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D-Day approaching at Omaha Beach

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80 Years Ago

Extraordinary courage on the beaches of Normandy

The chaos that permeated the invasion beaches of Normandy, France, came while Allied soldiers were taking the first bold step to liberate Europe from the grips of Nazi oppression on June 6, 1944. The date is forever known as D-Day.

Code-named Overlord, this complex military operation involved air, naval and land forces and stretched across 50 miles France’s Normandy region. Of the five invasion beaches, Americans would storm two: Omaha and Utah. It was Omaha Beach where the American fighting spirit faced its most daunting test.

Under a gray sky and heavy seas, thousands of queasy soldiers bobbed around inside their landing craft before attempting to breach the vaunted Atlantic Wall. His stomach in knots, Lt. Quentin Murdock of the 1st Infantry Division, was nevertheless mesmerized by the unfathomable scene.

A St. George resident until his death in 2018, Quentin recalled that his stomach churned and his throat dried on the approach to shore. When the ramp came down it hit a sand bar, forcing Quentin into chilly water, shoulder high.

“It wasn’t easy getting to shore, but once you were there you weren’t any better off,” he said during an interview 10 years ago.

Quentin crouched low and scrambled to a small berm resting perhaps 12 inches above the sand. Gripped by terror, he tried to make himself smaller while pondering what to do next. “You can’t imagine the confusion,” he said, describing the high threat environment, “It was demoralizing.”

The neighboring 29th Infantry Division included Sergeant Steve Poulos from Salt Lake City. He stepped into water well above his head. To stay afloat, the former lifeguard quickly used his bayonet to cut off anything weighing him down—even his shoes.

Arriving ashore with nothing, Steve commandeered what was necessary for defense. His recollections were documented in 2005 during an interview for the documentary Utah’s World War II Stories. In the bleakest of moments, no matter what, he was told to “keep going.”

Omaha Beach was a jumbled mess. Elements of the 1st, 29th and some Army Rangers fought an enemy concealed along the ridge. German soldiers were positioned from a variety of angles to cover all approaches from the beach.

William Shanley, who spent his teenage years in Orem, was part of the 5th Engineering Amphibious Special Brigade.

Small bands of Americans scored minor breakthroughs as the morning progressed. Among them, a soldier in Quentin’s battalion, through one heroic endeavor, gave hope to the beleaguered men.

Meanwhile, Steve worked his way inland and linked up with his unit. When and where possible, he sought rest. “You had to keep one eye open and one ear open,” he recalled. “We didn’t sleep too well.”

By the end of the day, a foothold was established in Europe. Yet the toll was heavy. Of the nearly 10,000 American casualties on D-Day, approximately 2,400 were wounded, missing or had perished on Omaha Beach.

“It is impossible for anyone who was not there to understand the selflessness and courage these very few men displayed to make this landing a success,” Quentin wrote.

It was Omaha Beach where the American fighting spirit faced its most daunting test.

  • Quentin Murdock
  • Quentin Murdock with community member
  • D-Day approaching at Omaha Beach
  • View on D-Day—Into the Jaws of Death