As if being part of the oldest, most decorated Infantry Division in the United States Army isn’t glory enough, and as if being a member of Eisenhower’s ‘go-to’ regiment—the 16th—isn’t cause for celebration, Fred Millard goes a step further:  He describes, in excruciating detail, wading ashore during of the First Wave on Omaha Beach on June 6, 1944—D-Day.

“When the bow ramp dropped in the Higgins boat, we were trained to move and move fast.  Didn’t matter if the guy in front of you got shot, we were instructed to keep going.  Unfortunately, I stepped out into seven feet of water.  I can tell you something, too.  I’m not seven feet tall.”

He was lucky to have gotten that far.  Moments earlier, the coxswain of the landing craft had refused to go forward, citing the Tellermine tank mines strapped to wooden stakes placed in the ocean.  One false move and the boat was history.  As Millard tells it, the Lieutenant on board was set to unholster his side arm to get the reluctant coxswain to reconsider; even so, the craft dropped the men in water well over their heads.

Plenty of men drowned that fateful day, but Millard saved himself by remembering a trick he’d learned as a boy, swimming in the lake:  toss off as much weight as you can, hit the bottom, and kick upward.  He jettisoned his rifle (“Who was I going to shoot from under water?”) and his seventy-pound backpack, ultimately surfacing and making it to shore amid artillery fire, mortars and criss-crossing machine gun fields.  To this day, he’s plagued by his own good fortune—“Why did I survived when so many of my Regiment brothers did not?”

Millard not only survived D-Day, but made it through that awful battle unscathed. 

Which is not to say that he made it through the war, nor the four other major battles he fought in (including Aachen and Troina) entirely in one piece.  On his first day in Sicily, for example, he stepped on a ‘Bouncing Betty’ anti-personnel mine and spent six months in the hospital.  Such mines were designed to explode behind the victim; a medic walking to his rear took the explosion fully in the face; Millar suffered extensive wounds to his back and left arm.  He bears the scars to this day and received his Purple Heart from General Eisenhower himself.  “Prior to that, all I had was a ribbon—and a pretty tattered one at that.  Eisenhower was shaking the hands of men in line and apparently, he’d heard of me, because he called me by name.  He asked me about my history, my wounds, said he’d heard I’d had a pretty rough road.  We spoke for a long time, and afterward, he told me that he enjoyed speaking to me that afternoon more than any other man in line, and gave me the Purple Heart on the spot.  Now, that’s an honor.  To this day, I consider him my personal hero, the greatest commander of the war.”

Never having met Eisenhower ourselves, we will be content to list Fred Millard among our personal heroes, and among the most compelling interview we have had the fortune to conduct.




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