I recalled having read an article about my mother’s father. I asked the Miami Herald if they could help. They did. This was my original email
Many many years ago, I believe it was your paper which interviewed my grandfather Raymond Snyder, on a Veterans Day. He spoke about being both at Normandy and at the Battle of the Bulge. Is there a digital copy of that to be found? Or is there a copy you can send me?
This would have been in the early 80
The whole article is great, but my grandfather’s testimony is in bold. The battles he was in, you’re not supposed to have survived any of them. That’s what makes it such a powerful article for me.
I may have found the correct story. I will paste it in below.
Miami Herald Store
FOR DADE VETS, D-DAY LINGERS 40 YEARS LATER
Reporter: J.P. FABER Miami News Reporter
Print Run Date: 6/2/1984
Digital Run Date:
IT IS 40 YEARS later and still that name rings with a sting that will linger long after the last player has passed on: D-Day.
A lifetime ago and an ocean away, an army of frightened and seasick American men lurched from cramped steel landing craft and crawled onto patches of beach with code names like “Omaha” and “Utah.”
On a grassy hill overlooking those beaches, almost 1,500 of them stayed behind forever. Another 2,000 were never found, most presumably shot or drowned offshore.
“Sometimes I don’t ever want to think of it, ” says John Pace of Hialeah. “I didn’t think about it for a long time, so I wouldn’t go crazy. And now when I do, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m still here. A lot of my buddies didn’t make it.”
Pace is one of dozens of Dade County veterans who took part in what was, and still is, the greatest seaborne invasion in military history: D-Day, June 6, 1944, when 58,000 soldiers of the American First Army and 75,000 of the British Second Army hit the beaches at Normandy, France, and cracked Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
It marked the apex of America’s power and moral stature, when goals were clear and the country united. It also marked a baptism of fire for thousands of the soldiers, especially at Omaha, a punishing fight where 90 percent of the Allied casaulties occurred.
* * * IT WAS 10 p.m. on June 5 when a 27-year-old pilot named
John Bolender warmed up the engines of his C-47 transport plane.
That morning, Gen. David Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander, had talked to Army weathermen and given his famous command, “OK, we’ll go.” The next morning, six divisions — three U.S., one Canadian and two British — would have a window of good weather and they’d storm the French beaches from small, clumsy landing craft. If the invasion waited another day, it would have to be delayed for a month because of changing tides.
Eighteen paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division clambered aboard Bolender’s plane. They were “so loaded up with gear they had to be boosted up into the plane, ” he recalled.
An hour later he had lifted his C-47 off the runway in the English Midlands and was barreling through a sky as black as death toward the northeast of France. It was the first phase of the invasion — dropping paratroopers into the French countryside behind the beaches where footsoldiers would slosh ashore.
“We dropped on the city of Saint Mere-Eglise (inland from the beaches), ” recalled Bolender, a Coral Gables resident who moved to South Florida after the war. “That was where the highway and railroad went through. It was the job of the paratroopers to cut off Cherbourg (the largest nearby city with German reinforcements) from the rest of civlization.
“We dropped off the paratroopers four hours before the beach landings so they could do their thing.”
By the time Bolender had crossed the English Channel, he was part of an 822-plane formation. The paratroopers sat silent in the bellies of the planes, their faces rubbed black with burnt cork.
The planes thundered across unchallenged, and swooped in low over the French countryside to avoid detection.
Some came in so low — less than 500 feet — that chutes couldn’t open in time and men just smashed into the ground. Others were bogged down in water-logged fields, flooded weeks before by the Germans to slow potential invaders.
But most of them, members of the 82nd and 101st “Screaming Eagles” Airborne divisions, made it. As Bolender turned his plane around for the return flight, the first gunfire broke out below.
A hundred miles back, churning across the English channel toward Normandy, came the First American Army. To their left, the British and the Canadians were surging toward beaches east of the American landing zones.
But the British would not meet the same kind of resistance as the Americans, for a number of reasons: Their artillery pounded the beaches for almost 90 minutes longer than the Americans; their troops did not land on beaches lined with cliffs; their soldiers did not run into the only crack German troops on the front.
