Saturday, June 6, 2020

D-Day, Normandy, France: The 75th Anniversary of D-Day and Story of H. Smith Shumway

"If the leaders of the world could have seen the slaughter on the beaches that I saw as I climbed the cliffs of Normandy, they would have figured out another way to bring peace." --H. Smith Shumway, Joseph's father 

      "There is no better preacher of peace than a soldier's grave."--Albert Schweitzer

H. Smith Shumway, my father-in-law, who landed as a Lietuninent Commander on D-Day, Omaha Beach, 2nd landings, at about between 8 and 9 am with the Easy Red Division. He was blinded six weeks later at age 22 in Martigny, France on the march to Paris. His unquenchable cheerfulness, humor, and faith spurred him to live a most remarkable life. He was loved and admired by anyone who ever met him. These are some of his words from his life history of that day and six weeks later, after he was blinded. (Edited by Mary Shumway Halsey)

D-Day was scheduled for June 5, 1944. We boarded an LCI, light landing craft that could hold from two to four hundred men around midnight the night before. The boat had a ramp on the end which would let down on the beach so we could walk ashore. 

We were told a few hours later that the attack was postponed because the weather would not permit it. It could have been a cloud cover that prevented the advance air attack necessary for the operation.  All I knew was that the channel was calm. 

We soldiers were calm on the outside, but very anxious on the inside to do our patriotic duty. Our training prepared us to die if necessary. We knew the landing on D-Day would cost many lives in order to liberate France. The delay increased our anxiety of what the next 24 hours held for each of us individually. 

The channel was filled with hundreds of boats waiting for the attack. It was important the boats maintained a moving target to lessen the chances of being hit by enemy fire. It was an amazing sight to see the great number of boats and ships from many different countries circling together in the channel in preparation for the invasion. 

On the morning of the 6th, I was awakened from a brief sleep by bombs hitting the beach and prime targets right before dawn. Omaha Beach was miles long. For the sake of our attack, it was divided up into sections. The large section we were assigned, as well as hundreds of other soldiers, was called "Easy." "Easy" was then further split into smaller sections a few hundred yards wide. Our smaller section was coded as "Red"--making our objective OMAHA EASY RED.

About 6 in the morning, the first of the boats unloaded men. Most of the soldiers in these first waves of landing were killed. Our boat pulled close to the beach at our designated spot of "Easy Red a few hours later, between 8 and 9 in the morning. We rushed down the ramp of the LCI into water about knee-deep and ran up to the beach to reassemble there. 

There were dead bodies floating in the water and many on the beach. Some tanks had been hit by artillery. Everything was very confused with so much death and wreckage on the beach.  German shells were still hitting the beach. The noise from the planes, boats, artillery, artillery explosions, and gunfire was almost unbearable, making it difficult for me to get my bearings. 

I saw a rope marking a crooked path up the steep hill we were to climb. The mines had been cleaned from this narrow path. I also saw where our captain and my platoon were gathering. We all lined up and started up the very steep hill one after another. There were explosions all around us, but I couldn't see anyone firing guns at us. There were land mines on both sides of the path so we knew we had to watch our step. 

Close to the top of a hill was a soldier standing under the roots of a tree. As we got closer, I read a card on his helmet with the word "Press" written in large print letters. He was writing on a pad and sometimes took pictures. I wondered if he was Ernie Pyle, a well-known war corresponding whom we all respected. the opportunity to ask him never came. He lost his life a few months later. 

Before we went over the top of the hill, I looked back and contemplated the scene before me. Hundreds of ships and boats were circling in the channel. LCI's and LST's were landing men and tanks, planes soaring overhead, big shells bursting on land and sea, and the beach littered with men and machines. I thought of the millions of dollars being spent to wage war and the tragic horror of it all. 

I wondered how long the battle would last if our president and Congress were attacking, and Hitler and his generals were on the shore to meet them. I bet they would find a way to shorten the bloodletting if it had been their own blood. 

We were the first soldiers to make it to the top at OMAHA EAST RED. It certainly wasn't easy but there was plenty of red. At the top of the hill, we had to cross a minefield. And then we were all assigned areas where we were to dig holes and prepare for a counter-attack or artillery shelling.

