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D-Day: A La Pine, Oregon veteran recalls Omaha Beach landing

D-Day: A La Pine, Oregon veteran recalls Omaha Beach landing

Ahead of the amphibious assault soldiers lay “Fortress Europe.”  Behind them was the rising sea. At stake, was the final outcome of World War II. Here is the story of an American hero.

D Day Landing on Omaha Beach in World War II

Soldiers head for Omaha Beach from the Higgins Landing Craft.

by Leon Pantenburg

June 6, 2016 marks the 72th anniversary of D-Day. Today,  I honor my friend, Bob Shotwell, 92, of La Pine, Oregon, by re-posting his recollections.

As a member of the 149th Amphibious Combat Engineers, Private Shotwell landed in the first wave of the Dog Red section of Omaha Beach.

I was privileged to interview 12 Central Oregon World War II veterans for a Bend Bulletin Special Section “Vanishing Heroes,” which was published on Veterans Day, 2004.

Here is an excerpt from Private Shotwell’s story as he heads toward Omaha Beach at dawn in a Higgins landing craft.

“The noise was deafening. Big guns fired, engines on vehicles roared, men shouted and geysers of water erupted around our craft. It seemed like mass confusion.”

Still, Shotwell said he wasn’t really scared.

I felt excited, probably because I had no combat experience at all,” he said. “Like most kids, I had this feeling of invincibility and I though nothing could happen to me.”

These images of Omaha Beach were shot by Robert Capa, who landed with the 16th Regiment of the U.S. Army First Infantry in the first wave.first wave of

These images of Omaha Beach were shot by Robert Capa, who landed at “Easy Red” beach with the 16th regiment of the U.S. Army’s First Infantry.

That feeling “evaporated” as the boat stopped and the front ramp went down. The Germans had every inch of the beach presighted for accurate firing of mortars, machine guns, and 88mm cannons.

The slaughter started before the soldiers disembarked, and the first wave was almost decimated.

“Bits and pieces pop into focus…a hand. An arm with no body around it. A foot. A helmet with a head still in it,” Shotwell said. “I wondered if the next shell would be mine.”

By late afternoon, enough equipment had come ashore that the engineers could start clearing the wire. In the face of heavy fire, Shotwell and other engineers blew holes in the wire and advanced to the bluffs.

They stopped at nightfall, and Shotwell, exhausted, “slept fitfully” about halfway up the cliff.

By nightfalll of  June 6, about 175,00 Allied military personnel were ashore in France. But the cost had been very high – some 4,900 died on the beaches and  in the battle further inland that day.

Of the 40 combat engineers who landed at Dog Red in the first wave, only four were alive at the end of the day. The next morning, Shotwell reached the top of the cliffs.

He looked out to sea, over the armada of 5,000 anchored ships, with a sense of disbelief, and surprise that he was still alive.

“So this is France, I thought,” he said. “I had no idea of what I had just been a part of.”

Shotwell went on to fight in four major combat actions before the war was over. He was recommended for the Silver Star for his part in the crossing of the Rhine River in Germany.

Like many veterans, Shotwell rarely mentions his service, and initially, was reluctant to let me interview him for the “Vanishing Heroes” project.

His memories have “thankfully softened,” he said.

“War memories are best held in limbo,” he said. “They take on a softer glow that way. Most of my memories of World War II are of the pleasant things. I try to forget the bad things.”

But Shotwell does remember an attitude which helped him and his buddies get through the hell of Omaha Beach.

“We didn’t want to make a D Day type landing on some American beach, and we didn’t want to make a combat crossing of the Mississippi, and we didn’t want that kind of fighting going on in some small town in America,” Shotwell said. “We were thankful we could be the line of defense between our enemies and our homes.”

We can’t thank these WWII servicemembers enough, so let’s allow that respect to include  ALL veterans of ALL American wars: Thanks, and God bless you!

 

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3 Comments

  1. Leon

    06/14/2016 at 07:58

    Many of the WWII combat veterans, such as my dad and several uncles, wanted to leave those experiences behind them. While I completely understand not wanting to re-live the horror, I wish more of them would have talked so that part of history is not lost.

  2. petem

    06/13/2016 at 23:04

    My father was shot through the calf in WWII. He showed me the scars. Years later we came accross his purple heart sitation which decribed how he landed on Ohmaha Beach and was wounded in action. He never talked about it.

  3. Jim Long

    11/18/2012 at 07:07

    Dear Mr Pantenburg,
    My step father Earl Draper droped into France ahead of the d-day invasion with the 509th he went back in 1994 and recreated the jump, you may remember him he is the whose chute was tangled in his boots and had to cut away the main and deploy the reserve chute, he lived to tell about and was an instant celebrity. Earl died about 4 years ago and he left me an umbrella that they were given that had the d-day invasion printed on it with all who participated. I would like to send it to you I know it would mean more to you, if you will send me your mailing address I will make sure it is mailed to you this week. Thanks you for your service.
    Sincerly
    Jim Long

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Leon's Blog

Leon Pantenburg is a wilderness enthusiast, and doesn't claim to be a survival expert or expertise as a survivalist. As a newspaperman and journalist for three decades, covering search and rescue, sheriff's departments, floods, forest fires and other natural disasters and outdoor emergencies, Leon learned many people died unnecessarily or escaped miraculously from outdoor emergency situations when simple, common sense might have changed the outcome. Leon now teaches common sense techniques to the average person in order to avert potential disasters. His emphasis is on tried and tested, simple techniques of wilderness survival. Every technique, piece of equipment or skill recommended on this website has been thoroughly tested and researched. After graduating from Iowa State University, Leon completed a six-month, 2,552-mile solo Mississippi River canoe trip from the headwaters at Lake Itasca, Minn., to the Gulf of Mexico. His wilderness backpacking experience includes extended solos through Yellowstone’s backcountry; hiking the John Muir Trail in California, and numerous shorter trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Other mountain backpacking trips include hikes through the Uintas in Utah; the Beartooths in Montana; the Sawtooths in Idaho; the Pryors, the Wind River Range, Tetons and Bighorns in Wyoming; Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado, the Catskills in New York and Death Valley National Monument in southern California. Some of Leon's canoe trips include sojourns through the Okefenokee Swamp and National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, the Big Black River swamp in Mississippi and the Boundary Waters canoe area in northern Minnesota and numerous small river trips in the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. Leon is also an avid fisherman and an elk, deer, upland game and waterfowl hunter. Since 1991, Leon has been an assistant scoutmaster with Boy Scout Troop 18 in Bend, and is a scoutmaster wilderness skills trainer for the Boy Scouts’ Fremont District. Leon earned a second degree black belt in Taekwondo, and competed in his last tournament (sparring and form) at age 49. He is an enthusiastic Bluegrass mandolin picker and fiddler and two-time finalist in the International Dutch Oven Society’s World Championships.

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