The phrase "Fog of War" is a catchall expression for any number of blunders in combat. Basically, the "Fog of War" or "Nebel des Krieges" in German, as noted by the renowned Prussian military analyst Carl Von Clausewitz, is the hesitation, indecision and/or lack of situational awareness in combat or military operations. A military text in 1896 describes the "Fog of War" in less than diplomatic terms, calling it "the state of ignorance" brought on by a lack of military intelligence.
Such is the case during the Battle of Normandy. Certainly not intentional, especially considering the scope of the Normandy Invasion, yet in researching D-Day (June 6, 1944) one will soon discover the fighting that followed, referred to as the Battle of Normandy, ended in mid-July, where other accounts consider the waning days of August 1944 as the conclusion. Albeit, the two month continuous combat included the Battle for Saint-Lo, Caen, Cherbourg, bloody hand-to-hand combat in the Bocage (hedgerows), and the German entrapment in the Falaise Gap, to mention just a few.
When discussing or celebrating anniversaries of D-Day, as the world just celebrated the 75th anniversary of the landings, the soldiers involved are usually referred to as American, English and Canadian. Left out of the equation are the soldiers from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, the Netherlands, Poland and Norway. Too, American Medal of Honor recipients from June through August are numbered 10 in one "official" account, 13 in "THE official account," whereas I dug a bit deeper and discovered 15. And these are their stories.
Carlton W. Barrett joined the Army in 1940. As a member of the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division, he landed on D-day near St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France. Private Barrett waded ashore in neck-deep surf under intense enemy fire, made it safely to the beach, yet returned to the water numerous times to rescue comrades from drowning and/or carry the wounded to an evacuation boat. Due to his calmness under fire, the remaining soldiers turned to Barrett for guidance during the fighting and confusion. He survived the war and served in the Army until retiring in 1963.
Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith of the 1st Division, the Big Red One, fought in Algeria and Italy before participating in the D-Day Invasion. On Omaha Beach, his men were left in the open when their accompanying tanks became stuck in sea and sand. Monteith led 51 men into the water, then stormed the beach, yet half of his soldiers were shot or drowned before reaching the shore. Under heavy enemy fire, Monteith ran to each of the survivors and rallied his troops, then led an assault over open ground, leading tanks (some landed after the tide came in) through an enemy minefield before capturing the high ground. They pushed on, until completely surrounded by the enemy. During the scuffle, Monteith was shot and killed, one month shy of his 27th birthday. Monteith Hall at Virginia Tech, which he attended before the war, was built and named in his honor in 1949.
John J. Pinder Jr. played professional baseball before being drafted in 1942. He fought with the Big Red One in Africa then traveled to England to prepare for D-Day. Pinder had obtained the rank of Technician 5th Grade and was in charge of his unit’s communications equipment. On Omaha Beach, he carried the heavy equipment through the surf but was shot as he waded ashore. Pinder refused medical treatment and continued on to secure his equipment. He went back into the surf three times to salvage other communications equipment. On his third and last trip, Pinter was shot again, yet still refused medical aid. He continued to set up a communications station but was shot a third time, this time fatally on June 6, 1944; his 32nd birthday.
Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., a veteran of WWI, former governor of Puerto Rico and governor general of the Philippines, the oldest son of President Theodore Roosevelt, returned to the Army in 1940. As second in command of the 1st Infantry Division in North Africa, General George Patton did not like the way Roosevelt commanded his troops; he was too "easy going," in Patton’s opinion, and relieved Roosevelt of command to hold various minor jobs in Italy. During the D-Day Invasion, Roosevelt pestered his superiors until he was allowed to lead the 4th Infantry Division’s 8th Infantry Regiment and 70th Tank Battalion onto Utah Beach. His son, Quentin Roosevelt, landed on Omaha Beach.