My father had sent me sunflower seeds and pine nuts and told me to carry them with me into combat. I snacked on them during the first couple of days of the invasion. My first taste of combat on the front line took my appetite away. It was hard to find time to eat even if anyone had wanted to. 

This part of France was covered with hedgerows. The land was a series of five to twenty-acre fields surrounded on four sides by hedgerows.  The hedges were hundreds of years old and had grown very thick and tall. Some had ditches under the row of hedges which the Germans would use for cover.  Most hedgerows were solid thick buses with some brambles about six feet high without ditches. This was the centuries-old method used for fencing fields. 

I suppose in times of peace this country was very picturesque, but from my point of view as a soldier, it was very tedious fighting from hedgerow to hedgerow. We would attack where our artillery had been firing. Then they would fire ahead of us again, and then they would stop, and we would move forward again. 

Six weeks later... June 27, 1944, in Marigny, France after he had been Careden, St. Lo, LeTronquay, and other villages, H. Smith Shumway was blinded. 

This is a short summary of the day he was hit by a tank mine, killing the tank commander and slightly wounding the captain next to him :

Many people say you don't think when you get hit, but I can truly say I did. I thought, "Something has happened to me, and I don't know what, but I will be okay in a second." There was a steady, strong current of air hitting my face, chest, and legs, and I seemed to hang suspended somehow. There was a deafening sound that just kept ringing, and it seemed as if it would never stop. Finally, however, the strong current of air and the explosion died out, and I found I was still standing on my two feet. 

It occurred to me that one of my legs might be blown off. So I bent over and used my left hand, which later proved to be the only part of my body that wasn't hit and felt my legs. My right thigh was bloody, my left knee was bloody, and my right arm, which had been holding my carbine was just numb. It was all bloody, and whether it had some fingers missing or not, I neither knew nor cared right then. 

I started to get very weak all of sudden. My chest was starting to hurt, and I felt it with my left hand and knew that it was a bloody mess also. I couldn't see, so naturally felt my face. It was bloody also. As I was getting weak fast I sat down or fell down, I don't remember which. I remember I wanted to conserve my strength. This may sound ironic about wanting to save my strength, but such a thought actually flashed through my mind. 

Everything was black, and I was getting kind of scared. I had been stunned at first, but now the pain was engulfing me. Private Nonamaker was standing by then, and how he got to where I was so fast, I never knew. Someone was asking him why he didn't give me morphine, and he was saying that he couldn't give it to anyone with a head injury. 

He then said, "How are you, Lieutenant? It's not so very bad, you'll be ok. It always seems worse than it really is." He kept talking to me in this same manner all the time he was sprinkling sulfa powder and dressing my wounds. The pained seemed lessened when the sulfa powder was administered. He was the best aid man I ever knew. I had previously turned him in for a silver star. 

I guess I had lost a lot of blood by now because I suddenly became very cold, and asked for a blanket, which was immediately taken off the tank and thrown on me. The pain which had been getting worse stopped a little as my body started to get cold, and my arms and legs became numb. I keep wondering why I didn't pass out, and I sincerely wished I would. 

When my aid man was dressing my wounds, I remember thinking, "Golly, maybe I am going to die.  Do I want to live? If I can take a deep breath without something breaking or blood rushing in to fill my lungs--I'll be ok." When I found out that I could still breathe good, I knew I wanted to live. I was filled with hope that I wouldn't die because I could still breathe. 

Smith Shumway went on that day to a makeshift field hospital in Normandy. Afterward, they took him to an evacuation hospital on the coast. An ambulance carried him to be put aboard an LST to go back to England, the same type of boat that brought me across the Channel six weeks before the invasion. 

He later said, "I can certainly remember when the convoy stopped in an English harbor. In fact, it was the same harbor I had left to make the DDay invasion with the First Division. I can't describe the peaceful serenity that seemed to settle on my soul as I was carried off the boat onto English soil."

