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In this May 12, 2014 photo, World War II veteran Quentin Murdock stands in the living room of his home in St. George, Utah. He can never forget his harrowing minutes on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944, as the 1st Infantry Division attempted to breach German coastal defenses in the first large-scale invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. (AP Photo/The Spectrum, Jud Burkett)
St. George veteran courted death on Omaha Beach
First Published Jul 13 2014 09:00 am • Last Updated Jul 13 2014 02:26 pm

St. George • Machine gun rounds and hot metal shards buzzed through the air like thousands of lethal hornets, menacing the terrified American soldiers upon whom the fate of the Normandy invasion would be decided.

Quentin Murdock, 94, who calls Utah his home most of the year, can never forget those harrowing minutes on Omaha Beach June 6, 1944, as the 1st Infantry Division attempted to breach German coastal defenses in the first large-scale invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe.

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It was an operation so vital, many authors argue the very future of humanity depended on the invasion’s success.

Yet the context of this undertaking was the furthest thing from Murdock’s mind as he stepped out into the chest-deep water of the English Channel and was greeted by the explosions of artillery shells and bullets slapping around him.

"I dove under the water about three times because the firing was so heavy," Murdock said 70 years later.

A snowbird who lives most of the year in St. George, Murdock is proud of his service in the famed Big Red One — the division’s official nickname after its shoulder patch — during World War II. Seven decades later, he remains amazed he wasn’t killed or wounded in the 19 months prior to the Normandy invasion during rigorous combat in North Africa and Sicily as part of A Company of the 16th Infantry Regiment.

A first lieutenant, Murdock was awarded a Silver Star for his role in a night attack to seize a key hill in Tunisia. He was captured in that operation, and the prisoner-of-war ship he sailed on nearly sunk in the Mediterranean.

Murdock also was part of a resolute force that fought off the Panzer-Division Hermann Goering that threatened to kick U.S. soldiers back into the sea during the early part of the invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

It was enough combat for any man to endure.

And yet for the Idaho farm boy, there was more to come. The horrors of Omaha Beach awaited.


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Hell-bent on fighting

In the days leading to the attack, it became doubtful Murdock would again fulfill his role of soldier in the upcoming battle. Malaria he had contracted in the Mediterranean flared up. The battalion doctor wanted Murdock to sit out the invasion.

Murdock was incensed. He had to make the cross-channel invasion — even if it meant being subordinate to an officer of lower rank.

"The First Division kind of became my home," Murdock said, the volume in his voice lowering. "They were going to (invade France) and all my friends were going to go and I would be left alone. So the doctor and I argued back and forth about it.

"He finally relented and gave me some quinine. I guess he thought I was crazy."

After taking the fast-acting medicine, "I was feeling fine," Murdock remembered. His spirits, however, were tempered by a fast-approaching reality.

He had just been promoted to battalion motor pool officer, where he would oversee the loading and waterproofing of the invasion vehicles. He figured he would come in well after the initial thrust along Omaha Beach.

Murdock was slated for the second wave.

"That changed my outlook quite a bit," he said.

And so like thousands of his fellow soldiers of the 16th Infantry Regiment, Murdock climbed down the cargo nets, timed his jump into the bobbing landing craft just right in order to avoid breaking a leg, and awaited his journey to shore.

As the boat circled in the English Channel, waiting for all the landing craft to get loaded, Murdock was mesmerized by the firepower spewing from the nearby battleships.

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