Through North Africa, Sicily, Omaha Beach, France and Germany, you and I were inseparable foxhole buddies. My hard Bon Bon candies in exchange for your bouillon cubes, remember? Did you ever fully recover from the constant reoccurrence of yellow jaundice? Remember the fully equipped sniper’s rifle captured after D-Day near Bayeux? Remember a little French boy, about fourteen years of age, who tagged on to me, whose name was Ferdinand Lassibile, Freddy for short? He saved the life of one of our aviators who was shot down. He went on several patrols with me and once when we captured a German prisoner in civilian clothes who spoke fluent French, Freddy was able to thoroughly interrogate him. I wonder where he is now? Do you recall your telling’Wae DDay was planned for June 5th, but the weather was so bad it had to be postponed?
Herb, did you know my small landing craft, LST 66, was hit by German artillery as we headed towards Omaha beach, second wave, on June 6, 1944 and that two men were decapitated just a few yards from shore and four of our buddies were seriously wounded? One died in my arms. Braddock and I did what we could for the ‘Wounded. Lieutenant Burnett recorded the action and I received a Bronze Star. Do you remember Omaha Beach, second wave? No trees, no bushes, no sand dunes, no cover. And most of us were seasick from the rough waters crossing the English Channel. And the barbed wire and iron stanchions stretching out of the water for miles with so many of our buddies, from the first wave, riddled with machine gun bullets, hanging on the stanchions,lifeless, and hundreds of others floating face down with just their knapsacks visible above water. You never did know how I got off that beach alive. I have been unable to reveal this to anyone until today.
The last time I saw you was on September 1944, in a place we nicknamed ”Coffins Corner”. The cover I used was a pile of dead buddies and for almost fifty years I have tried to erase that mesmeric picture from my memory. Not many understand or are capable of comprehending an experience such as this and I do not expect them to. But you dear friend would know and feel what I have felt all these years by being there and so my search for you continues.
The last time I saw you was on September 1944, in a place we nicknamed “Coffins Corner,” on the German Seigfried line, just outside of Aachen, where I was wounded by a German mortar shell while guarding a captured pill-box. For almost fifty years I have thought about our comradeship and how many times you saw me pinned down from atop a command post. I often wonder what happened to PC Clark whose Tommy gun accidentally went off and the bullet went through Lt. Burnett’s pants and just missed my right toe by six inches.
I wonder where Kidd, Patella, Hewitt, Falleta, and DeAngelo, who was accidentally shot while demonstrating a new machine pistol, are today? Do you recall the diary I took from a German prisoner on DDay? Did you know I kept a record of each day from June 6, 1944 until September 28, 1944? Here’s a tidbit dated June 20, 1944. “God what a night, torrential rain and German artillery fire kept me awake in our foxhole most of the night. My helmet came in handy for bailing us out. Siegel, God bless him, can sleep anywhere and he snores. He sleeps and relies on me being a light snoozer and that I will stand guard. I voluntarily dig the foxholes. He outranks me. But I love him.” Herb, in this little book are names we remember and must never forget. Colonel Matthews, Major Dowd, Lt. Duckworth, Medical Staff Sergeant Raymond Lepore my unforgettable buddy, Buschlen, Mapes, Rice, Young, Pop Wilzcek and so many more whose names I have forgotten but whose glory remains intact.
But for the grace of God, I am one of the very few remaining original E&H Company, 16th Infantry, First Division cadre, and I will never ever forget. You would be interested to know, Herb, that in 1972 I became a published author. My writings, Herb, are post-war reflections on coping with death and dying. A hangover from WWII. Finally dear friend, I hope you are still with us, and if not, I pray we may meet again in another time, another space, another place, and in a better world.
Jess Weiss refound his wartime buddy Herb Siegel, in his own words: "On the 50th Anniversary of D-Day June 6, 1994, I wrote an article (attached) that was published and NBC called every Herb Siegel in the US telephone book. They found him and sent us both back to Omaha Beach to tell our D-Day experience. Tom Brokaw & Katie Couric told our story in detail on their "NOW" program that was aired nationally & internationally".
Jess E. Weiss
Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, found the 16th Infantry back at Fort Devens, but not for long. It departed for England in April 1942, where it joined a large contingent of US troops slated for participation in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. In its first amphibious assault under combat conditions, the 16th Infantry landed on a beach near Arzew, French Morocco at 0100 hours, on 8 November 1942. Over the next three days, the regiment battled relatively light resistance from Vichy French forces and helped to capture Oran. It doing so, the 1st Infantry Division(whom the regiment was assigned to during World War II) established a permanent presence for the US Army in North Africa. During the remainder of the North African campaign the 16th Infantry fought in a number of locations to include the Ousseltia Valley, Kasserine Pass, El Guettar, and Mateur in Tunisia. For its actions at Kasserine the regiment was decorated with the Croix de Guerre by the French Government and it received its first Presidential Unit Citation for its actions near Mateur.
Next came Sicily. Shortly before 0100 hours on 10 July 1943, the first wave of the 16th Infantry boarded landing craft for the assault on that island. After achieving a relatively bloodless hold on the beachhead in the darkness, the regiment pushed into the hills beyond. There the regiment was soon hit hard with an armored counterattack by German tanks. Despite numerous enemy tanks and reinforcements, the 16th Infantry desperately held on by receiving assistance from the heavy guns of the U.S. Navy and the timely arrival of the regiment's Cannon Company. By 14 July 1943, the regiment had moved through Pietraperzia, Enna, and Villarosa. Fighting against snipers and well-fortified positions, the regiment moved forward by a series of flanking movements and by 29 July had taken the high ground west of the Cerami River. In early August, the regiment reached the town of Troina in eastern Sicily. At Troina the regiment experienced some of the most bitter fighting it would see during the war. After a four-day brawl with the battle-hardened troops of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the men of the 16th Infantry finally captured the town and soon after the Sicily campaign ended.
Subsequently, the regiment sailed to Liverpool, England, and from there entrained on 16 October 1943 for Dorchester, to carry out seven months of grueling training in preparation for the Allied invasion of Europe. On 1 June 1944, the men of the 16th Infantry departed their D-Camps in southwestern England and embarked on amphibious assault ships at the port of Weymouth. Units of the 16th Infantry boarded USS Samuel Chase, USS Henrico, and HMS Empire Anvil, preparatory to their third—and most important—amphibious assault mission. Late on the afternoon of 5 June 1944, the troop-laden ships slipped out of Weymouth harbor and headed for the beaches of Normandy. The long-awaited assault on "Fortress Europe" began in the early hours of 6 June 1944 as the 16th Infantry Regiment moved toward Omaha Beach. As landing craft dropped their ramps, men were killed and wounded as they attempted to get out of the boats. Others were hit as they struggled through the surf or tried to run across the sand weighted down with water-logged equipment. Many were shot down, but others made it in close to the base of the bluff where they found the area mined and criss-crossed with concertina wire. Eventually, an assault section of E Company under First Lieutenant John Spalding and Staff Sergeant Philip Streczyk managed to cross a minefield, breach the enemy wire, and struggle their way to the bluff. Colonel George A. Taylor, the regimental commander, noting the small breakthrough stood to his feet and yelled at his troops, "The only men who remain on this beach are the dead and those who are about to die! Let's get moving!" Soon other troops began making their way up the bluffs along Spaulding's route while other gaps were blown through the wire and mines. By vicious fighting, some hand-to-hand, other sections, platoons, and eventually companies made it to the top and began pushing toward Colleville-Sur-Mer. By noon of that bloody day, the 16th Infantry had broken through the beach defenses and established a foothold that allowed follow-on units to land and move through.
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