Mel Newman was one of the U.S. soldiers who landed on the beach at Normandy on D-Day, 70 years ago.
D-Day, June 6, 1944, was the day of the invasion of western Europe by the Allied forces in World War II.
Newman, a longtime Minot resident, now is a resident of the Good Samaritan Home, an assisted living facility, in Bismarck. He will be 95 on Oct. 21.
Following is his account of D-Day when he told the story and about the days after the invasion to The Minot Daily News for the 60th anniversary observance.
Newman and other troops were told by their commanders only shortly before that they were going to Normandy for an invasion, then loaded on a troop ship for Utah Beach.
Newman was a member of the Army’s 359th Infantry Regiment. Company A, 90th Division.
“When we got over there we had to go down rope ladders,” he said.
The weather was so bad and the wind was so strong when the men went down the ladders and then boarded small landing crafts, which took them to shore.
“When I hit the water it went over my head and I just said, ‘Well, if I’m going to die, I’m going to die here …,’ ” Newman said.
It was about 9 o’clock in the morning when he and fellow soldiers landed on the beach.
Newman’s military job was as a Browning automatic gunner. “Twenty rounds in 3 seconds,” he said.
The then young single North Dakota farm boy said he was ready for whatever was ahead when he got to Normandy. “I never even thought about it,” he said.
He and the other troops had been training for some time, although they didn’t know specifically where or what the mission would be.
“We spread out as soon as we went ashore,” he said.
But men were also killed. He said the Germans were all around.
The U.S. troops just kept on going forward. “If anyone got hit, we just had to leave them there.”
Newman received a Bronze Star for trying to save a fellow soldier who got shot through the neck by a sniper. “We were pretty good pals, and the first day he said, ‘Mel, I’m hit.’ I ran out to him and helped him back, but he didn’t live he died.”
Before the war was over, Newman got another Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts.
From D-Day on, the troops kept moving inland to free Europe from the Nazis.
“There were different battles all over,” he said. “We went as fast as we could. We couldn’t always go, we’d get surrounded… and we’d have to fight our way out,” he said.
At nighttime, the soldiers took turns on guard duty. “The first night we had guard duty and we had plastic crickets. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen them but they’re little things that you squeeze together and they make a noise like a cricket. If they didn’t know the password, we didn’t ask questions, we’d shoot. We had a password every night. Newman said he didn’t get much sleep that first night.
(During the interview Newman paged through a well-worn book about his regiment, stopping to tell about pictures in the book.)
“I don’t know if you’ve heard about the gliders but this is a glider ship right here,” he said indicating one of the pictures. He turned to pages with large groups of soldiers, pointing out the many soldiers in the photographs.
Newman grew up in the South Prairie area south of Minot. He was drafted into the Army and entered the service on March 26, 1942. He trained in Texas, then was sent overseas in March 1944 to Wales where the training continued until the D-Day invasion.
While in the service, Newman got letters from home maybe once a month, but no other communication. When he was injured, the military sent a telegram to his family His niece, Vivian King, Bismarck, said she remembers that was the only time she saw her mother cry when the family got a telegram that he was injured.
At St. Lo, France, Newman was hit by fragments from an artillery shell. He passed out but a fellow from Minot, Halver Dinnetz, who Newman did not know was there, came over and covered him up with a blanket. The next morning, Newman said he remembers raising himself up and hearing someone say, “I think there’s a live one over here. I seen the blanket move,” referring to Newman. “That was me,” Newman said.
For the next three months, he was hospitalized and survived gangrene that infected his injured right thigh.
“It was just the time that the penicillin and sulfa drugs came into use and that’s what saved my leg,” Newman said. “I had 110 shots I ought to say 109.” His arms were “all checkered up,” with shots, so a nurse decided to give him a shot in the hip but after that he wanted to go back to shots in his arms.
When Newman finally got out of the hospital, he was sent “back up the line four times,” he said.
“Finally, the last one was in January of ’45 and a general came over and talked to me. I tried to get up and salute him… I couldn’t hardly get up and he said, ‘What in the hell are you doing over here.’ I said, ‘You tell me. I’ve been up there four times.’ “
The general got Newman moved from the front line to a harbor unit, where he spent the rest of his time overseas.
After four years in the military, Newman returned to the United States in September 1945, and was discharged at Camp McCoy, Wis., then returned to the Minot area and found a job.
He and Betty Knower were married in 1946 in Minot and raised their two children, Judy and Joe, in Minot. They moved to Bismarck last June to be near their children and grandchildren. Joe Newman and his wife, Bonnie, live in Bismarck and Judy Olson and her husband, Gary, live in Maple Grove, Minn. Betty Newman died Sept. 9, 2013.
Mel Newman is a lifetime member of the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. He has been a VFW color guard.
Newman told his daughter-in-law, Bonnie, recently that on D-Day when he got off the ship and boarded the small landing craft that he was “scared as hell” but would do it again for his country.