Excerpt from The Victors by Stephen Ambrose, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Victors

Eisenhower and His Boys - The Men of World War II

by Stephen Ambrose

The Victors
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1998, 396 pages
    Sep 1999, 255 pages

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"I take two short steps and three long ones," Trevor replied, "and they always miss me." Just then a bullet hit him in the helmet and drove him to the ground. He got up and shook his fist at the machine gunner, hollering, "You dirty son of a bitch." After that, Vermeer noted, "He crawled around like the rest of us."

The second problem for the disembarking rangers was craters, caused by bombs or shells that had fallen short of the cliff. They were underwater and could not be seen. "Getting off the ramp," Sergeant South recalled, "my pack and I went into a bomb crater and the world turned completely to water." He inflated his Mae West and made it to shore.

Lieutenant Kerchner was determined to be first off his boat. He thought he was going into a meter or so of water as he hollered "OK, let's go" and jumped. He went in over his head, losing his rifle. He started to swim in, furious with the British coxswain. The men behind him saw what had happened and jumped to the sides. They hardly got their feet wet. "So instead of being the first one ashore, I was one of the last ashore from my boat. I wanted to find somebody to help me cuss out the British navy, but everybody was busily engrossed in their own duties so I couldn't get any sympathy."

Two of his men were hit by the machine gun enfilading the beach. "This made me very angry because I figured he was shooting at me and I had nothing but a pistol." Kerchner picked up a dead ranger's rifle. "My first impulse was to go after this machine gun up there, but I immediately realized that this was rather stupid as our mission was to get to the top of the cliff and get on with destroying those guns.

"It wasn't necessary to tell this man to do this or that man to do that," Kerchner said. "They had been trained, they had the order in which they were supposed to climb the ropes and the men were all moving right in and starting to climb up the cliff." Kerchner went down the beach to report to Colonel Rudder that the D Company commander's LCA had sunk. He found Rudder starting to climb one of the rope ladders.

"He didn't seem particularly interested in me informing him that I was assuming command of the company. He told me to get the hell out of there and get up and climb my rope." Kerchner did as ordered. He found climbing the cliff "very easy," much easier than some of the practice climbs back in England.

The machine gun and the incoming tide gave Sgt. Gene Elder "a certain urgency" to get off the beach and up the cliff. He and his squad freeclimbed, as they were unable to touch the cliff. When they reached the top, "I told them, 'Boys, keep your heads down, because headquarters has fouled up again and has issued the enemy live ammunition.'"

Other rangers had trouble getting up the cliff. "I went up about, I don't know, forty, fifty feet," Pvt. Sigurd Sundby remembered. "The rope was wet and kind of muddy. My hands just couldn't hold, they were like grease, and I came sliding back down. As I was going down, I wrapped my foot around the rope and slowed myself up as much as I could, but still I burned my hands. If the rope hadn't been so wet, I wouldn't have been able to hang on for the burning.

"I landed right beside [Lt. Tod] Sweeney there, and he says, 'What's the matter, Sundby, chicken? Let me -- I'll show you how to climb.' So he went up first and I was right up after him, and when I got to the top, Sweeney says, 'Hey, Sundby, don't forget to zigzag.'"

Sgt. Willian "L-Rod" Petty, who had the reputation of being one of the toughest of the rangers, a man short on temper and long on aggressiveness, also had trouble with a wet and muddy rope. As he slipped to the bottom, Capt. Walter Block, the medical officer, said to Petty, "Soldier, get up that rope to the top of the cliff." Petty turned to Block, stared him square in the face, and said, "I've been trying to get up this goddamned rope for five minutes and if you think you can do any better you can f--ing well do it yourself." Block turned away, trying to control his own temper.

Copyright © 1998 by Ambrose Tubbs, Inc. Reproduced by permission of Simon & Schuster.

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