- The Washington Times - Friday, June 4, 2004

Sixty years ago, Nathan Reed lay at the foot of the cliffs on Normandy’s Omaha Beach, his jaw and eardrum shattered and his right knee mangled from a German grenade while one of the fiercest battles of World War II raged around him.

A medic came by to stop his bleeding and administer morphine, but the wounded soldier would lay there for two days without food or water as Allied ships and planes bombarded German positions above him.

“You laid there and wondered if the cliffs were going to come down on you,” said Mr. Reed, 88, who resides at the U.S. Soldiers and Airmen’s Home in the District. “The Fourth of July is small compared to what they had there [on D-Day].”

Veterans, government leaders and ordinary citizens here and abroad tomorrow will commemorate the 60th anniversary of D-Day — June 6, 1944 — the massive Allied invasion that led to the liberation of Europe from Nazi domination.

Several heads of state will take part in ceremonies during which President Bush will lay a wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Among those in attendance will be several veterans from Maryland, Virginia and the District, as well as Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

Meanwhile, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor tomorrow, a memorial service and an aerial wreath drop will take place on the SS John W. Brown, one of only two World War II-era Liberty ships still sailing.

In Virginia, sailors will demonstrate landing techniques at the Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach. And the last surviving World War II Comanche code talker, Charles Chibbity, will deliver the invocation at the D-Day memorial in Bedford — the Virginia village that lost more men per capita during the invasion than any other American town.

Mr. Reed, who was a private in the Army Ranger 2nd Battalion, will remain in the District this weekend, but the memories of his D-Day landing will not fade away.

His battalion was assigned to scale the cliffs and destroy four large guns that were targeting Allied ships. Mr. Reed’s boat fired its grappling hooks at the cliffs too soon, and they fell short. After he and another soldier had fired a smaller hook, he was standing at the bottom of a cliff holding the rope so the other man could climb up.

A grenade exploded between him and the cliff, leaving him severely wounded. After two days on the beach, he was taken to a hospital in England and eventually spent three years in different hospitals.

“You hate to be butchered up. It was a bad job, but somebody had to do it. And I volunteered. They didn’t force me to go,” Mr. Reed said.

Wheelchair-bound and a widower for several years, he still carries the picture of his wife, Gladys, that he had encased in plastic and carried in his pocket on D-Day.

The invasion’s air assault by U.S. paratroopers was also problematic. Foul weather and heavy antiaircraft fire scattered soldiers far from their drop zones.

“The drop was the biggest fiasco in the history of drops. I don’t think anyone dropped where they were supposed to drop,” said Ed Shames, a platoon sergeant in the 101st Airborne’s famous E “Easy” Company during the invasion.

“The stuff was coming through the chute and you could hear it. It was frightening, and when I got down on the ground I had no more idea than a man on the moon where I was,” he said from his home in Virginia Beach.

After dropping into France, Mr. Shames asked a local farmer for directions, subduing the man’s wife to keep her from screaming, and he picked up 18 men en route to his objective, which was to secure two bridges over the Douve River.

He and his men held off German advances for three days before being replaced by reinforcements. Mr. Shames said they convinced the Germans they had artillery by lobbing small pieces of C-2 explosives at them.

During the fighting, a bullet flew across the bridge of Mr. Shames’ nose, taking off an eighth of an inch — enough “that my mother knew the difference when I came home,” he said.

Mr. Shames, 80, plans to attend a D-Day commemoration in Reading, Pa., tomorrow.

“Every day I wake up and look in the mirror and say, ‘Thank God’ for another day,” he said. “I think back to what was done, how we did it. Of course I lost a lot of good friends in that thing.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide