'This Is It!': American Rifleman at D-Day

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posted on June 6, 2020
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Bill Shadel was one of only 28 American journalists to take part in the D-Day invasion. Shadel had been editor of American Rifleman and donned a uniform in 1943 to cover the war for the magazine, and on the radio for the Columbia Broadcasting System.

The below letter appeared in the August 1944 issue, which featured NRA Life Member Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on the cover.

LETTER FROM D-DAY

June 12, 1944

As you’ve probably guessed from my long silence, I’ve been in quarantine-not from illness, but “for reasons of security!” ... The story of D-Day and the hours leading up to it is simply too big for description. If I could only make you see that trip: steaming south through endless formations of transports and landing craft and escort vessels; our anxiety as the weather worsened, kicking up a sea that rocked the smaller craft and would make landings hazardous; the postponement of D-Day for 24 hours; the mounting tension of those 24 hours, to our point of rendezvous and the knowledge that “this is it!” But all of that, big as it seemed to us as we lived it, faded before the enormity of the scenes that followed. The night pyrotechnics staged by our air forces began at H-minus-five hours. It grew; drew nearer as we ourselves slid slowly in to our own positions under the German guns.

The terrible, terrifying magnitude of that dawn! The thrill of realizing, as we watched hit-splashes rise beside a sister ship, that this was real shooting-back war! The shock of realizing, an instant later, that we, too, were under fire from Jerry’s shore batteries! (Unbelievable that you can actually see those big projectiles lobbing at you-but it’s true! Others on the open bridge beside me remarked about it, too.)

It was a grandstand seat to the biggest show the world has ever seen; near enough to look down on those little boats with their huddled doughboys, bobbing in toward shore ... to see, through binoculars, the fire encountered by the first wave; to see an LCT blow up before our eyes and a destroyer pounded to death with, first, a lucky hit, and then, when she was paralyzed, with a bracketing of fire that put her under in a few minutes ... planes, some of them on fire, dropping in the Bay around us ... survivors rescued by PT boats being brought alongside ... others, not so lucky, floating by after a few hours or days, stiffened corpses in the contorted shapes of last-second efforts for survival.

The censors here tell me that over two-and-a-half-million words have gone over their desks already, trying to tell the story of D-Day and the landings in Normandy. But it’s a story that can never be told. Its magnitude, and the heroism of the men who landed, living or dead, on those beaches, are beyond the power of the written word, it’s done; D-Day is history. V-Day-the day of victory-is nearer for the price they paid. ... Let’s see to it, this time, that they did not pay that price in vain!

-Bill Shadel, War Correspondent

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