Staff Sergeant at Omaha Beach on D-Day
Company B; 16th Infantry Regiment, First Infantry Division
Harleys son and his grandson on June 6th 2008 at the house of Emanuel and France-Odile Rault Omaha-Beach. It was France-Odiles birthday, the day we usually celebrate her birthday at a good restaurant in Grandcamp.
Same day -left to right:
Jean Mignon, Margaret Heesen, France Odile Rault,
Tim Roop (www.ww2dday.com), Harley Reynolds
and me standing behind them
Me and Harley with Emanuel Rault standing in between
My first copy of Harleys book
June-7th-2008 Harley and Claude Feutry at the picnic on Omaha-Beach
Mr. Feutry was a teenager when my grandfather was billeted at his parents house in Trevieres.
Harley, his son, his grandson, Bill and his dutch friends, Margarete and left of Harley Madame Chartier Catherine who is the mayor of St. Laurent at the picnic.
This letter is in response to a request on TV by Stephen Ambrose. He asked for anyone in the invasion at Omaha Beach to send his story to him for the 50th Memorial in 1994.
My name is Harley A. Reynolds. I can be reached at 3740 58th Street North, Apartment 210, St. Petersburg, Florida 33710-1976. My place of birth is St. Charles, Virginia 24277. I was born on October 2nd, 1924. I enlisted in the Army on December 28th, 1940. I was assigned to Company B; 16th infantry regiment, First Infantry Division, stationed at Fort Jay on Governors Island, New York, New York. I served with this unit until honorably discharged on July 4th, 1945 at Fort Meade Maryland, during demobilization after victory in Germany. We were mustered out on a point system. I had the highest number of points for a single man in England when the war ended. A group of 17 men with the highest points were sent home to test the mustering out system and I was in charge of our service records that we carried with us. My rank was Staff Sergeant during the invasion of France, and this was the highest rank I held.
Awards and Decorations I am entitled to wear are:
Stars (worn on ETO Ribbon for each Campaign)
Arrowheads (worn on ETO Ribbon; awarded only to those in assault
waves on invasions in Africa, Sicily, and France)
Star (gallantry in action), Oak
Leaf Cluster to Bronze Star (gallantry in action), Purple
Infantrymen Badge, Combat
Green (awarded only to front-line leaders.
A green ribbon worn on shoulder epaulets that identified
leaders that had led in combat), Presidential
Unit Citation, Oak
Leaf Clusters to Unit Citation (Three), Six
Months Overseas sleeve
emblems (Six), Good
Conduct Medal (with bar for second time awarded), Expert
Riflemen Badge with Bars for: Expert
- Light Machine Gun, Expert
- 16mm Mortar, Expert
- .30 Caliber Carbine, Expert
- 45 Caliber Pistol, Expert
- 45 Caliber Sub Machine Gun, Expert
- Grenade, Expert
- Bayonet, Three
(3) Year Hitch (sleeve emblem)
Duck (lapel button), American
Defense Service medal, French
Medaille Militaire, French
Fourragere Colors for Medaille Militaire, French
Croix Degere with Palms (Tunisia), French
Croix Degere with Palms (Omaha Beach), French
Croix Degere (Sept ember of 1944), Belgium
Croix Degere (December of 1944), Belgium
Fourragere Colors for Croix Degere
,French Medaille de la France Liberee
I started my service as a rifleman in Fort Devens and later as a Scout. This gave me my first stripe - PFC. In camp Blanding I qualified as Expert with the M1 rifle, light machine guns, 30-caliber carbine and 45-caliber Tommy gun.
Qualifying with machine gun along with my six feet, 178 pounds qualified me for a transfer to the Company Weapons Platoon, Machine Guns Section. I was assigned to the Machine Gun Squad as First Ammo Carrier. My job was to keep ammo to the Assistant Gunner and relieve him, if needed. Husky men were required to carry all that ammo. On the mock invasion near Gourock we did a forced, full equipment march, over which had to be the highest mountain in Scotland.
Harley at D-Day House Omaha Beach in 2004 with young soldiers of the 1st Infantry Division
We climbed all night, and most of the next day, then we returned to where we started.
One night in a local pub Corporal Wm. Wilde of Vineland, New Jersey made a toast while we were having a beer that went like this “Here's to it, and to it again, if you ever get to it to do it and can't do it, let us to it, we’re used to it.” Someone would ask “What?” The answer was usually shouted “The Invasion!” This was quite famous within the Big Red One.
