The Higgins Boat slapped hard on the choppy swells as it motored forward across the open seas and towards the beach code-named ‘Omaha.’ He felt seasick within moments and soon the large breakfast the Navy had fed him was washing back and forth on the bottom of the boat with the vomit of others experiencing the same.
Half-an-hour later came the call from the Coxswain, “Standby to disembark!”
Men who had been talking seconds before, fell quiet, some crossed themselves and mumbled prayers. Others, like 19-year-old Johnny Geiger, slid the bolts back on their Garand and charged the weapon.
Then THUMP! The craft came to an abrupt halt and the forward facing ramp dropped into the surf. Out of it spilled men into a thick cross fire from the Nazi’s MG-42’s.
Those that didn’t fall dead at the first raking of the machine gun fire, found themselves in the freezing ocean, over their chests. Johnny grabbed the dead and floating body of a man and used it as cover and an aid to wade to shore.
Coughing up water and breathing heavy, he watched as men dropped in the sand, torn to pieces by gunfire and explosions. Johnny huddled against a large steel hedgehog, placed in the sand to keep Allied forces from advancing tanks and other mechanized units onto the beach head.
Suddenly, a blast, only a few feet away, lifted the terrified young man off the ground and slammed him back into the surf. The shock-wave left him in a state of confusion and it took him a few seconds to not only clear his head but to actually understand what he was seeing.
“Oh, mon dieu, Louis!” a frightened woman screamed in French.
Louis raced to the waters edge to pick up his son, who had disappeared momentarily underwater only to reappear in the arms of a young man dressed in full battle gear, only to have the soldier disappear into the waves the following second, leaving his son safe.
“As-tu vu ça?” she cried as her husband handed their little boy to her.
“Oui, mais je ne peux pas l’expliquer,” he answered, shaking his head in disbelief.
The beach was filled with tourists; gone were the dead and dying, soldiers, the gun-fire and explosions and the sky was blue with sunshine beaming down where once he’d seen cloudy overcast gloom. Johnny had no time to think about the sudden change as he saw a small child floating in the surf.
Instinctively, Johnny reached over and yanked the child next to his body. He curled over it in such a way as to protect the little boy from the murderous gunfire that tore up the beach as he watched a man wearing nothing more than swimming shorts race towards he and the child.
And as Johnny began to scramble to his feet, another shell tore into the sand and close by, sending both he and the little boy tumbling violently through the air. When Johnny recovered, the boy was gone.
Panicked, he searched for the child, then knowing there was nothing more he could do, scrambled across the open beach, rejoining his unit as they prepared to assault one of pillboxes embedded on the cliff-side. Johnny looked back, chalking it up to the stress of battle.