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96-year-old Wakefield veteran recounts his Utah Beach story, 75 years on from D-Day
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D-Day 75th Anniversary

96-year-old Wakefield veteran recounts his Utah Beach story, 75 years on from D-Day

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WAKEFIELD, Neb. -- All kinds of thoughts undoubtedly ran through the minds of the thousands of young Americans on board landing crafts speeding toward the beaches of Normandy 75 years ago this morning.

D.H. Moseman's thoughts were simple.

He was wet and tired of being splashed and tossed about on a boat.

Yes, unimaginable dangers awaited ahead on Utah Beach. But at least it was dry there.

"I wanted to get the hell out of that water. I wanted to get on shore. I'd had enough of that water," Moseman said.

Once he'd splashed into the English Channel on his bulldozer, made his way to shore and saw the dead bodies of the first wave of troops bobbing face down in the surf, his thoughts turned to doing his job: clearing debris from the beach to make room for incoming soldiers and material.

He sure didn't give any thought to the enormity of what he was taking part in, an operation that Allied leaders hoped would turn the tide against Germany and lead to victory in World War II.

"I had a woman ask me once, did you know you were making history? That was the last thing I was thinking about was making history."

For Moseman and the other troops who landed in France that day, there was no time to think about the bullets flying through the air, the mortar and artillery shells exploding around them. You just put it out of your mind.

"You get to the point where you say to hell with it," Moseman said. "Everybody knew what they needed to do, and they did it."

Did they ever.

An Allen, Nebraska, native, Moseman was one of nearly 160,000 Allied troops -- most of them American, British and Canadian -- who began landing in five zones at 6:30 that morning on 60 miles of beach in northern France. Approximately 4,400 of them were killed.

He was 21 on June 6, 1944. Now nearly 97 years old, Moseman recalls that day and the days leading up to it with no hesitation. He easily recites names of fellow soldiers, locations where he trained and fought.

He thinks back to that first night on French soil. The Allies had established a small beachhead, but historians will tell you the invasion's success was not a certainty yet.

The troops would have begged to differ. As far as Moseman was concerned, they were on their way to defeating the Germans.

"We was on dry ground and we were ready to go," he said. "We had done it. That's the attitude we had. We had done it."

Given the spirit and grit of those men, it's no surprise.

They came from all backgrounds, all corners of the United States, Canada and England before converging on that strip of sand to attack Hitler's defenses.

Moseman, a 1939 Allen High School graduate, received his draft notice in August 1942. He obtained a deferment so he could help with harvest on the family farm, then entered the Army in January 1943.

Assigned to the 612 Engineers, Moseman was sent to basic training in Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where he was trained to operate heavy equipment. By December, he and thousands of other young Americans were headed across the Atlantic Ocean, taking the famous Queen Mary ocean liner to Glasgow in Scotland, where they landed on Dec. 30.

By train, they traveled to Hursley Estates near the southern coast of England. There, Moseman was assigned to operate a Cat 4, a small bulldozer. After weeks of training, he was moved to Bournemouth, a city on the English Channel, for more specific training. There, Moseman would drive his bulldozer onto a landing craft with other equipment, then sail into the channel before heading back to shore and landing on the beach to unload.

"All we did was practice to get on and off of those landing crafts," he said. "We knew we was gonna land D-Day, we just didn't know when."

In May, they were transferred to a staging area, surrounded by chain-link fences topped with barbed wire. By 9 a.m. each day, soldiers assembled in the mess hall where they were shown movies and pictures showing German defenses and capabilities up and down the Normandy beaches and countryside. They learned the location of every landmark, down to individual trees and bushes.

"It was just drilled into you where you were going to land, what you was gonna see," Moseman said.

In late May, the troops drew live ammunition and hand grenades -- "we knew we were getting close" -- and Moseman was moved to Torquay. Moseman backed his bulldozer onto a landing craft, which also had a jeep and a truck on board, and was sent back to the staging area. The next afternoon, he was given K-rations, boarded the landing craft at about 5 p.m. and began to cross the English Channel.

The first night was beautiful, Moseman said, but the second was stormy. The invasion was delayed for 24 hours. The following night, the weather cleared.

It took little time to realize that this time, the invasion was on.

"We looked up. It was planes pulling gliders wing tip to wing tip, nose to tail as far as you could see," Moseman said. "The earth just vibrated from those engines."

By morning, the earth was vibrating from the Navy bombardment of the German defenses. And the Germans returning fire on the invading Allied landing craft.

When the gate on Moseman's landing craft dropped open off Utah Beach, he discovered they were too far from shore. A captain and private drove off the end of the ramp in the jeep, which promptly disappeared under water, the two soldiers popping up in their life vests. Moseman was next into the sea on his bulldozer. Water nearly up to his waist, Moseman had to stand on the seat and reach down to operate the levers.

He wasn't prepared for the sight that greeted him.

"When I got to shore, all I seen were dead soldiers and landing equipment burning."

Moseman jumped down to adjust his bulldozer's radiator fan. He first thought the sand flying around was from the explosions Army engineers were setting off to destroy German defenses. He soon realized it was from German artillery shells landing near him.

"I didn't know I was getting shot at," he said.

After helping pull wounded soldiers out of the water to a safer spot near the concrete sea wall, Moseman got back on his bulldozer. He had been dropped far from his landing zone, so he started driving up the beach to clear debris from holes the engineers blasted in the sea wall and also push damaged vehicles aside so that trucks and other equipment landing in later waves could get onto the beach and inland.

All day he pushed junked vehicles aside, an easy target in his slow-moving bulldozer. German bullets pinged off its metal frame.

Moseman drew guard duty that first night ashore. He hadn't slept in two days, but he was able to spend a short time reflecting on the day's events, how the Allies had managed to get a foothold against the German resistance.

"We just practically overwhelmed them is how we did it," he said.

For the rest of the war, Moseman was attached to infantry divisions, often on his bulldozer at the front of advancing columns of troops, plowing holes through hedges and clearing roads of wrecked equipment and barricades the retreating Germans threw in the road to slow the American advance. Shortly after the invasion, he ran into Pete Paul, of Wakefield, and the two were paired together the rest of the war.

Despite seeing more than his share of combat, Moseman came home without a scratch. He returned to Allen to his family farm and later spent a 30-year career as a mail carrier in Sioux City.

Moseman's never been back to Normandy, although he turned down an invitation from his nephew, who offered to pay his way to visit this month. Moseman said he didn't think he'd physically be able to hold up visiting the vast cemetery to visit the graves of his cousin and other friends buried above the Normandy beaches.

"But now I've seen pictures of it," Moseman said. "It's a peaceful place, it's a beautiful place. They've cleaned it up. Kids play there. People picnic there. But there was a hell of lot of blood lost there, and they were all good kids, young people."

Moseman has had 75 years to reflect on the history that was made not just on June 6, but during the weeks and months that followed.

"I had some good days, and then there was some damn rough days," he said. "I met some wonderful, wonderful men. I have some wonderful memories. I have some memories I wish I could forget.

"I'm glad I served. I'm glad I was able to do it."

And so are we.

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