When he arrived as part of the second wave to hit Omaha Beach in Normandy 75 years ago, Ohio National Guard Capt. Grandison K. Bienvenu and the Company B that he commanded could already see the devastation wrought on the initial assault earlier that morning.
“We could see all these sunken boats and vehicles that had run off the boats, just the top showing. Everybody going in different directions, and shells landing, planes flying overhead. The confusion was just terrible,” Bienvenu wrote as part of war recollections he provided in his “golden years” for a history put together for the 112th Combat Engineer Battalion out of the Cleveland suburb of Brook Park.>> Marching Orders: Read and hear central Ohio military veterans' stories <<
“We were wet and scared, hungry, insecure, didn’t know where anything was,” he said. “You’d look around you and you could see people being killed. And equipment blown up, ships being sunk. That’s all kind of vague, the panorama there is just hard to describe.”
On this June 6, the 75th anniversary of the historic D-Day invasion that changed the course of World War II, accounts such as Bienvenu’s are invaluable, said Sgt. 1st Class Joshua Mann, historian for the Ohio National Guard. To learn through their own words what the Ohio Guardsmen were thinking and feeling as they were among the first to hit the beaches is immeasurable, especially as so few veterans from that era are left.
“No one thinks their service is important when they’re doing it. It takes sometimes 40 or 50 years for these guys to be able to separate from D-Day, or whatever the main event was for them, and share it with others,” Mann said. “As time passes, it won’t be long before those written accounts, diaries and letters, and the oral histories created are all we have left.”
The Ohio National Guard actually had two units connected to the allied invasion. The 112th was at Omaha Beach to support the 1st and 29th infantry divisions, and the 987th Field Artillery Unit was at Gold Beach, though rough seas delayed it until early June 7, Mann said.
The records show that the 112th was 675 men strong on June 1, 1944, but lost 37 men and had 45 wounded in the invasion, including battalion commander William A. Richards.
Read The Columbus Dispatch reporter Holly Zachariah's full story.