D-Day & Clinton C. Gardner

Clint's helmet. "...the hole was the largest found in a survivor’s helmet in either World War I or II."

Beyond Computing

D-Day and Clinton C. Gardner


This is part of the story of Clinton C. Gardner who as a “First Lieutenant advance scout for B Battery of the 110th Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion” (U.S. Army, 29th Infantry Division, 110th Field Artillery Battalion) landed on Omaha Beach, Dog Green Sector, at 9:00 a.m. on D-Day, June 6, 1944. Clint was my uncle.

This album is especially for all of Clint’s family and friends. His son John Gardner and I were in the Normandy region for the 75th anniversary commemoration of D-Day on June 6, 2019. Many of the photos are mine, with two from John and several others from other sources. The images in the 2nd half of this album are meant to provide a taste of what it might have been like to have been in Clint’s shoes that fateful day 75 years ago. I also go to some effort to show what the area looks like now compared to what it looked like then.

I was also on a mission of sorts, I wanted to locate the place where my uncle Clint had been wounded and holed-up that day, as I had read his book “D-Day and Beyond” and felt the need to find the place he describes. A picture of his helmet is on the cover of that book and at the end of this album. I had seen that helmet a few times over the years when my family had traveled across the country to visit him.

Saving Private Ryan

In the prologue to “D-Day and Beyond” Clint writes: “The first mystery is how I survived D-Day. If you’ve seen the film “Saving Private Ryan,” in its bloody opening sequence you’ve seen Omaha Dog Green, the particular stretch of sand where I landed on June 6, 1944 at 9:00 a.m. I find that another mind-boggling coincidence: that Stephen Spielberg used my beach, with that pillbox above it, for his film.”

D-Day, June 6, 1944

Clint writes of the experience of landing on Omaha Beach: “The beachhead is a disaster. From the moment we landed at nine this morning, nothing has gone as planned. You couldn’t make a movie out of this; nobody would believe it.” Yet, Charlie and Dog Green Sectors are precisely what is depicted in the opening scenes of Steven Spielberg’s movie “Saving Private Ryan.” Clint lived through the hell that was that day, better believe it.

“There must be a thousand infantry soldiers on our sector, but no one is in charge, no one knows what’s going on. Now it’s late afternoon, and we’ve been trapped on Omaha Beach for almost eight hours. The fire from that German pillbox on the hundred-foot-high cliff, just two hundred yards inland from us, is now only sporadic. Still, it’s instant and deadly whenever we present a target. Up and down the beach, a quarter mile each way, I can see hundreds of foxholes dug into the sand, with helmeted heads of soldiers popping out of them, like curious prairie dogs. All day we’ve watched mortars blow up our boats just as they touched shore and seen high-velocity shells from 88-millimeter guns tear apart our armored cars.”

“As I start to dig a new foxhole, I hear a thundering blast and realize that the engineers may finally have blown up that huge concrete barrier [Rommel’s Wall pictured below as it’s blown up] which has prevented any of our armor or trucks from going up the beach exit road. Crouching above my foxhole, I look through the rising dust and see that they’ve succeeded. The barrier’s gone! We may soon be off ‘Omaha Dog Green.’ It’s 5:00 p.m.”

Clint is Hit

“Suddenly I hear a sharp explosion just in front of me. My head snaps back as if hit by a sledgehammer…” He was hit in the head by a mortar shell fragment. His helmet saved his life. He then recounts what was happening around him and how he feels in shock, stumbling and unable to speak.

“As all of this is happening, there are the first signs of movement off the beach. I see all those prairie dogs getting up out of their foxholes and heading toward the now-open road that leads up to the little town of Vierville…. I wanted to walk, to follow them [the infantry men who were heading inland], but I could barely stand. It would be much safer in Vierville or even below the bluff, since those German mortars, with their high, arching trajectories, can’t hit down there… Now [a stocky British communications captain] has the presence of mind to put his outfit to some use: moving us to shelter below the bluff. His men leave me nestled in the sand, behind some rocks… Lying here at the base of the bluff, only one hundred feet below that German pillbox, which, incredibly, is still firing…”

Pieces to a Puzzle

These are key clues as to where on the beach he is located, although there are a few other clues that factor in to calculating where he was that day. I’ve worked hard to narrow down precisely where he was located, for some reason that seems important. We know the time, it’s important to establish place.

I’ve carefully gone over what Clint has written, reviewed the photos I have and looked at photos both current and historical. My cousin John and I both agreed while we were on Omaha Beach in June that we found the correct place based on Clint’s writings. I am certain that we have his general location correct, below and slightly west of the German pillbox at the base of the white cliffs that you will see in these photos.

The Helmet

Clint writes: “My helmet, showing what happened to it (and me) on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944, at 5:00 p.m. On June 7, twenty-four hours after I was wounded, it took three surgeons, at an army field hospital just inland from the beach, several minutes to pry it free from my scalp. Later, at a Salisbury hospital, a British captain from the Imperial War Museum came to my bedside to ask if I would donate the helmet to them. He explained that the hole was the largest found in a survivor’s helmet in either World War I or II. I told him that I’d prefer to keep it so my grandchildren could see it. It’s now at Dartmouth’s Rauner Library.” Source: Clinton C. Gardner.

