JUNE 6, 1944 D-DAY NORMANDY, FRANCE
Staff Sergeant Thomas Conlin gripped his rifle tightly in his hands, the waves crashing against his amphibious landing craft. The salt in the air from the ocean water stung his eyes and every drop that fell on his face left a splash of gritty sand. There was an absence of seagulls and other birds in the air, only the sound of teeth chattering, nervous men praying, and the roar of the ocean could be heard. The cold steel of the landing craft below his feet gave him the illusion of solid ground. He'd rather be back on the USS Texas, even if he had to put up with his sergeant. At least on the USS Texas, he wouldn't have to be worried about running headlong into certain death.
This wasn't Thomas's first rodeo into death either, he's had a long illustrious career in the war. He was there for Africa and Italy, he chased Field Marshal Rommel, the Desert Fox, all the way back into Germany. He liberated Italy from the fascist dictator Mussolini, saw the hope in the people's eyes. He's come a long way and lost many of his friends, even one of his brothers died. He had the rest of his family back home in the fields of Kansas. His mother, his father, two sisters, and his sole remaining brother, who couldn't join the war for medical reasons. Sometimes he wishes he was back home helping father tend the fields, maybe find a nice girl, and settle down. He'd seen too much death, but he knew why he was fighting. He didn't want Hitler taking over the world, the man was a tyrant, and he needed to be removed.
Thomas looked forward out past the men in front of him, setting his gaze on the far-off bunkers and cliffs he knew they'd be assaulting very soon. He gripped his rifle tighter, the familiar wood was already imprinted with his hands, making small grooves here and there. He'd had the same rifle they'd given him out of basic. He'd taken care of it well over the years and nearly lost it a few times. What he was doing though, well it made him nervous. He knew the Germans were well prepared for this assault, maybe not as prepared as they could have been, but as prepared as they could be given the plans that were made. The Germans had the beach fortified, there were tank traps, barbed wire, and beyond that, pillboxes filled with MG-42s and Pak-88s. They were bringing tanks along with them, but he wasn't sure how far up the beach they would make it.
A wave splashed over the side and soaked him from head to toe, bringing him back from his thoughts. He looked up at the sky as a formation of P-51 Mustangs flew overhead, the noise from the engines was a comfort to him as they flew past. "Angels In the Sky" they were called, having saved many men from instant annihilation in the past.
"Thirty seconds!" The driver yelled from his position no sooner than the Mustangs flew past, flinging out three fingers just in case you didn't hear him, though none of them were really looking. Then the captain began his pre-mission speech, hoping to raise the focus of the men at hand. Thomas didn't really like the captain much, he was a hard ass and didn't take shit from anybody. If you got him in trouble for something he did or should have done, you were going to be on his shit list for a week. All of the dirty and heavy lift jobs that no one wants would belong to you, you would never sleep anymore either, he'd make sure that you always had something to do.
"Listen up! We're going to hit that beach and I want you to keep your heads down! You all should know what to do by now, get up the beach and I'll see you at the shingles." The shingles was a wall up the beach made up of a bunch of rocks that got deposited there by the sea. The Germans had fortified it with barbed wire fences so the whole thing stood at about five feet high. The plan was for engineers to get the Bangalore Explosives, which is basically a long tube filled with detonating powder with a pull-fuse on one end, to the shingles and blow a hole in the fencing. The captain threw out a few more orders, "Powell, Franks, Harvey take the starboard side up the beach. Conlin, Jefferson, Charles, you're with me, we'll move up the beach cover to cover."
Shortly after the captain finished, the shells started dropping, a couple missed his craft, exploding harmlessly in the water with a giant accompanying spray of ocean water. Some of the crafts weren't so lucky and got directly hit, those poor soldiers never stood a chance. The smell of burning metal and oil mixed in with the salty ocean air. Another craft got hit in the side and careened off into a second craft, sinking both of them and everyone on board. German planes flew overhead as well, battling the Mustangs and Spitfires, some of the stray bullets streaking across the water or bouncing around the inside of a landing craft in which you could see the blood and limbs flying out of.
Ten seconds, then five, next a whistle blew as the landing craft hit the beach, and the ramp dropped. No sooner had the ramp dropped then the whizzing of machine gun fire entered, completely shredding the bodies of the men in front of him in a cloud of blood and guts. Thomas quickly climbed up the side of the craft and deftly rolled off the side into the water as the bullets continued to bounce inside the craft he just left. His world became a vision of blue and darkness as he struggled with his ammunition pouch on the front of his gear, it was weighing him down and causing him to sink. He could vaguely see other men struggling with their packs as bullets whizzed through the water, leaving trails and blood as they punctured the no longer struggling and dead soldiers.
Thomas felt a hand grab his pack and haul him through the water. He finally breached the surface on to the sand as the violent sounds of the world resumed. He gasped for breath as he listened to the sound of bullets whizzing into the sand and other objects, seeking out defenseless soldiers to consume. He took a look at who hauled him out of the water and it was none other than his captain.
"GET UP AND GET OFF THE BEACH CONLIN!" The captain shouted at him, then he ran over to an obstacle. It was a metal tank trap, and it did a pretty good job of blocking the German machine gun fire streaming out of the bunkers and pillboxes on the hill. Conlin got to his feet unharmed and unharmed, he lost his rifle in the water somewhere.
