An Interview with Herb Epstein
|The primary mission of the
5th Ranger Battalion was to support the Second Rangers' attack on the cliffs at
Pointe-du-Hoc. Their "backup" mission was to attack Pointe-du-Hoc from the rear
which placed them amidst some of the most severe action during the Omaha Beach landings:
The Vierville Draw.
At a critical
moment, stalled at the seawall on the beach, Brig. General Norman "Dutch" Cota,
the Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Division had a famous meeting with the 5th
Ranger Battalion's commander, Colonel Max Schneider. There, watching, was Herb Epstein.
Intelligence Sergeant, Headquarters Company, 5th Ranger Battalion
|We were dropped into the channel from the
mother ship at about 4:30 in the morning. I was the intelligence sergeant in headquarters
company so a few weeks prior to the invasion I was put into a Quonset hut that had triple
Concertina wire around it and was under 24 hour guard. I was tasked with modifying a scale
model of the invasion area that we had gotten from the States. I typically worked 18-20
hour days preparing for the briefing on the invasion.
We were about 10 miles from shore and given bags in case anyone got sick. Everyone was throwing them away because we had never had any problems in our prior training exercises. For some reason or another I gathered them up. As we were going in a number of the fellows became ill so I started handing out the bags (laugh).
Well anyway we started in on our initial objective to support the Second Battalion on cliffs at Pointe-du-Hoc. They were then supposed to signal us by radio to follow them in to take the guns at the tops of the cliffs; that is what we had trained for. We never got the signal. So our second objective was to land on Omaha beach - and attack Pointe-du-Hoc from the rear. This is something we had trained for with the commandos in Scotland many times. Including live ammunition exercises.
As we made our way into the beach there were a lot of obstacles in the water. We were getting a large amount fire. Fortunately we were also receiving a lot of naval gunfire as we were heading in from the battleship Texas and some of the smaller ships. They were hitting the shore pretty consistently. I didn't notice any close-in air support.
As A and B were proceeding us into the beach, Colonel Schneider decided to land at the Veirville Draw because the men that preceded us in the 29th division were under murderous fire on the beach and having a hard time getting out of the boats. The fire was so intense and Colonel Schneider was observing this fire, we were in the lead boat at the time. As we got close to the shore, Schneider commanded the boat flotilla captain to swing the whole group left, parallel to the beach. So instead of landing at Dog Green according to the battle plan, we landed further to the east. As we were going parallel to the beach Schneider saw an area that wasn't too hot and ordered the flotilla commander "to get us in and get us in fast." We turned again another 90 degrees and they got us to water that wasn't very deep, at least it was reasonably dry where they landed my boat. There was a lot of artillery and mortar fire coming in and a lot of men lying on the beach.
After we left the boat, we had to run about 100 yards across the beach to the seawall. When we hit the seawall, which was roughly about 4 feet high, we laid down prone behind the wall. We were there a very short time and General Cota the assistant division commander of the 29th Division came over to our position. I was lying on the sand next to Colonel Schneider as Cota walked up and called for him. Schneider stood up and the two were standing there while all this firing was going on and General Cota said to him, "Colonel we are counting on the Rangers to lead the way." Schneider said, "yes sir!" and Cota walked back east. And as Schneider dropped down to the ground near me I said to him "what the hell were you doing?" And he said to me, "well he was standing and I wasn't going to be laying down here."
Anyway he got a hold of a couple of company officers and told them to get going. Using Bangalor Torpedoes, they blew the holes in the wire and we pushed forward. Elements of their platoon and headquarters went up the slope, which wasn't a cliff, but was nevertheless steep. Just about as we were going up a LCI came in behind us. It took a direct hit and went up in a sheet of flames about 150 feet high. We later learned it had some of the command group from the 29th Division. When I went back for the 40th anniversary the burnt out hulk still remained on the beach. We went up to the top of the slope, which was very heavily mined, but made it through with little casualties. We got to the road area and the line companies were fighting on both sides of the road. We then headed for the town of Veirville and Headquarters company setup a CP in one of the small farms outside the town.
That night I had to walk down to the beach area to find ammunition. There appeared to be over a thousand dead bodies on the beach. That day was my first face-to-face encounter with combat and death.
Interview by Pat O'Donnell
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