Hitler, in a curious act of intuition two months earlier, had transferred his 352nd Division to the area. The presence of one of the few first-rate German divisions in northern France had been missed by U.S. intelligence.ALL OF THAT WAS unknown to John Pace, a sergeant assigned to a reconnaissance unit in the first wave aimed at Omaha Beach.
When Pace and his buddies boarded their rain-drenched troop transport ship the Monday afternoon before D-Day, they were uncertain of their destination — the invasion was that secret. One of the rumors was that they were bound for the Mediterranean.
“We were driven from a place called Middlewallup to South Hampton, ” Pace recalled. “We were put into boats that afternoon. It was real dark and pouring down rain. It was foggy and cloudy and a mess. We had no idea where we were going.”
On board, Pace and his company learned they were part of the invasion spearhead, headed to France, part of the great “crusade, ” as Eisenhower called it, to liberate Europe from the Nazis.
After crossing the channel in heaving seas and pounding rain, the troop transport ships settled about 12 miles off the French coast before dawn. Pace and his cohorts scaled down rope webbing that formed a loose ladder on the sides of the ship. They piled into a landing craft that bobbed in the swells of dark water.
“We were a recon unit. There were 20 of us, and three officers. We were well trained for our job, which was to help direct incoming artillery. But it was a mission we never got to complete.”
As the landing craft approached shore, it drifted into the sights of a German gunner. A shell exploded and created a huge arch of water in the ocean.
“That thing just turned over and we all tumbled out, ” Pace recalled. “They were firing from every which way. It seemed like they were just waiting for us. An hour later, just about everybody was dead on the beach. It was all I could do to keep from being killed.”
Pace used a trick he had learned as a Boy Scout growing up in North Carolina — cupping air in a bucket and breathing under water. The bucket on D-Day was his helmet, and it saved his life.
“It seems like all I did was hide under the water that day, right near the beach. We were all pinned down so we couldn’t move, and they raked the bodies with machine guns.”
Other troops who hit the beach fared almost as badly. Of 29 amphibious tanks assigned to back up the first wave at Omaha, 27 sank before reaching shore, drowning most crewmen.SIX HOURS AFTER that first wave, the deepest penetration by the soldiers on Omaha was 500 yards in from the water line. Casualties were heavy — some units lost half their men in the first 30 minutes at Omaha.
Bolender returned to England and loaded another batch of paratroopers for a second run over France. This one was in broad daylight. And the Germans knew they were coming.
“The second time in we caught hell, ” Bolender recalled. “It wasn’t so much the anti-aircraft fire. We were too low for that. It was the small arms fire, and we got shot up pretty bad.”
In that wave was John Barr of Leisure City, loaded down with 100 pounds of gear. A member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Barr already had been wounded at Anzio in the Italian campaign. For this mission, the men had undergone rigorous training “where they put it into your head that you could beat any five other men.”
The planes came in low again, taking heavy ground fire. Some of the planes were so ripped up they broke apart with paratroopers still aboard.
Barr’s C-47 made it through. As it slowed down over the drop zone, he clipped his parachute cord onto the jump cable.
“They yelled, ‘Hookup and checkup.’ and we shuffled down the plane and jumped the hell out.”
On the ground, Barr and his fellow paratroopers freed themselves from their parachutes and formed combat squadrons. They scattered over a wide area and immediately began mixing it up with German garrison soldiers.
“It was no fun, I can tell you that. None of it was fun. There was a hell of a lot of firing that day and a hell of a lot of killing.”
By afternoon they had slogged across the flooded fields and fought their way into Saint Mere-Eglise, the first French town liberated. Residents raced to greet them and invited them to dinner.
Meanwhile, Bolender had run into trouble overhead.
“First we lost the right engine when a shot went through the air cooler. Then we took a shot on the fuel line in the second engine.”
Turning back toward England, Bolender and his co-pilot used a handpump called a “wabble” to squeeze fuel past a bullet leak in the line.
“We pumped that airplane by hand all the way back to England. I didn’t know if we were going to make it until we got there.”
* * * REINFORCEMENTS CONTINUED to pour into Omaha. Soldiers of
the 1st Infantry — the “Big Red One” — were backed up by the
29th Infantry. Navy guns continued to pound
German defenses. The Americans advanced inland, yard by yard, working their way between the German strong points.