He got to his feet, his boots sinking into the wet sand and ocean water. He struggled to lift each boot and run through the knee high water over the dead bodies of his fallen brothers in arms. He made it to the nearest tank trap just an obstacle behind his captain just in time to see one guy get shot in the face by the machine guns, his body fell over, his half exploded face staring up at Thomas, pouring blood onto the wet sand. A Sherman rolled off a nearby landing craft and up the beach, trying to maneuver around the tank traps when it got hit by a shell from the 88's and it exploded, sending shrapnel and smoke everywhere. His captain waved Thomas and the other men behind him coming out of the water to move forward. Thomas advanced up to the tank trap his captain was hiding behind. The captain slid over a couple of inches to make room for Thomas.
"Private Conlin!" He yelled over the sound of explosions and screaming men, "We need to get off this beach! We need to--" whatever he was going to say got cut off as a shell went off near them, throwing all of them into the sand. Dazed, Thomas got to his feet, trying to focus his hearing, but everything was like a silent movie in slow motion. He looked down and saw what was left of his captain, looks like he got the worst of that shell, judging by the limbs he still had left, there weren't that many. Thomas had a few abrasions and a nasty cut across his shoulder, but that was the worst of it. He couldn't hear worth a damn, the shell explosion which threw him to his feet dazed him and gave him a minor concussion, everything was muted around him.
His hearing came back and he heard screaming, bullet ricochets, shells exploding. He knew what he had to do, he picked a rifle off the ground. Time to make a run for it. He peeked around the trap, the machine guns were occupied with shooting at newly arriving landing craft or other soldiers pushing up the beach. He spied a nearby obstacle not even fifteen yards ahead. He steeled himself for what he was about to do next.
Thomas broke cover and started running towards the obstacle, one of the machine gunners in the pillbox at the top of the hill noticed him. Suddenly a hail of bullets stitched up the sand behind him, getting closer. Ten yards! Five! After a couple of feet, he threw himself at the obstacle, just as the bullets kicked up the dirt where he was at a few seconds ago. Any more time and he would have been dead. He picked up his rifle off the ground and checked it. There was too much sand and and gravel in the breech. He tossed it away, he still had his trusty pistol on him, he would just have to find another rifle.
It seemed he and the machine gunner got into a deadly game of cat and mouse. He would move from obstacle to obstacle, whereas the machine gunner would try to fill him with holes full of lead. After a few more games of this, he was only twenty yards away from the shingles. That's what they called the small hill of barbed wire that stretched across the beach, the first obstacle to taking the entire beach over. He looked over the beach behind him. The water was stained red by the blood of many, half of the corpses or even pieces of them, strewn about the beach by the many shells that blew them up in the first place.
This is it he decided, do or die, twenty yards to relative safety. With a shout to encourage himself, he took a full-on sprint to the shingles. Machine gun fire nipping at his heels, kicking up dirt. Those Germans were determined to not let another soldier to the shingles. A fellow soldier who ran just behind him from a tank trap got caught in the machine gun fire and was killed instantly. His body flying forward with momentum, the limbs flopping everywhere at unnatural angles as blood from the bullet holes poured into the sand.
Fifteen Yards! The machine guns were getting closer. Ten! He could make it, he pushed out with all of his strength. Five yards and he jumped for it, landing face first into the small hill of dirt the barbed wire sat on. Thomas made it, he was alive, but now comes the hard part. Getting past the barbed wire, but he didn't have to really worry about that for long.
"Private Conlin!" A shout from his left made the young soldier turn his head. Shit, it was Lieutenant Ybarra. The Lieutenant is a short stocky Mexican, he's got a full mustache and a couple of screws loose. Always gives the most dangerous jobs to those he considers expendable, such as him. The Lieutenant waved his hand, "get over here!"
"Sir, yes sir!" Thomas made his way over past a couple of radiomen and one of the field medics, who was attending to a man with a few bullet holes in his leg. It was a bloody mess, especially with the bones sticking out I fragments, the man groaned only slightly.
"Private, our men carrying the Bangers, went down just over there," Ybarra pointed out a few bullet-ridden bodies in a bloody patch of sand about eighty yards away just before a huge pit that was created from an artillery explosion. "I need you to get over there and grab that Bangalore, we're sitting ducks here without it!" As if to emphasize his point, a German sniper blew the head off one of the nearby radiomen in a fountain of blood and gore.
"Sir!" Thomas saluted smartly before leaving his weapon next to the LT. Normally such a thing would've gotten him a couple weeks of hard duty and latrine scrubbing, but he needed speed if he was to get that Banger. He dropped his tactical equipment, including his tactical belt which contained most of his supplies and his spare ammunition. He was ready.
With explosive speed, Thomas ran from crater to crater, dodging both sniper and machine gun fire. He had to get that explosive, it was the only means of getting through the wire! Thirty yards, a shell exploded off to his left, throwing him from his feet a few inches forward. He quickly got up and rolled to the right, just in time as a line of bullets stitched the sand, intent to turn him into swiss-meat. He kept on running, he was only a few yards now. Got it! He recovered the Bangalore from the dead hands of the soldier lying there. The man was shot twice through the chest with holes as big as acorns and had only half a head, his skull was fractured in pieces.
"Rest well brother, may God bless your soul," Thomas said a quick prayer for the dead man before he took off running with the Bangalore in hand. It was a weighty thing, three long sectioned tubes with an explosive cap at one end and a primer/detonator at the other. Perfect for blowing holes in barbed wire. He hauled ass back to the LT, dodging and ducking along the way.
He threw himself at the dirt again having made it there and back.
"That was some fine work Conlin, now blow a hole in this damn wire!" Ybarra turned to the radiomen next to him, "tell command that Baker One is open for business!" Thomas quickly unscrewed the back of the Bangalore after attaching it all together and primed the detonator before shoving it into the dirt just on the other side of the barbed wire.
"Fire in the hole!"