Brad Pippin, James Pippin and Dennis “Birdog” Bergmann were invited by a group to participate in the historical parachute jump over one of the drop zones of D-Day called Carentan in Normandy, France. Because of airplane mechanical problems, closed airspace and lousy weather on different days, they were not able to make the jump but still explored and revisited the 75th Anniversary of the D-Day Invasion. They spent June 3-June 7 in Normandy. Brad’s wife Lynne and James’ wife Shirley also accompanied them on the trip.
On June 3, the Pippins and Bergmann arrived in Paris in the afternoon and traveled to Normandy, France by rental car on June 4, to St. Mere Eglise, a historical town in the invasion of 1944 where the 101st Airborne Division jumped on D-Day. They saw a church there where one of the paratroopers jumped and landed on top of the church with his parachute draped over the steeple. People of that church keep that history alive with a parachute hanging over the steeple and a mannequin jumper hanging from it.
On June 5 they spent the entire day at a place called Pointe Du Hoc, a strategic terrain located in the middle of the Utah and Omaha Beaches which American forces were responsible for securing. Five beaches are interconnected, but the Americans were responsible for Omaha and Utah, where the bloodiest fighting took place during the D-Day Invasion. Pointe Du Hoc which juts into the ocean is 5-6 miles of sheer cliffs, ranging from 100- 130 ft tall and 90 degrees perpendicular to the ground. The Germans had six, 155-millimeter artillery cannons, each which could reach 13 miles both ways on the beach. It was the most formidable indirect fire asset the Germans had as part of their defenses, and the removal of these would significantly assist the main effort of allied forces as they secured the beaches in Normandy. Men from the 2nd Ranger Battalion were assigned this mission.
This was especially significant to James because he spent nine years of his career in the Army in the 2nd Ranger Battalion.
“In the Army, we are very proud of the history of the units,” James said.
Two hundred and twenty-five men from the 2nd Ranger Battalion began the assault on Point de Hoch on D-Day. After the mission, only 90 of the 225 men were fit for combat.
James said, “In my opinion, this was the single most daring and courageous and difficult military mission ever given to any human anywhere in the world.”
Rangers came in on LST landing crafts about 4 miles from shore. When they got about 2-3 miles out from the beach, they were fired on and hit by mortar and artillery fire. One kilometer away, they were targeted by machine gun fire. When they got to the beach, they had to unload those launching crafts in waist deep water, still under machine gun fire, but then under attack by precision sniper fire as well. The men were defenseless because all they had were small armed weapons that were good for approximately 300 hundred yards. They could not shoot back.
As they got onto the beach, they had to run 100 yards laden with tank stoppers, mine fields and barbed wire obstacles to reach the base of the cliffs. Once at the cliffs, they had to deal with Germans dropping hand grenades on them over the cliff. Then began the task of climbing the cliffs, carrying 60 to 100 pounds of wet gear each. Their rocket propelled ropes for climbing were wet, which reduced the range of these ropes by 75% or better. The Germans were shooting point blank on them and cutting the climbing ropes. When they got to the top of the cliffs, hundreds of Germans remained at Point de Hoc. Once up the cliffs, they could begin fighting the Germans. However, those six artillery cannons had been moved inland a bit by the Germans. Two Rangers went on a search to find those guns. They only found 5 of them, but they completed the mission of disabling them.
Three hundred fifty thousand Allied forces were involved in the D-Day invasion. One hundred sixty thousand allied forces came onto the beaches on D-Day while the other 190,000 were other naval forces that stayed on the ship. Over 1,500 warships and watercraft were involved. However, the 225 men from the 2nd Ranger Battalion took on the initial attack, making it possible for the others to land on the beaches without the German 155-millimeter artillery cannons there to stop them.
On June 6, 44 Heads of State were in Normandy for the 75th D-Day Anniversary. With that many leaders in Normandy, thousands of French police had blocked all main roads, so the Pippins and Bergman rented a car and drove south of the beaches. They happened upon a small town in the French countryside out in the middle of nowhere, with a beautiful, immaculate cemetery established 75 years ago for WWII soldiers. It was called Tilly-Sur-Seulles War Cemetery. Crosses were placed on the graves of the Allied forces, while the Star of David was placed on Jewish soldiers’ graves. Laid to rest in this cemetery were 1,222 soldiers: 986 British, 2 New Zealand, 1 Australian, 1 Canadian and 232 Germans. The French people, victimized and terrorized by the Germans for three years, still had the humanity to treat the German soldiers with respect. This cemetery is funded by the people of this small town, about the size of Scotland, TX, and they continue to keep it immaculate today with lovely manicured grounds and beautiful plants at the base of every soldier’s grave. The effort of the beautifully maintained graves is no different for the Germans than the other soldiers’ graves.
On June 7, the Pippins and Bergmann spent the entire day on Omaha Beach. Prior to their trip they researched to discover the names of the Texans killed on D-Day. They found 35 and made 15 sets of dog tags with those men’s names on them. When they got to Omaha Beach, they placed the dog tags on the sand of the beach for pictures.
James said, “Everywhere we went, nobody was having fun or smiling. A state of humility and deep, reverent thought accompanied those on the beach.”
June 8 the Pippins and Bergman visited Coleville Sur Mere Cemetery overlooking Omaha Beach where 9,000 American servicemen were buried. Here they located graves of 8 of the 35 Texans. The dog tags were placed on their crosses along with the American and Texas flags, and pictures were taken. They plan to find descendants of these men and give them the dog tags. So far, they have discovered one descendant of one Texan killed, Herman Hilscher, 2nd Lt. with the 29th Infantry Division from Stamford, TX. One of his brothers, Joseph Hilscher is still alive. Joseph was overcome with emotion when he got the call. Plans are in place for a ceremony at the Stamford Museum for the presentation of Herman Hilscher’s dog tag to his brother. A date has not yet been announced.
Why would Americans become involved in this war, sacrificing so many American lives? WWII American’s defended the freedom of the United States of America. On the heels of WWI, when Germany was required to give massive war reparations back to the allies after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler rose to power and bonded the Germans. The intent was not to pay any reparations but to take back the land lost in WWI and take over Europe to make Germany a dominant power. How much more would he have done if he had been successful conquering Europe? He had to be stopped. Shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States officially entered the war to help their allies prevent Hitler and those aligned with him in their scheme of world domination.
The Pippins and Bergman left France with a newfound humility for what these men sacrificed on D-Day. D-Day was the beginning of the end of Hitler. The sacrifices made by Americans and allies of America should never be forgotten.
Brad Pippin is a 1984 graduate of Archer City High School and a 1988 graduate of West Point. He served for over 25 years in the Army, retiring as a Colonel. He and his wife Lynne live in Lansing, Kansas.
James Pippin graduated from Archer City High School in 1983. He served over 25 years in the Army as well, retiring as a Command Sergeant Major. He and his wife Shirley live south of Graham, TX.
Dennis “Birdog” Bergmann, too, spent over 25 years serving his country in the Army, retiring also as a Command Sergeant Major.