From Sicily we returned to England and were stationed in the small town of Lyme Regis near Torquay. The company was billeted anywhere in town that room could be found for a few beds or cots. Small hotels, rooming houses, private homes, empty rooms over buildings along Main Street and a couple of small Nisson Huts vacated by the Home Guard...
Time came for the invasion and we went aboard the troop ship Samuel Chase at Weymouth, England. We sailed immediately for dispersal and position within the invading fleet. The plan was for our BN to land in Regimental Reserve on Omaha Beach in the Easy Red Sector.
This would be our second invasion from the Samuel Chase. The first was at Gela in Sicily. She also made the African invasion alongside us. Many friendships were made then and later through our division and ship associations, which are still active. I am an Honorary Member of their Association, a fine brave and proud group.
The amount of ships and craft involved started materializing with the light of dawn. Ships and craft of all kinds for as far as the eye could see; ships unloading troops and equipment. Battleships were cruising the shoreline, firing Salvo after Salvo, some of it just over our heads, point-blank at the beach. Landing craft by the hundreds going to and from the beach. Craft loaded with rockets to blanket the beach with fire and to give us shell holes for cover as foxholes after unloading onto the beach. Rockets fired by the thousands and it is recorded also that all had fallen short. I sure would have felt safer in one of those shell holes later.
Planes had bombed the beach earlier but I saw very little evidence of it. There was a noticeable absence of planes over our beach, even German planes, which I was glad of. A couple of recon planes of the Germans and ours flew over later in the day. I read later that our planes were inland keeping the enemy planes grounded. Thank God.
I saw and heard the Coxswain say to the other crewman "This is it! Here we go!" as he waved foreword like a Cavalryman to the other craft. I remember watching the Coxswain. He seemed calm stationed in the armored box on the port stern. It gave me confidence in him. A crewman was in another box on the starboard stern with a machine gun mounted on his box that he could fire ahead. I have tried time and time again to remember if he fired while going in but I can't say that he did.
I could see things were going wrong as we slowed down to go in. Some boats were coming back after unloading, others were partly awash, but still struggling. Some were stuck, bottomed out, racing their motors and getting nowhere. Some were backing up short distances and trying again. The timing for the craft to land at intervals was as much awash as the storm. A washout. When we landed some of the assault wave was landing with us. We were supposed to land twenty minutes after the assault wave. Afterwards it was established that the assault wave was late and we were early. Confusion doesn't really describe it. Landing in this order did qualify our Company as an assault wave and gave us another Bronze Arrowhead for our ETO Ribbon and an Oak Leaf Cluster for our Unit Citation...
Recalling my feelings of those last couple of minutes I became very calm and was analyzing things surprisingly well. I was looking back at the men, confirming that they were down and in their places and ready. I remember how calm and intent the Coxswain was as he guided our craft in. I cannot give this man enough credit. I often think he must have calmed me some. It was surprising how few machine gun bullets hit our craft. I kept listening for them to hit because they certainly were flying overhead and hitting the water around us. It could have been the direct approach to the beach making us a smaller target at that point. The Coxswain did a superb job. I heard later that he actually took wounded back on his return to the Samuel Chase...
There was a huge pillbox to our right at beach level and at the base of a steep bluff. To our front a draw I believe designated as E1 on our map. To our left front a rounded Hill with the pond at its base that we were told in training we would have to cross...
It is quite a coincident that I met a man last year at our office that was on a destroyer during this time. John A. Fonner, Jr. of Largo, Florida was an observer on the control tower of a destroyer assigned to give infantry support; shore observers called in most of their targets. They couldn't see through the dust and smoke to deliver direct fire but I gave the Navy credit for the success of the invasion. Their mission was to cruise up and down this section of the beach raking the shore in front of us with as much firepower as possible...
When the ramp went down we were in kneeling positions. Private Galenti, the Radioman, and I rose to exit first. At about the second or third step I started my break to fan right. At this second Galenti was hit by what I believe was machine gun fire because it seemed there were more than one bullet. The radio was hit also and fragments flew from it. Galenti went down on the boat ramp. The fire seemed to come from our left front. I was maybe two feet ahead of him saving me from being hit with the same burst of fire. I don't recall getting my feet wet. The account of Galenti and I can be viewed on a videotape titled ‘True Glory’. I believe this tape to be of our craft until I recently learned that the craft number was not assigned to the Samuel Chase. The incident as filmed is so close to what happened to us that I sent copies of the tape to two members of our landing team and they agreed until we learned different. PFC Stephen Cicon of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania agrees. He would have been the second man off behind me and had the same opinion I did.