I’d seen his helmet at their home in Norwich, Vermont over the years as my family would travel from Utah to visit from time to time. I knew that he’d been involved in World War Two, but never fully comprehended what that meant, until the 75th anniversary came around and I had read his book. (Not unlike other WWII veterans it seemed to me that he didn’t talk about his experience much, certainly never did around me.) He recounts that after he’d been patched up “an English major from the British War Museum came to ask if they might have my helmet. He said the hole is the biggest they have on record for a survivor in either world war. ‘Sorry,’ I said. ‘I may want to show this to my grandchildren.'” I’m one of his nephews that saw that helmet, I remember it well. The helmet is now in safekeeping at the Rauner Library at Dartmouth, Hanover, New Hampshire.

Overall, while the D-Day plan was for his group to land in the Dog Green Sector on Omaha Beach, and it seems that is where they landed, after he was wounded he moved into the Charlie Sector just below and west of the German pillbox, as that was a place safely out of the line of fire from the pillbox. From there he eventually was moved inland to a field hospital where they stabilized him. He then went by ship back across the English Channel to Salisbury, England where he underwent surgery. After three weeks of recuperation he was sent back to Normandy to continue the fight.

Buchenwald

He recounts several events during the next year leading up to the end of the war. He finishes his time in the war as executive officer of the Buchenwald Concentration Camp administrators who liberate the camp and repatriate the camp survivors. It is grim work, to say the least, that’s a whole other story. That experience had a profound impact on him.

He writes on July 3, 1945, on the evening of his last day at Buchenwald: “As I try to doze off again, three great events of the last eleven months flash like a movie on my eyelids. First, I’m landing as a scout on D-Day morning; then, aiming my guns at the SS tanks in the Ardennes [Malmedy / Battle of the Bulge]; finally, presiding over this just-liberated Buchenwald.”

End of War

Then on August 15, 1945 he writes: “Nine days ago a B-29 bomber dropped a single bomb on Hiroshima, obliterating the city and vaporizing untold thousands of its inhabitants. Six days ago an even more powerful bomb destroyed Nagasaki. Japan surrendered yesterday, and the ceasefire is today. Now, thank God, the whole war is over. And I’ve little doubt those two bombs saved at least ten times as many lives as they’ve cost. Most of the guys in the 110th were scheduled for Japan, as was [Captain] Peter Ball. Only my two wounds have given me enough “points” to go home this winter instead of heading to the Pacific, then landing with the assault waves north of Tokyo.”

Resolution

“But what awesome things are atom bombs! Exploding at the end of two world wars, they jar us into thinking about what we must learn from them. And from the extermination camps.”

“So far as I can tell, I have suffered no shell shock from my two unlikely wounds on Omaha Beach and at Malmedy, but now I suspect that I may never recover from the equally unlikely wound that Buchenwald has given me. Nor do I really want to recover from it. This third wound has begun to turn me into a citizen of Europe, with all its suffering—and hopefully into a citizen of that global community which must emerge after this War.”


Clint writes about what he has written regarding WWII: “The preceding text has been drawn almost entirely from my wartime journal and letters to my parents, written in 1944-45. Those documents, segments of which I have used in a book, are now located in the Rauner Library at Dartmouth—along with my fractured helmet.”

Clint published two books that I have that pertain to D-Day. One is D-Day and Beyond: A Memoir of War, Russia, and Discovery. The second is World War II Remembered by Residents of Kendal at Hanover, Managing Editor Clinton C. Gardner. I have used both those books as the basis for determining his location on June 6, 1944. I have taken pertinent parts from each to piece together part of his story such that I hope it will provide an abstract outline overview of his experience during World War Two.

Clint is but one of thousands of people who have stories from that war. Many of various nationalities were profoundly impacted by their experiences. Many have spoken not a word of it to their death, it is that profound. I am thankful that my uncle could and did write so much about his experiences. It meant a lot to have learned more of his experience and then travel in 2019 to Omaha Beach and find that spot where Clint was holed-up on June 6-7, 1944. Those two days were the beginning of a life-experience that would profoundly impact the remainder of his life until his passing in July 2017.

Visiting Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019 and then putting together this album has brought a whole new awareness to me of what my Uncle Clint must have gone through all those years ago. It helps me to better understand him, those who fought with him and the gravity of what World War II was and represents. I know that we must never forget and that we must not let it ever happen again, although mass genocide has occurred repeatedly since the end of World War II.

Cheers to my Uncle Clinton C. Gardner!

 


Photo Gallery

In this photo gallery I tell the story of precisely where on Omaha Beach Clint was on D-Day. I also add context and other details in the image captions.

To view an image full-size click the image. Captions appear at the bottom of the image. To see image without a caption, select the "Open image in original size. at the bottom of the “lightbox” window.

 


D-Day was a big deal in Normandy, much more so than it seemed in the ‘States.