"A Forlorn Little Rescue Party": Post-Combat Interviews With D-Day Survivors From One Hard-Hit Company

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
June 6 2014 9:34 AM

"A Forlorn Little Rescue Party": Post-Combat Interviews With D-Day Survivors From One Hard-Hit Company

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

This testimony, collected soon after D-Day by the U.S. Army Historical Section, compiles memories from seven survivors of Company A, 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division.

Last year, on the anniversary of D-Day, I wrote about a sketch that a combat historian attached to the 29th Division made of a platoon leader’s uniform and kit. The histories that these interviewers collected combined images and documents, like that sketch, with combat interviews like these. The historians, who placed themselves near the action in a vessel designated as an emergency hospital, interviewed some wounded men as early as D-Day itself (PDF).

Advertisement

In its matter-of-fact style, this short narrative gives a real sense of Company A’s experience of combat on D-Day as a rolling series of crises. The survivors remember the threat of automatic fire as soon as the ramps on their assault boats dropped, and the struggle not to succumb to a “quick drowning.” Survival became a matter of negotiating between the water and the enemy fire. The interviewees report that some of their fellow soldiers used the water for cover, while

others, wounded, dragged themselves ashore and upon finding the sands, lay quiet and gave themselves shots [probably self-injections of morphine], only to be caught and drowned within a few minutes by the on-racing tide.

In the case of Company A, the almost immediate loss of their officers compounded their troubles. “It seemed,” the historian writes, “that enemy snipers had spotted their leaders and had directed their fire so as to exterminate them.”

In the end, the company was so diminished that the men who managed to reach the beach joined up with other groups. The experience of the unfortunate group was so scattered as to be inconclusive. “A’s contribution to the attack,” the historian concludes, “appears to have been a cypher.”  

1D-DayTestimony
Combat Interview of D-Day Survivors from the 116th Infantry Regiment, 6/6/44

National Archives

2D-DayTestimony
Combat Interview of D-Day Survivors from the 116th Infantry Regiment, 6/6/44

National Archives

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Politics
Sept. 22 2014 6:30 PM What Does It Mean to Be an American? Ted Cruz and Scott Brown think it’s about ideology. It’s really about culture.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 23 2014 9:01 AM Tristan Da Cunha: Life on the World's Most Remote Island
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:46 AM How Men Talk About Relationships in Rom-Coms: While Playing Sports
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand with Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.