The burst hitting Galenti went between Steve and me. The other man to agree is PVT Arthur Schintzel of Williamsburg, Virginia. He would have been the fourth man off on our side and he agrees the tape is very graphic of what happened. Arthur's story almost ended here. When he came off he went to the right, heading for a knocked-out tank, thinking it would give him cover. Wrong! A German rifleman had the tank covered. He believes it was a rifleman because only single bullets were being fired at him. He was hit and knocked down. He stayed down until he thought it would be safe to move. He got up and was knocked down again. This happened several times and he does not remember. He was unconscious some of the time. I did not see Arthur for forty years, thinking all the time he was dead.
I stayed to the right for a short distance. Looking for any cover I headed for an obstacle made up of what appeared to be rails welded together. It reminded me of the balls and jacks we played with as kids. The beach was very smooth here, showing the absence of shell holes we were promised. I knelt by the obstacles to look around. From the craft to this point my constant thoughts were “What’s keeping me up? I must be hit. What does it feel like when you get hit?” Too many bullets were flying not to be hit. While crossing the beach I felt tugs at my pants legs several times. Searching later I found too many rips and tears to identify any as bullet holes... Bullets coming so close, make a hissing sound as they go by. Those you hear are not the ones that hit you. There is another tape I've seen on TV a couple of times usually around invasion anniversary time. I saw it first on the 40th anniversary show narrated by Walter Cronkite. I have tried in vain to locate this tape or copy it to a VHS format. It portrays more graphically the kneeling at the Jacks obstacle. This film shows my actions as I recall them and I would like to know if, in fact, it is me. I didn't stay at the obstacle long...
I spotted the shingles, a sort of raised roadbed running parallel to the beach. Many men were lying behind it. Looking like the only cover, we headed for it too. As soon as I reached the safety of the shingles I called out to Sgt. Rummell and Sgt. Haughey and they answered very close from my right. I asked if they and the men were OK and they replied “Yes” not mentioning private Schintzel, so I didn't know that he was missing until later...
Many times after bursts of machine gun or shells landing close I called out to Rummell and Haughey, asking if they were OK and they replied, “Yes.” Once I got an answer from Donald A. Heap of Atlanta, Georgia. Dale was our platoon comedian. His comment was serious, but laughable at any other time. He said “Sarge, how long do we have to put up with this shit?” As though I could do anything about it...
At the top of the roadbed was concertina wire. It would have to be blown. This was another miss for the rockets that fell short...
There was a sign on the fence that was in German, but two words I did understand, were "Achtung Minen"...
The round hill to our front rose sharply from the far edge of the pond, almost ball shaped, rounding off to our right into a draw leading inland. On the right of the draw was a cliff-like high ground as far as the eye could see, and got more cliff-like in the distance...
I believe the next event to be very important to Dr. Ambrose's D-Day history. I ask anyone monitoring these events to please bring them to his personal attention. These events can be corroborated and it is my belief, the first time to be revealed.
The unexpected help came from a man small in size, pushing a long bangalore torpedo under the wire on the roadbed. I don't know where he came from; suddenly he was there within a few feet on my right... I realized what was happening and I yelled to Rummell and Haughey and they answered. I yelled, “We’re going through!” They must have understood to respond so fast...
The torpedo man exposed himself... He turned his head in my direction, looked back, pulled the string and made only two movements backwards when he flinched, closed his eyes as he looked into mine. Death was so fast for him. His eyes seemed to have a question or pleading look in them. His head was maybe three feet from the explosion but didn’t damage him. No fire from the Germans for a couple of minutes before and if only a couple of seconds later, who knows. My head was three or four feet from the torpedo and I was closest to the path it blew in the wire. My men were behind me better than we had even done in practice. I went through the trip wire high stepping just as we did on obstacle courses. I was running so fast I hadn’t made up my mind what to do about the wire fence until I faced it. I literally dove through in a sideways dive. Hard to believe I completely cleared those strands. Not one rip or tear in my clothes or skin. I was into the pond in under ten seconds with all my men except Schintzel and Galenti following. Troops on the beach seemed to be holding back but not for long. They almost beat us to the top of the hill.
The pond was deeper than I thought...
I went through the second fence and into the minefield. I didn't see the sign. It was hanging on a fence post facing away from us. This slowed us down but not much. The mines had been planted so long ago the grass over them had died, making it easy to see the large ones. There were smaller snuffbox types that were harder to find and trip wired mines...
