There was a big French battleship blazing away right next to us, and the Germans zeroed in on us with their 88s as we put the rope over the side and started to swarm down into the landing craft. As soon as I got down the rope ladder, the very spot where I should have been waiting on the ship was hit by an 88, and half a dozen tankmen were blown up. The chaplain I had been talking to was wounded.
The landing craft went in as far as it could, and then there were still a couple of hundred yards – quite a way to go yet. I climbed in the Jeep and revved her up. I had packed it with sandbags so we could get some hold on the sandy beach, five or six guys loaded on so we’d get some traction on the bottom. We couldn’t afford to float around; we had to have traction.
In we went with water up to our necks, and the pipe going up in the air, and all the guys who jumped on to help weight it down yelling, “Go Nibs! Keep going! Keep going!” All I had to do was press on the gas and it would go straight ahead, and it didn’t stall at all in six, seven feet of water. She did handsomely. It plowed right in and we were making towards the shore — buh, buh, buh, buh, with water up to our necks and the men cheering, “Go Nibs, go!” It must’ve been quite spectacular.
We were the first jeep to come in, so naturally the German 88s on the shore tried hard to stop us, first landing shells in front and then behind, and followed us all the way in, but they didn’t hit us. There was one command car ahead of us driven by a big redheaded Kentuckian, and that disappeared and was never seen again. The 88s were splashing on all sides and jets of water were going up — it was an exciting ride.
I wasn’t afraid, I was too busy thinking about whether those wheels on the jeep would make contact and we’d keep going. If you lost your momentum, that would be frightening. But your heart is pounding, your adrenaline’s up, it’s that excitement that nature provides as your protection to keep you from being paralyzed by fear. As I’ve heard it said so many times, in battle you’re too busy or too excited to be frightened. So I was thinking about the Jeep and where to find our position and the like. Fear is the unknown, the uncertainty — there’s always that nagging fear when you don’t know what the score is. If you know what the danger is, that’s not so bad.
I did a good job of waterproofing the jeep because it got to shore very well through that long stretched-out beach that goes out forever at low tide. A lot of them stalled in the water, but mine didn’t. We moved ahead and they cheered us on and we landed all right with German gunners popping 88 at us all the way; then we got up to the road and everybody scattered in all four directions.
We were given instructions on how to find the headquarters. Everything was to be gauged by a certain windmill, which was to show us where we were. Of course they bombed the daylights out of it before we came and there was no windmill in sight. Everybody wandered around all over the place; I blundered into places. Things were going bad. Very bad.
The first thing after landing, I did something I thought I could never do. We were trying to get to a farm there, but I was about to eat this bar of hard, bitter chocolate. We were pinned down and they started shooting in our direction, so we got into foxholes. There had just been a battle there recently and I jumped into a foxhole that was full of spattered brains. There was a helmet full of brains, and it was just a bloody mess in there, and I still had this chocolate bar in my hand. Well, I immediately lost my appetite. And then, after a few minutes, I was so hungry I calmly ate the chocolate in this grave just as unconcerned as anything. I never thought I could do a thing like that, but apparently you can shut off certain parts of the brain. I thought I could never face that sort of thing– it would be terrible; I’d lose my appetite. But you have to eat. I thought, “Well, this is the way war’s going to be, might as well get used to it.” I wouldn’t do that again, though.
[Excerpted from Sergeant Nibley PhD: Memories of an Unlikely Screaming Eagle]