General Roosevelt was 56 years old; the only general to storm the beaches of Normandy in the first wave and actually greeted his troops as they came ashore. They had landed a mile from their target beach. Roosevelt said, “Then we’ll start the war from right here,” and moved inland to engage the enemy from the rear. Recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross, it was upgraded to the Medal of Honor after Roosevelt died of a heart attack in France a month after the Normandy Invasion.
Lt. Colonel Robert G. Cole, the son of an Army colonel, joined the Army in 1934 and attended West Point. On June 6, 1944, Cole was the first to parachute into enemy territory as the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment. His unit captured an enemy position and was there to greet Allied troops as they advanced from the beaches. On June 10, his unit was on an exposed road between marshes when the Germans opened fire. With few options, and under the cover of smoke, Cole led an intrepid bayonet charge, which caused the enemy to flee. Having gained the ground, the unit was able to call in reinforcements before enemy soldiers returned for a counterattack. Recommended for the Medal of Honor, Cole was in the Netherlands in September when he was killed by a sniper’s bullet before he could receive the medal.
Walter Ehlers joined the Army in 1940 and served in North Africa and Sicily. As a staff sergeant in England, he prepared replacement troops for the upcoming invasion. On June 6, 1944, he led his squad onto the shores west of Omaha Beach. Half of the 12-man squad were killed or wounded, yet Ehlers got all of his men into the trenches that fateful morning. On June 9 near Goville, France, his unit came under intense fire from German machine guns and mortars. Ehlers led his men against the enemy positions, knocked out several machine gun placements and mortar pits. Although wounded, Ehlers killed several of the enemy himself and carried one wounded soldier to safety. He refused evacuation for his wound, and stayed to lead his men forward.
Wounded in combat a few months later, he was reading the Stars and Stripes newspaper while recuperating and discovered he’d been awarded the Medal of Honor. During the war, Ehlers received the Medal of Honor, a Silver Star, a Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, and a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant. After the war, Ehlers worked at the VA for 29 years. When he died at the age of 92, Ehlers was the last living Medal of Honor recipient of the D-Day Invasion.
PFC Charles N. DeGlopper served in North Africa and Italy with the 82nd Airborne Division. On June 7, 1944, he entered France via a glider behind enemy lines. Assigned to Company C, 1st Battalion, DeGlopper’s unit was attacking the La Fiere Bridge across the Merderet River when they were cut off from the rest of the Battalion by a German counterattack. PFC DeGlopper stood up and fired on the Germans. While suppressing the German fire, DeGlopper was wounded yet kept returning fire to the enemy. Hit a second time, DeGlopper continued to cover his comrades as they escaped to rejoin the rest of the battalion. A third shot killed DeGlopper, yet he managed to kill numerous German soldiers. Awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously, he was the only member of the 82nd Airborne Division to earn the Medal of Honor during the Normandy Invasion.
Technical Sgt. Frank D. Peregory quit school in 1931 to help his father support seven siblings after their mother died. Peregory lied about his age and joined Company K of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the Virginia National Guard when his was 15 years old. Shortly after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and as a member of the 29th Infantry Division, Peregory rescued a drowning comrade while patrolling a beach in North Carolina. He was awarded the Soldier’s Medal, the highest non-combat award for a soldier.
On June 6, 1944, he landed with the 116th among the first wave to hit Omaha Beach. Engaged in heavy combat for two days, by June 8 his unit had fought its way to Grandcampe, France. The Germans controlled the high ground above the town. Opening fire on the advancing Americans, they inflicted heavy casualties. American tank and artillery supporting fire proved unsuccessful until Peregory took matters into his own hands. Moving up the hill on his own under murderous fire, Peregory spotted a trench leading toward the main enemy positions, about 200 yards away. He jumped in the trench and moved toward the enemy until running into a squad of enemy soldiers. Using a bayonet and hand grenades, Peregory killed eight and forced three to surrender. Moving further along the trench, he forced 32 more German soldiers to surrender, including their machine gunners. His fearlessness and exploits opened the way for an American advance to secure the town. Recommend for the Medal of Honor, the request was approved. While fighting in the Bocage (hedgerows) six days later, Peregory was killed in combat.
