Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, more than 160,000 Allied forces landed on the beaches of Normandy to begin the liberation of France from Nazi occupation. More than 9,000 Allied troops were killed or wounded.
The article below was originally published in the Newark Post in June 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the invasion. We reprint it today in recognition of the soldiers who, as President Ronald Reagan memorialized years later, “stood and fought against tyranny in a giant undertaking unparalleled in human history.”
The subject of the article, Quentin L. Deidrick, lived in Newark until his death in 2004 at the age of 85.
Newark resident Quentin L. Deidrick has his own special memories of D-Day. He was in the first wave to go ashore on Utah Beach. He said he has no desire to return and relive those terrible hours.
In the fall of 1942, Deidrick joined the army and went to Camp Kilmer, N.J., prior to going overseas. When Headquarters learned he had played football at Penn State, they hid his shipping papers so he could play until the end of the season. He was excused from driving trucks.
"Football was my special detail," said the 75-year-old Deidrick. "They wanted me to play football."
In December, his unit, the 12th Regiment of the 4th Infantry Division, shipped off to Liverpool, England. They boarded a train, but did not know where it was going.
They were asleep, when there came a loud crash. German spies discovered that the train had American soldiers on it and rolled a car onto the tracks. The train hit it, and the first car overturned. The train was repaired and they were taken to the Devon seaport, where they began preparing for the Normandy invasion.
"The German spy system was very organized and they were always watching to see when D-Day was coming," Deidrick said. "Every week, we marched down to the ships on Devon and came back to keep the German spies from knowing when Normandy invasion was coming. Each division switched ports to confuse them."
The 4th Division then moved to an old prison near the Dartmouth River. German spies came over at night and photographed the area with special flashes that could detect indentation marks on the grass.
"We had to walk on concrete all the time,” he said. “If they (the Germans) saw paths that were worn in the grass, they would know there was a large group of soldiers."
One month before D-Day, the 4th Division moved to the village of Slapton Sands, just north of the Dartmouth River. It was a town donated to the United States Army to be destroyed for practice purposes. Mortars were dropped on buildings during range-finding exercises. After the war, the army rebuilt it and made it a national memorial to the townspeople.
A week before D-Day, the units took their positions on the Dartmouth River. The 4th Division was about a half mile from the Slapton Sands shore. The 8th Division was in the middle, and the 22nd Division was the farthest out.
Every night, German spies monitored the English Channel to spot American vessels, he said. One foggy night, they saw American ships and attacked.
"I was sitting on the deck of an assault boat, when I heard a boom and saw a flash of light. Then, English E-boats flew past us,” Deidrick recalls.
He said a lot of American soldiers were killed, and the English spotted them floating in the water. They secretly buried the bodies so the Germans would not be alerted.
"That was the best kept secret of World War II. If they had found out that there were American soldiers out there, this could have changed the whole invasion of Normandy. We would have had real trouble,” he said.
Prior to landing on Utah Beach, special forces known as mine detectors were used to find and mark the mine fields.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose the 4th Division to lead the assault. The night before D-Day, hundreds of assault ships pulled out of the Dartmouth River and crossed the English Channel.
"On June 6, 1944, we were off Utah Beach. The Battleship Texas was firing shells over our heads...I'd say we were all a little bit disturbed about that...we knew we were in for something,” he said.
The boats began shoving up on land, and they had to go 300 yards across the beach. Tanks were coming off the landing crafts.
Tidal changes had not been accounted for, he said, and the ships drifted off course about 1,000 yards and missed the mine markers.
"I could never understand why they hadn't disarmed the mines going into shore; we had no takes (markers) where we landed. We just had to take pot luck. I ran right in step with the guy in front of me,” Deidrick said.
German soldiers shot at them from the hills.
"We were constantly looking for a place to hide to get out of the fire,” he said.
To make matters worse, the Germans had constructed marshy tank traps every 50 yards up the beach. They were about 10 feet wide and full of soft mud. Ropes were rigged up so soldiers could pull themselves across.
"I took all my gear off to pull myself across. It must have weighed 100 pounds. I would've sunk if I hadn't taken it off...the Germans fired at us as we pulled ourselves, across...all around us, we could hear bullets hitting the water."
He made it across the beach, but others did not.