The German 352nd Division had an excellent position, dominating the beach from 100-foot cliffs just off the beach. It was that seemingly impregnable defense that later prompted First Army Commander Omar Bradley to remark, “Every man who set foot on Omaha Beach that day was a hero.”
To the west, at Utah Beach, the going was considerably smoother. Instead of steep cliffs, the invading Americans came across flat marshes, while paratroopers looped in with ease, sometimes landing directly atop the enemy. There were fewer Germans and their defense positions were weak.
The Americans landing at Utah suffered only 200 casualties all day.
To the west, the British and Canadians were cleaning up, supported by tanks and heavy artillery.
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the famed “Desert Fox” of North Africa, was the defending commander. By sheer bad luck, he had gone on leave the day before the invasion, and he spent all of D-Day heading back to the front.
In his absence, Hitler made all the decisions, and most were bad ones. Although he had once believed the Allies would land in Normandy, on the day of the invasion he became convinced it was a diversion to draw German troops away from the real point of attack.
He did not allow the Germans to counterattack until 10 hours after the first landing. Even then, the feeble attack — against the British — was beaten back.
* * * WHEN D-DAY ENDED, 23,250 Americans had landed
on Utah. At Omaha, 34,250 had made it ashore. An additional 10,000 paratroopers landed across a 20-mile area, but only a few thousand had organized into fighting units by the end of the day.
By nightfall, the human wreckage on Omaha Beach was devastating. The beach was strewn with wrecked barricades, overturned and damaged landing craft, soldiers half buried in sand. Survivors were exhuasted.
John Pace had managed to crawl forward from the beach, where he had been pinned down by intensive gunfire most of the day.
“When it got dark I could scramble around and find K-ration tins on the beach that had been washed up. You had to fumble around the dead bodies. It stunk so bad you couldn’t stand it.”
Ray Snyder of Homestead was a member of the 1st Infantry Division sent to reinforce the beachhead.
“Let me tell you, that beach was a mess, ” Snyder recalled. “There were bodies everywhere.”
* * * MANY OF THE MEN who survived D-Day went on to other
battles, lost other friends and then came home.
Bolander transferred with the Army Air Corps to South Florida, where he reamained and worked as an airline sales representative. He reamined active in veteran affairs. Last week, as a member of the United Veterans Council of Dade County, he helped install the granite memorial to fallen soldiers in Tropical Park during a Memorial Day ceremony.
Sick of the military after the war, Pace turned down an offer from West Point and moved to Miami to marry his sweatheart. They settled in Hialeah, where he became a contractor and raised a family of five.
Barr spent a year in hospitals recovering from a severe head wound. He was hit by shrapnel at Anzio, pressed back into duty at Normandy, and then hospitalized after the was for his earlier wounds. Then he used the GI Bill to learn the jewelry trade. He settled in Miami in 1946 and worked in a downtown store.
Snyder worked as a plumber in New Jersey until 1977, then retired to Homestead. His stepson fought in Vietnam.
For many D-Day survivors, the emotional war lasted long after the fighting ended. Some were haunted by flashbacks. Even now, Pace has to fight off tears when he thinks of that longest day.
“I lost a lot of friends that day, ” he said. “I know it’s 40 years ago, but it still gets to me.”
His wife recalls how he jumped up from a dead sleep one night, ran screaming into the kitchen and dove under a table. He thought he was under fire.
Barr doesn’t want anything to do with the memories. “Watching these things over the last few days, on TV and all, just makes me sick, ” he said. “That was a damn bloody day, and it makes me sick to hear anybody brag about killing. I don’t like to think about it.”
Bolander has become philosophical about it. “In retrospect, the only thing we could do — as corny as this may sound — was to try to save the world for democracy. What Hitler did to the people of Europe, to humanity, somebody had to stop that. And we never really started to until we got into Normandy. That was the real turning point.”
Snyder, 18 at the time of the invasion, kept fighting — at St. Lo, the Falaise Pocket, the Battle of the Bulge. But nothing matched D-Day and the Normandy invasion, he said.
“We were what was called the Bloody Red One (the First Division.) Not that we weren’t all scared as we could be. Anyone who has ever been in combat and says he wasn’t scared is a liar.
“But we knew we’d done it, and every one of us was damn proud of it.”