Eastern Oklahoma VA Health Care System
Oklahoma Veteran Recalls D-Day, German Atrocities
In 1943, Barran Tucker was attending high school in Spiro, Okla., when he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Instead of finishing high school, Tucker reported to Fort Sill in Oklahoma for combat training.
After training, Tucker was assigned to the 29th Infantry Division, 175th Infantry Regiment, Company G. In January 1944, the 29th Infantry Division arrived in England and was given the assignment of taking Omaha Beach on D-Day.
On June 6, 1944, 160,000 American, British and Canadian troops crossed the English Channel and began landings along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified coastline in Normandy, France.
The Americans were responsible for securing Utah and Omaha Beach while the British and Canadians were responsible for Sword, Gold and Juno Beaches.
Omaha was the most heavily fortified beach, with high cliffs defended by German mortars, machine guns and artillery. Initial naval bombardments that attempted to weaken the German defenses proved ineffective.
Early in the morning on June 6, the 116th Regiment landed on Omaha Beach first while Tucker’s 175th Infantry regiment remained at sea in reserve.
“The 116th, they had terrible casualties,” said Tucker, who now lives in Bixby, Okla. “We didn’t have as many as they did. They just took the casualties and went on and bypassed the strong points. They left them for us to take care of.”
Omaha Beach, approximately 7,000 yards long, was divided into several different sectors by military planners. The 175th Infantry Regiment was assigned to Dog Green Sector and Tucker said the soldiers of G-Company went ashore later that afternoon and immediately came under fire.
“Some of them got shot as we came off the landing craft,” said Tucker, who was only 19 at that time and is now 89 years old.
While he was scared, Tucker said he focused on his training and the mission at hand.
“People are falling all around you,” he said. “I was scared. Everybody was scared. But the training took over and you just remember all that training. But I was lucky I guess. A lot of them got killed or wounded and I got within inches of it.”
A bullet grazed the side of Tucker’s helmet and knocked it off his head.
“I didn’t have my chin strap on or it probably would have broken my neck,” he said. “It put a great big dent in (my helmet).”
The men of Company G crawled across the beach, which was filled with dead and wounded American soldiers.
“You couldn’t run,” said Tucker. “They were firing over our heads. If you stood up, they’d kill you. Some of them did and they got killed.”
Finally, G Company reached a four to five foot tall seawall and waited until the Navy began shelling the German fortifications.
“We got up there and then they couldn’t hit us,” said Tucker. “So we stayed there quite a long time. The Navy started shelling, so finally we were able to move.”
While the Germans took cover from the Navy bombardment, Brig. Gen. Norman Cota, assistant commander of the 29th Infantry Division, gave the order for the Ranger Battalions to assault the Germans.
“General Cota came up there and said Rangers lead the way,” said Tucker.
Combat engineers used Bangalore torpedo explosives to create gaps in the barbed wire and then the Rangers scaled the cliffs while Tucker remained under cover at the seawall.
“A few went through at a time and several of them got killed,” said Tucker. “(The Germans) couldn’t get all of them. So they finally got up on the cliff up there and wiped out them machine gun nests.”
The cost to take Omaha was high and the U.S. suffered approximately 5,000 casualties.
Tucker Taken Captive as a POW
After the 175th Infantry Regiment pushed inland, the soldiers liberated Isigny. Next, they pushed on to Saint-Lô and the regiment attacked a bridge along the Vire River on June 13. But the Americans were outnumbered by the Germans.
“They weren’t about to give it up,” said Tucker. “We never did capture it. We assaulted it three times and they wiped us out. There was a lot more enemy and artillery up there than they estimated. How I survived, I don’t know. I was in the thick of it. I came within inches of getting killed there. But they missed me.”
After running out of ammunition and suffering severe casualties, Col. Paul Goode, commanding officer of the 175th Infantry Regiment, made the decision to surrender to the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division.
“Our regimental commander had so many wounded, he surrendered to save lives,” said Tucker. “We fought all day long, so we ran out of ammunition and we had so many wounded.”
However, the Germans showed no mercy to the Americans and committed horrific brutality. Tucker said the SS executed 49 American soldiers, including three Jewish Americans.
“They singled the Jewish guys out first and had them dig their own grave,” said Tucker. “Then everyone else, they just left them laying there. The really seriously wounded, this SS officer went through and shot them in the head. They couldn’t walk.”
The Germans took the remaining soldiers to a POW camp in Mooseport, Germany and were forced to work as slave labor in a sugar beet factory. In December 1944, Tucker escaped back into France with two other soldiers.
A French family fed the soldiers and told them they could sleep in their barn. However, the family notified the SS and Tucker was captured that night.
The Germans took Tucker to a POW camp in Zeitz, Germany.
“They lined us up to shoot us several times and they had a machine gun,” he said. “You have to cock it twice and they cocked it once but they never did do it the second time. They threatened to shoot us, but they didn’t.”
In April 1945, a rumor spread around the camp that Adolf Hitler had ordered the execution of all American POWs. So Tucker escaped and was rescued by American soldiers.
When he made it home to the U.S., he weighed only 77 pounds.
“I was glad to get home,” he said. “I spent a month in the hospital and they had us on a special diet, because I had stomach trouble and I have for years.”
Only a private on D-Day, Tucker served 34 years in the Army and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel.
In June 2014, Tucker and his family will travel to Normandy, France to attend the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. It will be his first trip back to Normandy since the war.
“It’s going to bring back a lot of memories,” he said. “I lost a lot of friends over there. There’s a cemetery up there and a lot of them are buried in that cemetery.”