Second Lt. John E. Butts was one of five Butts brothers to serve in WWII. Assigned to the 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division, he was wounded June 14 and again on June 16. He refused medical attention both times. On June 23, he led his unit against enemy positions on a strategic hill. Ordering his men to attack from the side while he charged directly up the hill on his own to draw fire away from his unit, Butts was hit twice but kept going. He was less than 30 feet from a machine gun nest before he was hit for the last time, fatally. Taking advantage of Lt. Butts’ distraction, his men took the hill. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
Lt. Colonel Matt Urban graduated from Cornell University in 1941 and joined the Army as a commissioned officer. Like 2nd Lt. John Butts, Urban served with the 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division in North Africa, Sicily, and France. During the landing on Normandy, he broke his leg, yet mounted a tank and led an assault. On June 14, he destroyed two German Panzer tanks with a bazooka and was wounded twice. Hospitalized, Urban rejoined his unit at St. Lo, France in July. During Operation Cobra, he single-handedly drove an abandoned American tank into a German unit and won the day. During the war, he was wounded 7 or 8 more times, the final time in the neck and not expected to live. He did.
Recommended for the Medal of Honor, the recommendation was lost when his commanding officer was killed in combat. The ‘lost’ recommendation was found in 1979. Lt. Colonel Matt Urban finally received a Medal of Honor from President Jimmy Carter in 1980.
First Lt. Carlos Carnes Ogden, Sr. and his company were guarding the approaches to Cherbourg, France on June 25, 1944 when they were suddenly pinned down by a German 88mm anti-aircraft gun and two machine guns. Ogden armed himself with an M-1 rifle, grenade launcher and hand grenades. He advanced alone, up the slope, under heavy fire. A glancing machine gun bullet struck his head and knocked him down. In pain and under intense fire from close range, Ogden continued his advance until within range and knocked out the 88mm anti-aircraft gun with a perfectly-placed rifle grenade. Using hand grenades, he then knocked out the two machine guns although painfully wounded again. He was awarded the Medal of Honor, obtained the rank of Major before leaving the Army, and died at the age of 83. He was buried with full honors in Arlington National Cemetery.
Staff Sgt. Arthur F. DeFranzo was with the 1st Infantry Division on June 10, 1944 near Vaubadon, France, when several German machine guns opened up on his unit. DeFranzo moved out in the open to aid a wounded scout, was wounded himself, yet brought the soldier back to safety. Ignoring his injuries, DeFranzo returned to the open field to lead an advance on the enemy positions. At least two machine guns were always firing at DeFranzo, but he kept on advancing and knocked out several enemy emplacements. Continuing his advance, DeFranzo was wounded again but kept up the assault until within 100 yards of another enemy position where he was hit again. DeFranzo kept firing his rifle and waving his men forward as he fell.
His company came up behind him. Despite numerous wounds, DeFranzo raised himself to lead his men forward until he was hit again by enemy fire. As he fell mortally wounded, DeFranzo threw several grenades and knock out the machine gun nest, completely destroying the gun. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously seven months later on Jan. 4, 1945.
Private Joe Gandara served with Company D, 2nd Battalion, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment; 17th Airborne Division. During combat in Amfreville, France on June 9, 1944, Private Gandara’s unit came under devastating fire from a strong German force, pinning his unit down for over four hours. On his own, Gandara advanced toward the enemy firing a machine gun from his hip as he moved forward. He wiped out 3 enemy machine gun positions before being fatally wounded. In doing so, he saved countless American lives.
Almost 70 years later, after a review of Jewish American and Hispanic American military records dated back to WWII, the Korean War, and Vietnam via the Defense Authorization Act to address any discrimination for awards based on religion or race, Private Joe Gandara’s niece, Mirian Adams, received his Medal of Honor posthumously from President Obama on March 18, 2014.
