“Why should I send somebody in my place to be killed?”

At the site of the Knights of Columbus (bad choice about the uniforms, men, very) magazine, Columbus, there is a seriously moving account of D-Day and the storming of the beaches of Normandy. HERE

A sample…

[…]

Then the coxswain said, “DeVita, drop the ramp.” I didn’t hear him because of the roar of the guns and the two big diesel engines in the back of the boat.

Then he yelled louder, “DeVita, drop the ramp!” For a few seconds I froze, because I knew when I dropped that ramp, the machine gun bullets will come into the boat.

And then for the third time he yelled, “G— d— it, DeVita! Drop the f— ramp!” I dropped the ramp and the bullets that were hitting the ramp came into the boat. About 15 or 16 GIs died immediately; many were wounded, some very seriously.

Everybody thinks when you go to die, you pray to God. But when you’re about to die, the only word that comes out of your mouth is, “Mama! Mama!” That’s what they were saying.

I’m in the back of the boat, where the handle was to lower and raise the ramp, so I actually had some protection. The troops who died in front of me were absorbing the bullets that probably would have hit me.

Near me were two stragglers, two young boys. One took a round in the belly, but somehow he survived that day. He was very lucky. The second kid had red hair and was maybe a foot away from me. The machine gun took his helmet and part of his head off. He was not so lucky.

He was screaming, “Help me! Help me!” But I couldn’t help him. He fell at my feet, and I didn’t know what to do. I had no morphine. The only thing I had in my possession was the Lord’s Prayer. I started praying over him, and when he heard the words, it seemed to calm him. Then I reached down and squeezed his hand because I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone. And then he squeezed my hand a little bit, and he died. He was just a little boy. Just a little boy.

[…]

And…

[…]

When we got to our ship, I had a big decision to make. Do I go back? And I said to myself, “Why should I send somebody in my place to be killed?” So I went back with the second wave.

Altogether, I made 15 trips to the beach.

[…]

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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4 Responses to “Why should I send somebody in my place to be killed?”

  1. carndt says:

    As Ann clearly states about bravery and cowardice:
    Because bravery and cowardice are a zero-sum game. When a man cowers, he isn’t just merely shielding himself from danger and nothing more. What he is doing is shirking off on to some other man his share of bravery that justice demands. Because the good German people cowered and failed to stand up and stop what they clearly saw happening in the mid-to-late 1930s, their collective failure in courage cumulated and compounded. Where their failure in courage all eventually ended up was on the shoulders of these guys, 75 years ago today.

    See how that works? Good will always prevail, but there is no limit to the amount of suffering that will be required for that victory to occur. If men stand up early on, the suffering will be minimized because it will be spread over many people. The worst that might happen is that some folks go to bed scared for a while, but widespread bravery will allow good to prevail without much suffering. If, however, there is a decided lack of courage displayed by a large group or society early on in an advance by the powers of evil, that aggregated courage requirement will be borne by a relative few at a later time. The longer this goes on, the worse it will be for the few who have to bear the weight of the cowardice of the broad society.

  2. Therese says:

    My God, have mercy.

  3. edwar says:

    Thank you, soldiers, for your sacrifice.

    May they Rest In Peace. Amen.

    I have a question, which I wonder if anyone has some thoughts on. I ask this question with respect and simplicity. Here goes…

    From the article: “Everybody thinks when you go to die, you pray to God. But when you’re about to die, the only word that comes out of your mouth is, ‘Mama! Mama!’”

    My question: Based on existing documentary evidence from wars BEFORE THE YEAR 1900, do we have any evidence whether the above assertion (about which words a fallen soldier is likely to say in his last moments of his sacrifice) would have been typically true in wars BEFORE THE YEAR 1900?

    Perspectives on American soldiers as well as soldiers from other countries would be welcome.

    I ask this with all simplicity, and respect for our fallen in all wars.

    May their souls, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

  4. Semper Gumby says:

    God bless the men of Normandy and Mr. DeVita.

    “Everybody thinks when you go to die, you pray to God. But when you’re about to die, the only word that comes out of your mouth is, “Mama! Mama!” That’s what they were saying.”

    No doubt Mr. DeVita’s account is accurate. If I could expand on this to partly answer commenter edwar, and drawing only on WW II memoirs, some men mumble a prayer with a buddy whose holding their hand, some men ask for a message to be passed to their wife, some men express disbelief, some men say something random.

    “Now, the coxswain started screaming, “Lift up the ramp. Let’s get the hell out of here!” So, I pulled the handle and the ramp didn’t come up. I pulled it again. Nothing. So now we’re in serious trouble. We’re gonna be target practice for the 88s.”

    Mr. DeVita’s landing craft had already dropped the ramp. A stationary landing craft crowded with men and equipment such as demolition charges and flamethrowers will soon become a target not only for machine guns but mortars and artillery. It is most unfortunate, but the ramp has to be dropped immediately- survivors must move forward and those landing craft still seaworthy must depart to make repeated trips between troopships miles off shore and the beach for the landing to be successful.

    During the first hour of the 1944 Peleliu landing in the Pacific almost 60 Marine landing craft were destroyed. One military historian wrote that Col. Chesty Puller’s landing craft took a direct hit from an artillery shell- fortunately it was a dud.

    A word about the 1943 Marine landing at Tarawa (a battle to sieze a Japanese-held island of about one-square mile that had an airstrip needed by the Allies). The first wave of amphibious tractors passed over a submerged reef about 400 yards off the beach and landed their Marines, who quickly got in a fierce fight as the Japanese soldiers recovered from the effects of the naval bombardment.

    The following waves of Marines were in Higgins boats, such as the boat crewed by Mr. DeVita at Normandy. These boats became stuck on the reef. The landing craft dropped their ramps, 400 yards off the beach, and the Marines waded ashore under fire to assist their outnumbered buddies on the beach.

    Meanwhile, the amphibious tractors from the first wave were supposed to return to the troopships to bring in reinforcements. Instead, the amtracs began ferrying Marines from the reef to the beach. Many amtracs quickly became targets for Japanese gunners or were rendered unseaworthy due to many bullet holes in the hulls.

    The actor Eddie Albert was at Tarawa as skipper of a salvage boat. He placed his lightly armored boat into action just off the beach during the landing and saved dozens of Marines.

    There were other problems, but the Marines took Tarawa after a 72-hour battle in which 1,000 Marines and 6,000 Japanese soldiers were killed. Only about 20 Japanese surrendered.

    The Pacific island battles saw few Japanese soldiers surrender due to surrender for a Japanese being dishonorable, banzai charges, “hari-kari” ritual suicide, and the belief that Emperor Hirohito was descended from the gods (this partly explains the Rape of Nanking, the Bataan Death March, the decapitation of hundreds if not thousands of Allied POWs, Unit 731, and other atrocities).

    Thus, the Marines’ calls to isolated pockets of Japanese troops to surrender were almost always met by more gunfire. The Marines (and U.S. Army units) would then clear bunkers, caves, and tunnels with demo charges and flamethrowers.

    In 1944 and 1945 Japanese civilians in the Mariana and Ryukyu islands, after the Marines came ashore and moved inland, often refused aid by the Marines and committed suicide by the hundreds by jumping off cliffs, including mothers holding babies. Marine combat photographers recorded this as it was not believed back in the U.S. The Combat Camera footage is available on YouTube.

    The Allied landings in Japan were scheduled to begin in late 1945 and the battle estimated to continue into 1947. Casualties, killed and wounded, were estimated at over one million for the Allies and over ten million for the Japanese.