Seventy Years Ago Today: Utah Beach, Normandy

Photo of American soldiers onboard a ship approaching the coast of Normandy.

American soldiers wait onboard their ship as they approach the coast of Normandy, June 6, 1944. Photo: National Archive

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.

Photo of a jeep driving through water from a landing craft.

A jeep drives off through water toward the beach in Normandy, D-Day, June 6, 1944. Photo: National Archive

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]

About Hugh Nibley

Hugh Nibley, 1910-2005, was simultaneously the LDS Church's greatest intellectual defender from attack from the outside and Mormon culture's strongest critic from the inside. This blog is composed mainly from Nibley's unpublished writings, letters, interviews and conversations, with occasional posts from associates who had personal interactions with him.
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35 Responses to Seventy Years Ago Today: Utah Beach, Normandy

  1. Leksana TH says:

    The history .. reminds us about how we choose to live today ..

  2. One of the greatest landing ….they have done splendid job ..our salute to them…

  3. Sharman Hummel says:

    You will want to see my site and the free download of my book.

    http://www.nibleys-commentary.com/

    Also you will find my book at Amazon.com.

  4. thesword96 says:

    Reblogged this on The Lawyer's Post and commented:
    A first hand account of the Normany landings, June 6, 1944. Omaha Beach was the bloodiest sector of the Normandy landings, and where most of the American casualties of the landing occurred. The longest day indeed!

  5. fresnohing says:

    Reblogged this on Journal of the Sacramento River and commented:
    Not as long ago as I once thought

  6. John Cooke says:

    We had a local connection to the 70th anniversary here in Cape May. Quite touching: Thanks for sharing your story.

    http://cookecapemay.wordpress.com/2014/06/08/local-people-in-national-news/

  7. hsboatwright says:

    Thank you for this.

  8. Pete Buckley says:

    Reading a first hand account makes it far more real than any movie or news reel… excellent post.

  9. I wish I could have read or watched everything about this day yesterday. So many heroes, so little time….

  10. Sig Nordal says:

    Reblogged this on Sigurdur Nordal and commented:
    Seventy Years Ago Today: Utah Beach, Normandy

  11. Thank you. I was travelling back and forth to Normandy over the past week and took some pics of my travels. It was all very moving.

  12. aprlmurray says:

    I love the story with the pictures.. I lost my grand father sometime between july -sept of 1944. I never knew him, and he never knew my Dad. God bless our brave soldiers who fought so bravely during this era.

  13. john hauge says:

    very nice. they’re all about gone now. my dad was one of them. he passed away almost 2 years ago. he was 95. he was also in one of the last waves a few days later with a bastard anti-aircraft battery, his words. may god bless them all.

  14. cozo5711 says:

    Without these Brave Soldiers where would you be now? They put their life on the line for the U.S.A. & all of Humanity.
    Please Support our Troops .

  15. au moment de ma naissance , beaucoup de batailles

  16. Kumar Rajgeet says:

    Said in unison that they cant be rulexd by dictators

  17. Kumar Rajgeet says:

    A day wen free people

  18. PoshPedlar says:

    Lest we forget. Thanks for sharing a very touching piece.

  19. segmation says:

    So hard to believe it has been 70 years! Thanks for sharing.

  20. William Kettley says:

    What an unforgettable experience. The cemetery on Normandy received some 10,000 bodies of our men that day alone, June 6, 1944. What a scourge is war ! Two of my brothers were taught by Brother Nibley at BYU, and declared him the best ! Thanks.

  21. milly09 says:

    Reblogged this on 82 leathers lane and commented:
    #DDay70

  22. Reblogged on The Wandering Bard’s blog. The first reblog ever.

  23. Reblogged this on The Wandering Bard's Blog and commented:
    In memory of so many heroes that were somebody’s sons, husbands, brothers and fathers.

  24. Thank you for posting.

  25. Roger Nield says:

    Reblogged this on Simple Things and commented:
    in memoriam

  26. Don Nielsen says:

    I love this exerpt and the book from which it comes. The best professor at BYU when I was there. What an incredible impact he had on me and continues to have. I am thinking about him, my dad, my uncles and the rest of the great generation on this hallowed day. Thank you for sharing this.

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