By Ernest Leiser

Stars and Stripes Staff Writer

26th infantry regiment big red one

Insignia of the 1st Infantry Division. The “Big Red One”

WITH FIRST INF. DIV., Czechoslovakia, June 5.—There aren’t many of them around today.

Most of the men in the 16th Inf.’s Third Bn., the first to wade through the fire and the mines and the wire to Easy Red Beach that day a year ago, are gone.

Gone where? The lucky ones are on the way home. Some of the others are in different outfits or on limited assignment or in hospitals. A lot more of them are dead.

(“Remember that little cemetery just behind the beach?” mused S/Sgt. Melvin Lee, an M Co. man from Monessen, Pa. “I wonder how many graves there are in that cemetery and how many of those graves belong to our boys?”)

The calendar says it has been a year. But these doggies in the Red One didn’t measure time that way.   They measured it by the date they got hit, or by the date a buddy got it. They measured it by the time they spent in the hospital.

They measured it in seasons. In the summer, the corpses stank. In the fall, it rained all the time. In the winter, you had trenchfoot and your feet froze.

They measured it, too, in miles. It was a long way from Easy Red, Omaha Beach, Normandy to Falkenau, Czechoslovakia. It would have been a long way even if you hadn’t walked most of it. It would have been a long way even if the Hurtgen Forest hadn’t come in the middle of it.

(“You know, I think it seems like such a long time because there are so many of the old guys gone,” said Pfc Benny Sutfin, a 22-year-old from Salem, Va., who has been with the outfit since the States. “They can’t have all gone in just a year.”)

operation neptune big red one dday

Soldiers of the Big Red One head towards Omaha Beach

At first they didn’t have much to say about D-Day. Cpl. David Penny, of Union City, Ind., said: “I’d just as soon not think about it.” He explained that by the time the Third Bn. Had reached its first objective, three-quarters of a mile and one day from the beach, there were 107 men left-not enough for a full-sized company.

But once they started talking, it was hard to get them to stop. They recalled how the I Co. boats never got to shore, how machine-gun bullets would spatter the water in front of you like “something out of a cowboy movie,” how guys fell over underwater trip wires and were blown up before they ever reached the beach, how guys dropped and how you had to keep moving or you’d get it sure.

(“Pfc. Rudy Amato, of Buffalo, N.Y., was a recruit with the Big Red One on D-Day. It was only his first invasion. “Remember that sailor who brought us in?” he asked. “He yelled ‘good luck’ after us and while he was yelling some Kraut shot him right through the head.”)

They talked some more about the battle for the beach and men went on to other fights-the breakthrough, the fight across France, the miserable days of Hurtgen and the race across Germany. Then the talk slowly stopped.

Someone mentioned the celebration of the anniversary of D-Day, “How are we going to celebrate D-Day if there’s nothing here in Czechoslovakia to drink except rotten beer?” S/Sgt. Tony Pratt, of L Co. and Morgantown, W. Va., asked. And then he added: “And how are you going to celebrate if most of the guys you’d celebrate with are gone?

“Me, I’ll do just the same as I do on every day—stand around and whistle at Czech girls, shoot the breeze about points, soak in the sun, and feel lucky I’m alive and maybe going home.

“You know, a year ago I wasn’t sure I would be.”

For More Reading on the 1st Infantry Division Check Out:

Doctor Danger Forward: A World War II Memoir of a Combat Medical Aidman, First Infantry Division

Infantrymen: The Story of Company C 18th Infantry 1st Division From June 6, 1944 to May 8, 1945

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