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St. George veteran courted death on Omaha Beach

First Published      Last Updated Jul 13 2014 02:26 pm
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"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.

"It made you feel a little more comfortable seeing something like that going in with you," he said.

Murdock had no inkling he and the rest of the early landing forces would soon feel like human targets in a shooting gallery.

To the shoreline and beyond

The seas were rough as the Higgins boats motored toward the shore.

"One minute you'd be up on top of the waves and you could see all the ships firing," Murdock recalled. "The next minute you'd be way down in a valley of water."

Murdock's landing craft ground to a halt and the ramp creaked downward. Heavy machine gun fire from pillboxes rained down from the cliffs on Omaha Beach.

"It was so bad on that beach you couldn't hardly move without being killed," he said.

Murdock was aghast at what he saw on shore. Allied air forces were supposed to pulverize the beaches and German coastal defense casemates. Instead, those bombs landed much further inland.

And the fate of the tanks intended to provide close-in fire support? Most sank to the bottom of the English Channel.

As a result, the 16th took a beating. Nearly 1,000 men were casualties on the Omaha sector. Boats loaded with personnel were wiped out by direct hits from artillery, adding heavy amounts of blood into sea.

Murdock was able to crawl to the sea wall, which afforded him at least a tiny bit of cover — provided he lay completely flat. But what next? To charge forward meant certain death.

"I laid there for a bit, maybe 20 minutes, trying to get my mind together again," Murdock said. "There was so much enemy fire and you couldn't do anything. It was demoralizing how bad it was. So then you had to recover from that bad feeling and decide you got to go do something."

The inspiration to push forward came from Col. George Taylor, commander of the 16th Infantry, who stood fully erect imploring his men to get off the beach.

It was during this time groups of soldiers took initiative and gathered whatever weapons and manpower they could summon to surmount the German defenses near the beach exits.

In one area, Lt. William Dillon — who served with Murdock previously in A Company and who Murdock called, "the best soldier in the army" — scrounged up three Bangalore torpedoes and blew open a gap in the barbed wire.

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