"You never get used to seeing a guy dead. I saw one buddy lying across the barbed wire. I saw his blonde hair blowing in the wind. I'll never forget that. I thought, 'there he is, there's where I'll probably be before this day is over,’” Deidrick said.
They reached the road and viewed firsthand, the ravages of war. Roads were reduced to rubble. Buildings were in ruins. People were running in the streets in disarray. Children were killed.
H e saw an injured mother holding her baby, running toward the American line where she knew she would be safe.
"I felt so bad that I couldn't help that lady. The Germans had spotted me and I was behind a rock and they were about to blow us up. I couldn't have gotten out of there without getting killed,” he said.
They hiked five miles to the hedgerow country of Sainte Mere Eglise. They had to jump, one after another, over lines of hedgerows to get across the field, not knowing the Germans had set elaborate traps.
The Germans cut limbs off trees near the hedges and used them as aiming stakes. When they saw American soldiers near the stakes, they shot at them.
"We had a lot of people killed in the hedgerows before we knew what happened. From then on, it was walking and fighting all the way,” Deidrick said.
The captain asked for volunteers to scout the area behind some hedgerows.
"I'll go with you,"' Deidrick said to the captain. "He walked by just like he didn't hear me."
Five men scouted the area and were found dead the next day.
"The Lord really looked after me,” Deidrick said. “He closed his (the captain's) ears for some reason."
The division also experienced problems getting water. The Germans knew they were coming and cut off all water.
"You couldn't get water to put your canteen into. We drank water out of any place we could," he said.
They had tablets to purify it, but it still smelled like cow manure.
"I saw a lot of guys get killed, just to get water. There was one pump, and the German snipers knocked them off as fast as the guys went up to that pump. They used it as a method of slowing us down,” he said.
They were approaching Montyber, France, when they were held up by gunfire and had to sleep in foxholes for the night. The next day, firing resumed.
"German soldiers were up in the hills firing down at us. Hills were a terrible thing for soldiers. Every day you'd see a hill and say, 'maybe this is where we stop fighting...maybe it's all over...but that's one thing that keeps you alive. Maybe that next hill,” Deidrick said.
"We had gotten out of range of the Battleship Texas and called back for thunderbolts (airplanes that carried 1,000-pound bombs). We maintained communication with the pilot,” he added.
The Germans shot at them. A 100-pound bomb landed back at the field Deidrick was on. He felt the ground shake, 60 to 100 feet from where the bomb went off.
Deidrick peered over the edge of his foxhole and could not see anything through the dirt. Rocks and boulders rolled across the field and hit him on the head. One side of his foxhole had caved in.
On June 15, Deidrick's unit settled in for the night near Montyber, where they set up a perimeter defense.
"I dug a four-foot deep fox hole and covered it with logs. Tanks were knocked out. We were told not to fire at anything coming down the road. Some men ignored the commands, and German soldiers were alerted that we were nearby. A lot of people got killed,” he said.
Shells flew over his foxhole. One came two feet above his head and exploded . He awoke in an English hospital. The logs had saved his life.
Two weeks later, he overheard doctors say it was time for him to return to the front.
"Once you've gone through that hell, you don't want to go back,” he recalled.
A doctor told him to think about getting ready to go back to the front. Another doctor, a colonel, came in and examined him.
"He looked at my eyes and he called the other doctor, who was a captain. 'You're not going to send him back to the front,"' Deidrick recalled.
He regained his strength a few weeks later, but did not return to the front line. Soldiers were needed to guard supply trains. He became an M.P. and carried a sub machine gun to patrol the area for black marketeers.
Someone found out about his athletic ability, and he would end up as an activity director. When large groups came in, he had to make sure athletic equipment was ready.
He was in Rheims, France, a week before the Germans surrendered.
He also managed a baseball team made up of major league players who had been drafted. They traveled to ball fields all over Europe, including Benito Mussolini's training camp. His teams did so well, that he stayed in Europe after the war. His wife, Ardel, was not happy about that. In 1948, his mother wrote to Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower and asked him to sent her son home. A few weeks later, Deidrick was at her doorstep.
He finished college and worked as a gym teacher for 30 years.
Deidrick is proud of his war contributions. Though playing on European ball fields renders pleasant memories, the hardship of war remains.