Another pause gave me the chance to look back at the beach. Men were now pouring through the blown wire where we came through. By chance I was looking to our left when a second torpedo blew wire about three to four hundred yards away from us. Men started streaming through there just as fast as we did. I believe they were the first men through the wire in that area. Coast Guard After Action Reports lists only one explosion in this area. I think this is where Lieutenant Spaulding came through the wire and is recorded in an interview with him. I along with my platoon sergeant saw this exit blown from near the top of the bluff...
The trenches followed the rim of the draw going inland. In a very short distance we could look across the draw and down on to entrenchments above the big pillbox. Coming back to the men I had left while scouting out the trenches we noticed movement in the entrenchments across the draw. Germans were carrying what appeared to be cases and satchels from a dugout type shelter on the edge of the cliff over the big pillbox. They were using trenches leading inland, away from the shelter. They were sitting the things down at the end of the trench, picking up other things and taking them back to the shelter. It appeared they were exchanging things; maybe empty ammo cases for full ones, I didn't know...
I started to follow the squad but they were out of sight and I couldn’t see anyone ahead. It seemed that everyone had shied away or were led away from the draw. I backtracked until I saw troops in large numbers only slightly to my left. They were moving at a very fast pace away from the beach. I could now look back on the beach. It was filled with vehicles and troops. The troops were streaming inland. Occasional German artillery fire was now coming that I believed to be 88 mm.
A two and one half ton truck loaded with Jerry cans of gasoline that was moving parallel to the beach towards the draw was hit by one single shell from a gun firing at random. One or two seconds either way and it would have missed. There was a huge fiery explosion. The largest pieces left were the frame half buried in the sand and one single wheel, continuing to roll down the beach as though nothing had happened. This was my last look at the beach as I headed inland. This is the end of the events to call to Mr. Ambrose’s attention...I
I learned I had spent the night within shouting distance of my company when I rejoined them. I caught up with the company just south of Colleyville. We spent most of the first five days in Bn. Reserve. I remember moving into a wooded area for the night that I believe was near Balleroy. In the middle of the area my platoon was assigned we found a mature man and woman and a young woman in her late teens or early twenties. They were lying on their backs, feet almost touching, and heads pointing outward, similar to a three -pointed star. They were in formal dress. He in long tales, she in a black gown, and the girl wore a white gown with pink embroidered flowers on the front. The midsection of all three had been blown away. The local authorities, from a town we could see a short distance away, were brought in and the only thing we got from them was that it was suicide. They had simply stood embracing themselves about a German potato masher. The handle to the grenade was lying amid them. They were suspected Nazi collaborators.
I asked for the particular events of the blown wire and the surrender of the entrenchments above the big pillbox brought to Dr. Ambrose's attention for their significance.
Assuming them to be true, and with no U.S. troops ahead of our team, we were the first through the wire in our area and a big contributing factor to the surrender of the entrenchments west of E1. This entrenchment controlled the beach where we landed and gave us our greatest number of casualties.The movie “The Longest Day” shows wire being blown in the same manner I described, but the movie version shows it in a very different location on the beach. It shows it happening among cliffs and rocks with a log for some protection. Our beach was different with sand and shingles. This has baffled me, since I saw the movie. Two events so similar are hard for me to accept. I know the movies are dramatized but I didn't hear any names mentioned in the movie that I recognized. Maybe they used fictitious names, but our names are real! I have felt for years this story should be told while it can be substantiated. We won't live forever! My only excuse is that I always felt the story would not be accepted and I would be embarrassed. I didn't feel I had anyone to really tell it to until now. I am thankful I saw your request on TV for D-Day Veterans. It was certainly responsible for this response. The movie “Saving Private Ryan” shows a good graphic scene of a man being the first through the wire and our latest 16th Infantry regimental history book (“Blood and Sacrifice”) lists me as that man.
Harley (on the right) at the Restaurant L'Omaha at Omaha Beach
while producing the documentary "D-Day the ultimate conflict"
In front is my dog Ginger (American Staffordshire Terrier)
D-Day the ultimate Conflict
|Harley Reynolds at the cremonies at Omaha Beach on June 6th 2008|
The wreath laying ceremony at D3 exit
Bernard Dargols, Madame Chartier, Margaret, Harley
Renaming of street down E1 Exit after Bernard Dargols.
Born in France he served with the 2nd US Division in WWII
The famous pillbox at E1 Exit.
Harley explains his experiences on D-Day to an
Right of Harley is Paul who runs the best tour company in Normandy:
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