells the story of the melding of national guardsmen and drafted soldiers into a fighting unit that defeated a well-disciplined, well-equipped, and well-led professional Axis army.

Before D-Day, the regular army called 29th Division soldiers "home nannies" and "weekend warriors." Some volunteer or drafted soldiers actually regarded former national guardsmen as inferior. Major General Leslie McNair-later killed by friendly fire in Normandy -wrote to Washington that in his opinion, National Guard officers were unfit for combat.

A few guardsmen and reservists were indeed deficient, and were quickly separated out. A relatively few other guard officers were too old or otherwise unfit, but thevast majority became the nucleus of the wartime army. Many former Virginia National Guard officers and noncoms led the 116th Infantry Regiment, which stormed Omaha, the most viciously defended of the Allied landing beaches.

Most of these men became outstanding wartime leaders. Technical Sergeant Frank Peregory of K Company, 116th, for example, first won the Soldiers Medal by plunging into a frozen North Carolina canal to save a fellow soldier's life. Later, he posthumously won the nation's highest award, the Medal of Honor, for extreme valor in combat. He hailed from Charlottesville, Virginia, and was a former national guardsman. In the name of fairness, I hasten to add that the 29th Division was blessed with many great drafted and volunteer soldiers as well.

This book portrays the months and months of man-killing assault training and physical conditioning that we soldiers willingly accepted. Despite enduring those many, many months of unbelievable hardships and harsh military discipline, many of my comrades were killed within minutes on the bloody sands of Omaha Beach, or mere days later in the entangling Normandy hedgerows. Others survived only to be killed within a few months, on the wintertime battlefields of Nazi Germany.

Recalling events of long ago and in the proper chronological order is, at best, an educated guess. However, many of my long-dormant memories, fuzzy at first, crystallized into focus with the help of reliable evidence from other credible eyewitnesses. We are not talking about information from best-selling books about World War II, but unique, untold stories set down in the words of ordinary former officers and men of the 116th Infantry and the 29th Division. Many of these contributors have now answered the last roll call. Thankfully, their memories are not buried with them and will live for all eternity!

During early D Company reunions, a pseudo committee of "intellectuals" engaged in many serious roundtable discussions. These stories often conflicted at first, but usually after recourse, evolved into almost unanimously accepted facts. For some, recurring flashbacks would not evaporate easily into oblivion. Many vivid episodes often resurfaced while lying in bed, only to return in sweaty nightmares after sleep arrived.

All of us vividly remembered the history-changing event that occurred on December 7, 1941, when an audacious Japanese sneak attack destroyed the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor. This single event drew the United States and much of the world into the second great war of the twentieth century.

The men of the 116th Regiment also recalled the danger of the transatlantic crossing as we sailed for war in October 1942. As we watched from the deck of one of the largest ocean liners afloat, 332 Englishmen perished. In an incredible midocean shipwreck, the RMS Queen Mary sliced through one of our light cruiser escorts, the HMS Curacao. This tragedy occurred on a calm and sunny afternoon in the North Atlantic Ocean.

Nor did those of us who volunteered for the 29th Rangers ever forget the harsh, wintertime physical training we endured at the Commando Training Depot on the rugged highlands of Scotland. The British commando instructors were given the task of preparing 1,000 American volunteers for a tough special assignment. Half of us washed out, and the 500 that were left wondered why we had accepted the hardships in order to become 29th Rangers.

There were greater and lesser adventures, but all are worth retelling. The amphibious assault training at southern England's beaches; living and hiking on the water-soaked and utterly bleak English wintertime moors; D-Day briefings at the marshaling area; and, of course, the terrible disaster suffered by the 116th RCT (Regimental Combat Team) at Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944. That fatal day, the Allied navies and air forces undoubtedly saved the lodgment at Omaha by keeping Jerry's vaunted panzers at bay until our depleted and vulnerable V Corps was adequately replenished and reinforced. In my opinion, the Omaha Beach sector would have failed had it not been for the supporting warships and airplanes.

It was comforting to have nearby the elite 2nd and 5th Ranger Battalions, the veteran Big Red One 1st Division, the 4th Ivy Division, and two airborne divisions-the combat-tested 82nd All Americans, and the 101st Screaming Eagles. They were just as scared and shaken as we were, but we knew that if we could just hold on for a few days, reinforcements were on the way. Who could ever forget D-day, even if it were one hundred years ago!

I remember buddies with whom I spent passes to London, men I played cards with a couple of days before the landing, who signed their autographs on my Eisenhower D-day missive, who shook hands with me on the Javelin's deck-young men, as I was, all killed during the largest air, land, and sea battle ever fought. Many more were maimed and never seen again. How could I forget this epic event, even if I fail to recall all the proper names and faces?
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Foreword

It was a beautiful fall afternoon when I pulled up in my rental car in the driveway of Bob Slaughter's home in the gentle, rolling hills outside Roanoke, Virginia. I was emotionally drained. I had just spent several days talking to the relatives of nineteen young men-the so-called Bedford Boys-who had died in a matter of minutes on Omaha Beach.

