Omaha Beach was a mess on the morning of June 6, 1944; unspeakable horror was evident everywhere along the deadly stretch of sand. The chaos was so severe that the invasion of Normandy was in jeopardy of failing because the American troops were confused, pinned down by enemy crossfire, and dying by the minute.
Then “Dutch” arrived and changed everything.
Brigadier General Norman “Dutch” Cota had foreseen this scenario. He knew the risky D-Day Invasion would be a grim and costly encounter with the enemy, thus, he spent much of the war’s early years trying to prepare the officers of his 29th Infantry Division. He warned his men about every possible battlefield scenario they might encounter.
And on June 6, 1944, those warnings proved invaluable. Omaha Beach was a nightmare; explosions, gunfire, the roar of aircraft overhead, shelling, and bombardment combined for a deafening noise. But the men in the 29th also suffered because whole units had accidentally landed at the wrong places. The chaos created carnage. Bodies were floating in the water, strewn across the sand, and draped across the German-placed beach obstacles.
This was the situation that General “Dutch” Cota swam into. Still 50 yards from shore, he and his men dropped into waist deep water – with enemy fire riddling them – and waded ashore. Dutch, with his characteristic unlit cigar clenched between his teeth, sprinted toward some of his men who were pinned down just beyond the water’s edge.
Knowing the beach had already been targeted by German artillery, he quickly organized a strategy for moving his men off the sand. Troops with Bangalore torpedoes were summoned to blast an opening through the barbed wire and razor mesh. With a passageway exposed, Dutch led a trickle of men past the sea wall and toward the enemy. More men quickly followed.
But then the Germans trained intense repulsion fire on the terrified men. The man on point was cut down by their machine guns, and this setback once again caused Dutch’s men to stop their advance and take shelter. Dutch realized that if his men were going to survive the morning, they had to move…and move quickly.
So, the 51-year-old, one star general stood up with his pistol and raced through the gap, yelling for his men to do the same. When they saw his courageous act, the 29th followed. They soon advanced beyond the beachhead, through a field, across a road, and pushed the Nazi soldiers from their fortified positions. Now that Omaha Beach had its first opening, Cota turned around, went back with his men, and opened up another.
Most historians agree: were it not for the leadership displayed by Norman “Dutch” Cota, the invasion on Omaha Beach may have been turned back. Even though Dutch’s (crucial) role repeatedly put him in harm’s way, it was a role he played his entire career.
Once, a well-intentioned officer suggested that Dutch took too many chances. The seasoned general replied, “Now look. I was a poor country boy form the Pennsylvania Dutch country. I heard about West Point, and that it was free, and I went. I made a contract with the government; if they paid for my education, I would serve them. Part of my contract was to die for my country if necessary. I intend to stick to it. If I get killed, then so be it.”
That is the same sort of attitude the Apostle Paul displayed in Caesarea in Acts 21:10-15.
After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.” After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.
Best Little Stories from World War II by C. Brian Kelly. Cumberland House, 1998, Pages 263-267.
Topics Illustrated Include:
World War II
(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)