Two more years of rehabilitation awaited Smith--hospitals in England, and two in the USA. He would later marry his college sweetheart, Sarah, and they would have eight children, seven girls, and one son. He received a Master's degree in Counseling from the University of Maryland and became a rehabilitation counselor. He was Director of the Blind and Deaf for the state of Wyoming. He started a camp for the blind near Casper, Wyoming, and was a national voice for mainstreaming of the vast majority of special needs students into the classroom. 

He was the first completely blind bishop for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and several years later became a patriarch. He did professional like magic shows, read profusely, played several instruments, and was a friend to all--especially those who were marginalized because of race, special needs, and poverty. Blindness and uncertainty did not deter him. One of his favorite quotes was (and he would say it with a twinkle in his glass eyes), "I might not have sight, but I have insight." 

       Sarah in Le Tronquay, France, a village Grandpa helped to liberate before was blinded. He is one of the two esteemed citizens of the village, where a plaque notes his service. During the 75th anniversary of D-Day, there were banners of hundreds of soldiers in each village and along the roads. In Le Tronquay, Grandpa was honored with his picture and another soldier who was killed there on July 10, 1944. The French still remember and honor those who served with ceremonies in most villages, on the beaches, in the cemeteries--all around Normandy. 

On this day to be at Omaha Beach on the 75th anniversary engulfed my soul. I caught this picture of Joseph gazing out on Omaha Beach on that day. It was quiet, peaceful, and you could hear the seagulls above us--just as it always should be. 

          June 6, 2019--Remembering Grandpa and all the others who landed on that day. 


You can still climb into the many multi-storied, concrete, and steel-reinforced bunkers built by the German Army and their slave laborers.  One had a chip of concrete missing from it. There was a two-foot thick roof where there was minor damage--a total effect of a direct hit by our naval bombardment.  The Germans built great defenses. They were impregnable. The only way to take out a bunker was to climb up to it and throw in multiple grenades and wait--for the positions to be remanned by replacements. And then throw in a few more.  Smith Shumway had to perform that unpleasant and dangerous task at least once (that we know of) on his climb up to the Normandy ridge. 

A view from the pillbox on June 6, 2019, where you could see a continual stream of jeeps and some ships on the beach.

        We wrote on the beach, "Grandpa, you are our sunshine"--one of the favorite songs he always sang                                                         and played on his harmonica.. 

     A German soldier who was looking out on Omaha Beach that day. We thanked him for being there, to remind everyone of the colossal loss to both the Allie and Axis powers.  The Americans lost 1:10 of their combat soldiers. The Germans lost 1:3 (the Russian's lost 1:2).  A terrible loss of life with families shattered and millions of children left fatherless. 


                 Solemn moments for all to consider what happened on that beach 75 years before.  

          We were here at the landings when 97-year-old Tom Rice reenacted his 1944 jump. When he landed, and I saw a bald gray head, I cried realizing that he actually had done this before--another time with no warm greeting for his initial landing. 

      These are some of the musicians who greeted Tom Rice and others who jumped that day. There was exhilaration, love, and happiness in the crowd that day--no matter what side or place you came from. It was a remembrance of a war that finally ended.

                         Being with the Reenactors

Getting aboard  a WW2 landing craft --LCI which also went by the name of a "Higgins Boats."

This picture was taken in 2016 at one of the reenactor camps. 

Two World War Veterans being transported to the 75th Anniversary ceremony at the American cemetery

Fighter planes over the ceremony at the Amerian Cemetary

The Church Steeple at Saint Marie where a parachuting soldier pretended to be dead until arriving Allied soldiers arrived two days later to rescue him.
Utah Beach 

Landing Craft at Normandy

                      Other memories of those few days....

We wept when we found the graves of German soldiers who were 14, 15, 16, 17, and 18 in Marigny, France, not far from where Grandpa was blinded. 

A Scottish man playing Amazing Grace for his lunch at the restaurant we went to on June 6, 1944. As the trucks and tanks passed on the road, he continued to play--sending us all in a reverie.

The red fields of poppies are what these soldiers saw and knew in 1944. 

     In 2016--lighting the lanterns that were sent to the sky to remember our loved ones on Utah Beach

1 comment:

  1. Thank you.
    Thank you in every way I know, to everyone herein.