The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.
By Dessa Rodeffer, Quill Owner
At age 20, Ray Shafer and his Army buddies were right in the midst of WWII. They had been shipped in the third wave of Allied troops to be part of that historic "D-Day", June 6, 1944. The LCIs unloaded them along the coastline of Omaha Beach, Normandy, France in the largest attack ever on our enemy. We had 5,000 ships, 13,000 aircraft, and the surprise attack caught Hitler sleeping and left 100,000 soldiers on the ground to invade Europe. The cost was more than 9,000 lives that day of Allied forces.
Ray made it through this grueling and frightening first day but never knew from one moment to the next if it would be his last. He had learned to keep low, move quickly and watch from all directions. The game was survival and secure the area, and each soldier was on their own. There was no training for the unexpected. Ray said that where you were at, you were holding as the fighting moved on deeper. We took Saint-L™ and then it was back and forth with the Germans. There were big old trees on the side of the hill that had been cut down with bullets, the shooting was so intense.
Ray and others finally moved up to Siegfried and got a break there as the fighting was on the north. We had a three day rest, were alive, tired and hungry. We had K-rations but it was not the same as a good meal. It was later in Percy, France that Ray was injured.
"I was to take the middle and east end of the wheat field. It looked like a cabbage patch," Ray said. "I was crawling, looking around and I saw a Lieutenant and a couple other guys I knew. They were going across a hedge row pretty fast. I didn't see anyone so I raised my head to see if our company had gone ahead. I saw a German 88 to the left of me six inches from my head. I could have put a grenade in it or had a hand to hand bayonet fight, but I was so surprised, I ducked down and headed back and got into the furrow. I was seen, and mortar shells started falling like rain. I had my rifle on the ground and mortar shattered my rifle butt. I thought it was my arm from the way it felt. I crawled back to return to my home lines and found out the Lieutenant and two soldiers had been taken prisoner. I had a bloody face and elbow."
At First Aide, they patched Ray up after he got the feeling back in his arm. (Ray's wife got the shrapnel out several years later.)
Ray told his Sergeant that he lost his rifle and then he found out that it was found behind enemy lines on the battlefield by a pilot who's plane had been shot down, and they found it laying there.
"I figured out that I had gone too far, too fast and had actually been behind German lines."
The invasion was continual fighting and close encounters and many casualties as they moved inward.
At one time we thought we better give up, but then we said no, they'llshoot us. We were in their lines and we had forgotten our code to get back into our lines. The private with me was scared, our Sergeant and assistant of the squad had been hit.
We had hid and had only seen two of our own men in the area since we left at 5 a.m. It was continual fighting, then I could hear a Browning automatic. I knew our men were out there. There was 45 minutes of artillery fire going over us toward where we were going. We saw the gun was a Browning automatic, the same as ours. I called in and knew the guy who had the gun. We had 150 feet to go and he called us in. We had 3 or 4 days of recuperation there.
Ray said they were fighting along the roadways, etc., and it was give and take. The next big battle was up to Siegfried Line. There was a "point man" who would be fighting to draw the fire so we knew where the enemy was at. An artillery shell lit close enough to me to put me out. I heard it coming and flattened out when it hit. I felt like it was pushing me, and I was out.
I woke up in the hospital, strapped to a stretcher. When I came to, I saw a little light and thought I had been buried alive. A medic ran back to me and said I was all right, you are in a tent, you're not buried, we have you strapped to a liter "cot" and we didn't know the extent of your injuries."
They started quizzing him asking his faith. Ray tried to say Presbyterian but he went unconscious again. He was in and out of it. The medic came back later and started with his feet on up and Ray's body stung as he moved them.
"They didn't want me to move my head or lift my neck off the liter. It was hard to breath."
After the exam, they thought the explosion had bruised his lung and he was sent to the General Hospital. (the top of Ray's lungs are still dark, the doctors have told him.)
Ray Shafer, continues next week