That very morning, I had managed with great difficulty to coax a few painful memories from the only officer still living from Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division-the first unit of Americans to hit the most lethal beach on D-Day and to which the Bedford Boys had belonged. Perhaps Mr. Slaughter, a fellow survivor of "Bloody Omaha" would be just as reluctant to talk, just as cautious as others in casting his mind back to days that Virginia communities such as Lynchburg, Bedford, and Roanoke struggled for many years to try to forget.

I had heard so many overwhelming stories of grief and loss, from widows who still cry when they remember, from brothers and sisters, from a daughter who never did get to meet her father. Frankly, I was depressed. But then Bob greeted me at his front door with a firm handshake and a warm welcome, and a smile finally returned to my face. For a couple of hours I sat transfixed in his study as he told me the amazing tale of how he also landed on Omaha beach on June 6, 1944, and managed not only to get off that killing ground without injury but also, by some miracle, to fight on across Normandy and then France until the fall of the Third Reich.

Bob Slaughter told his story with clarity, humor, and sometimes brutal honesty. I knew from the first few minutes of our conversation that I hadfound a very important source, a man with a keen and accurate memory who had experienced the same upbringing, induction to the army, and buildup to D-Day as the young men from Bedford whose story I was trying to tell. I discovered that he was just fifteen when he joined the National Guard. "I was tall for my age-six foot two," he told me. "We got a dollar every drill and went to Virginia Beach in the summer." He grew another three inches by D-Day.

I will not spoil Bob's riveting narrative by revealing what happened to him on D-Day. Suffice it to say that when he told me I was shocked to the core by the random nature of the slaughter-life and death were separated by a bullet going a fraction of an inch one way or the other. Many of Bob's friends from Roanoke were killed before his eyes. It was almost impossible to stomach, and it was even harder to then find the strength, the guts, to get the job done and get off that beach. But all six foot five inches of Bob Slaughter managed it.

By the end of June 1944, Bob Slaughter had fought through hedgerows and ruined villages toward St. Lô. Very few of the men he had landed with on D-Day were still alive. All knew that they would either be killed or wounded. There was no other fate. "Your best hope was for a million-dollar wound, nice clean sheets, and a pretty nurse," Bob told me. "You didn't want to lie out there and bleed for a long time. I'd see guys on a stretcher, and they'd been shot through the leg and they would be smiling. 'I'll see ya buddy!' they shouted. You didn't want to get it in the groin or stomach but the legs, arms, shoulders, hands. That would have been wonderful. Fingers didn't count."

Thankfully, every day Bob Slaughter spent in combat counted. Indeed, every yard he advanced counted a great deal. He and his ilk-liberators, not conquerors-earned America an inestimable prestige in the eyes of an eternally grateful continent. Visit hamlets where Slaughter and his brothers fought, as I did on the sixtieth anniversary of D-Day, and you will find that today people still remember the heart-wrenching sacrifice of young American lives. Some of the locals saw the cost of freedom with their own eyes: the twisted corpses dotted along hedgerows, the lines of young Virginians, limbless, disfigured, waiting in some shell-holed church to be evacuated.

I don't care if this sounds shamelessly sentimental. It is the truth: Bob Slaughter and his kind walk like giants among us today. They are not long for this world. So while they are still here to shake our hands, we should read what they write and listen to what they say. They were there. They can tell us what it was like to fight during America's finest hour-June 6, 1944. They can tell us that only for the greatest of causes should any young American lay down his life.

I owe a two-fold debt to Bob Slaughter. As a Brit, I grew up in a Europe that he helped liberate. I have enjoyed what so many of his childhood friends never lived to see-over sixty years of peace and prosperity on a continent that had been scarred by war since the beginning of history. I am also indebted to Bob because I benefited enormously in my research from a carefully typed manuscript that he loaned to me-the origins of the book you are reading now. The manuscript has changed a great deal since then. But the story is essentially the same: Bob Slaughter's memoir Omaha Beach and Beyond is a powerful and moving tale of a teenage warrior who came of age on D-Day. It is the story of a man who could not forget, who walked the sands on Omaha with President Clinton at his side in 1994, on the fiftieth anniversary of the invasion, and who more than any other is responsible for the building of America's finest war memorial-the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia.

If you ever happen to be in Bob Slaughter's neighborhood, take a detour and visit the memorial. It lies in the lee of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It is a beautiful place, a fitting tribute to the men who fought and died alongside Bob Slaughter. And if you ever happen to find yourself in Normandy, the setting for so much of this cracking good story, you must pay a visit to the American cemetery at Colleville sur Mer. Bob knows the place well. Several of his good friends are buried there in graves overlooking the beach, beside 9,386 other American dead from the battle for Normandy. In the near future, I will take my young son to the graveyard to make him proud to be an American. I will talk to him about men like Bob. I will tell him it was my honor to spend time with them. I will also take him to a chapel at the heart of the rows of dead, a chapel Mr. Slaughter also knows only too well. On a wall of that chapel the following words are inscribed for all to see: "Think not only upon their passing. Remember the glory of their spirit."

-Alex Kershaw
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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2013

    great book 

    great book 

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    Posted February 23, 2013

    Kya

    Beach and pool

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