John D. Kelly was serving as a Corporal in Company E, 314th Infantry Regiment, 79th Infantry Division near Fort du Roule, France on June 25, 1944 when his unit was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire from a deeply entrenched, heavily fortified position. Kelly armed himself with a pole charge, about 10 feet long with a 15 lb. explosive attached, and maneuvered up the slope under intense machine gun fire. He placed the charge at the base of the fortified gun position then retreated to safety. The resulting blast was ineffective, doing little damage to the enemy position.
Kelly volunteered for a second attempt. He made the treacherous climb a second time, planted another charge then made his escape. The second blast blew off the ends of the enemy machine guns. For a third time, Kelly braved the slope to plant an explosive charge at the strongpoint’s rear entrance. Once the rear entrance was blown, Kelly threw hand grenades into the position which forced the survivors to come out and surrender. Corporal Kelly received the Medal of Honor for his gallantry and tenacity of purpose. He was killed in combat five months later.
Leon “Bob” Vance Jr. was born into a family of aviators. His father taught junior high school and earned extra income as a civilian fight instructor. His uncle was killed in WWI flying as an aviator in the Army Air Service.
Entering West Point on July 1, 1935, Vance became a member of the Class of 1939, known as the “Warrior Class”, destined to fight in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. While training at Mitchell Field on Long Island, he married Georgette Drury Brown the day after his graduation from West Point. They had a daughter in 1942, Sharon. Vance named his WWII bomber ‘The Sharon D.’, after his daughter.
On June 5, 1944, Vance was assigned to lead the 489th Bomb Group against German coastal defenses in the Pas-de-Calais area. Vance positioned himself on the flight deck, standing behind the pilot and co-pilot. A failed bomb drop forced a second attempt. Coming back for a second run, the B-24 Liberator sustained heavy flak damage yet continued on the bomb run. Further enemy anti-aircraft fire wounded four crewmembers, three of four engines were knocked out, the fuel lines ruptured in the fuselage, and one of the bombs had failed to release.
Shrapnel from another flak blast killed the pilot, wounded the co-pilot, and almost severed Vance’s right foot. His lifeless foot was wedged in the cockpit framework just behind the co-pilot’s seat. The wounded co-pilot fought the controls to bring the big bomber into a steep glide to prevent a deadly stall while Vance, in excruciating agony, assisted in ‘feathering’ the propellers to shut down the fourth engine in order to optimize the glide of the crippled bomber.
Nearing the English coast, Vance knew the B-24 Liberator was too damaged to land safely and ordered the crew to ‘bail out’. Most did. Vance took over the controls and the others jumped once the B-24 was back over the water. With the injured radio operator still aboard the aircraft, Vance decided to ‘ditch’ in the English Channel. The B-24 bomber was infamously ill-suited for ‘ditching’, but Vance had no choice.
With his foot still pinned, he leaned over semi-prone and flew the aircraft by using the ailerons and elevators; his only visual through a side window of the cockpit. It wasn’t a bad "ditching," but the dorsal gun turret collapsed and pinned Vance inside the flooded cockpit as the bomber sank. Miraculously, an explosion threw Vance clear of the sinking wreckage. He inflated his Mae West lifejacket and was picked up about 50 minutes later by an RAF Air-Sea Rescue boat.
Hospitalized for nearly two months, Vance was sent back to the States on a C-54 Skymaster for additional treatment and to be fitted for a prosthetic foot. On July 26, 1944, between Iceland and Newfoundland, the C-54 disappeared with all aboard into the Atlantic Ocean.
Vance’s Medal of Honor was confirmed on Jan. 4, 1945. His widow, Georgette, requested the ceremony be delayed until his daughter was old enough to remember the ceremony and to be presented her father’s medal. It came to be. On October 11, 1946, Major General James P. Hodges presented Vance’s Medal of Honor to Sharon Vance, age 4½.
“This is the end of Germany.”
- German Major Werner Plusket, 352nd Infantry Division at dawn, on June 6, 1944 -