I have tracked down the head of the veteran Rangers old boys’ network, a lovely quietly spoken man called Frank South who was himself a veteran of Omaha beach.
He kindly provides me with a long list of veterans’ contact details and recommends a few on the list who he says have good stories including Ike Eikner, who was the communications officer under Rudder for the Pointe du Hoc assault. It is now a question of calling each of these men to hear their stories. Ike proves to be a good starting point.
He’s 93 but his mind is still razor sharp and he tells some good anecdotes about climbing the cliffs under grenade fire and using pigeons to send messages. Some of the veterans I speak to are pretty hard of hearing and it’s not easy on the phone. My colleagues in the Timewatch office have to put up with me shouting my questions repeatedly down the phone!
I am tasked with talking to other historians about Omaha to find out their views on Maisy and also to see if any other new evidence has come to light recently. Dr Adrian Lewis at Texas Uni has done some interesting new work on the planning side of things and believes that Omaha came close to disaster because it was a compromise between British and American doctrines.
He also talks well about how the Americans had an over-inflated view on the accuracy of their bombers convinced they could drop a bomb “into a pickle barrel” – but on the day they missed their targets. We all feel that it has some interesting resonances for operations today in places like Iraq.
What is great about Lewis is that he’s not your average academic. Not only is he one of only two African American military historians in the States but he also served most of his career as a soldier in the US Army before turning to academia.
This means he is able to talk with some authority about what a soldier feels and how a soldier behaves when he sees the slaughter of the battlefield for the first time – which many of those landing on Omaha would have experienced as green GIs. It is really quite chilling the way he explains it.