Our assault boat hit a sandbar. I looked over the ramp and we were at least 75 yards from the shore... I told the coxswain... to drop the ramp or we were going to die right there.”
That is Lt. Robert Edlin, 2nd U.S. Ranger Battalion. He was describing the morning of June 6, 1944 – D-Day.
Edlin was 23, a rifle company platoon leader. He was in the first wave of the assault on Omaha Beach, the tip of the spear of the greatest feat of combined arms in history.
It was cold, he recalled, miserably cold, even though it was June. “The water temperature was probably 45 or 50 degrees. It was up to my shoulders when I went in, and I saw men sinking... I tried to grab a couple, but my job was to get on in and get to the guns.”
Edlin had joined the Indiana National Guard when he was 17. He went to officer training, war came and he volunteered for the prestigious Rangers.
When he finally got to the beach that day, he ran. He saw infantrymen pinned down behind obstacles.
“You gotta get up and go!” he screamed as he moved past.
They did not.
“There were mines and obstacles all up and down the beach,” he said. “The air corps had missed it entirely. There were no shell holes in which to take cover. The mines had not been detonated. Absolutely nothing that had been planned for that part of the beach had worked.”
Edlin kept going.
A bullet shattered his right leg. He crawled to retrieve his rifle, rose on his left leg and was hit in that leg, too. But let us leave him for a moment in Normandy.
Five weeks later, he was leading a small patrol through a minefield in France, near Le Conquet, trying to get a German coastal battery to surrender. His troops were not green anymore and neither was he.
Forcing his way into the commander’s headquarters, Edlin took a grenade, pulled the pin, and held the grenade to the commander’s stomach, making him surrender the fort, his troops and four 280-mm guns. Edlin won the Medal of Honor, but he refused it so he could stay with his platoon.
On D-Day, he could not see a minute ahead. Wounded in both legs, he lay on that beach. He spotted another Ranger, Butch Bladorn from Wisconsin, and screamed at him:“Get up and run!”
“I can’t,” Bladorn said.
“I got up and hobbled towards him. I was going to kick him in the ass... He was lying on his stomach, his face in the sand. Then I saw the blood coming out of his back. ... Even then, I was sorry for screaming at him.”
Edlin tried to crawl forward. “I managed a few yards, then blacked out for several minutes. When I came to, I saw Sgt. Bill Klaus... He crawled back to me under heavy rifle and mortar fire and dragged me up to the cover of the wall.”
Edlin looked to the tops of the cliffs and knew he could not climb. He crawled back toward the surf. Then he saw the 5th Rangers coming through the smoke of a burning landing craft, hit by German artillery.
Edlin gathered the wounded, made sure they were armed and said, “If the Germans come, we are either going to be captured or die on the beach, but we might as well take the Germans with us.”
“I know, it sounds ridiculous,” he later explained.
He lay with the other wounded Rangers on Omaha, praying Rangers, someone, would get to the guns.
“I looked back to the sea. There was nothing. There were no reinforcements. I thought the invasion had been abandoned. We would be dead or prisoners soon. ...
“Some guy crawled over and told me he was a colonel from the 29th Infantry Division. He said for us to relax, we were going to be OK. ... The guns had been destroyed. A and B Companies and the 5th Rangers were inland...
“This colonel looked at me and said, ‘You’ve done your job.’”
“How?” Edlin answered.