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Last Updated: Tuesday, 1 June, 2004, 09:59 GMT 10:59 UK
'I watched my fellow Americans die at Omaha'
James Milnor Roberts was a captain on special assignment in the US 29th Infantry on D-Day, landing some 10 hours into the invasion.

His landing craft was hit about 100 metres from Omaha Beach just as it grounded on a sandbar, forcing him and 100 other seasick American soldiers to plunge into chest-deep water.

Thousands of American soldiers were already dead by the time he landed.
Major General J Milnor Roberts at the new World War II memorial in Washington
Major Roberts' D-Day memories have not faded over 60 years

Sixty years ago, I landed in the middle of Omaha Beach.

The beach was divided pretty much by alphabet: Fox, George, Delta, and so on.

One part was named Easy, but it was not easy at all.

I was on a vessel that sailed out of Plymouth, carrying perhaps 500 troops. It could not go into the beach itself because of its design.

We stopped about two miles out and unloaded onto smaller vessels, which were the landing craft.

The seas were bouncing up and down. Stepping down onto the decks of landing craft was a little hazardous.

We had been distributed life belts that went around our waists, designed to keep us afloat.

As we landed several of our fellas decided to inflate their belts. When they got in the ocean, their weight made them top heavy and they flipped over.

Horrible sight

When I came ashore, we had one amphibious tank. The rest had sunk. This one was ashore, but it was on fire.
These guys were literally screaming and burning and I couldn't do anything except hope that maybe one of them would get out
James Milnor Roberts

The contents and the people were burning to death. It disturbs me quite a bit even to think about it now.

These guys were literally screaming and burning and I couldn't do anything except hope that maybe one of them would get out.

The beach was a very horrible sight. This was not the first of the landings. We had an awful lot of wounded people and corpses on the beach.

I had been assigned as an aide to the commanding general of Omaha Beach. My job was to get above the sand itself and find a suitable place for a general to go in that evening.

Major General James Milnor Roberts
Many drowned when soldiers were forced to wade into chest-high water

I collected a few guys, and we walked up the edge of this ravine, making ourselves targets in the process.

I walked over to the edge at the top of the hill and looked out over the channel.

It was just incredible. For about 20 miles from west to east there were ships of every description, battleships and cruisers, destroyers and landing craft and merchant vessels with more supplies.

It was something to behold. I don't think we'll ever see anything like that again.

So many lost

I wondered to myself how my friends had done. The very next day, I had to go back to the beach for something.

It was an unbelievable mess.

On the way, I discovered the corpse of a guy I had known. He was the same rank as me (Infantry Army Officer), the same branch, and had the same military and civilian education.

For all intents and purposes, we were like two peas in a pod.

"What's the difference?" I thought to myself. He's there, and I'm here. And he's got a bullet in the middle of his head.

Artillery positions set up soon after landing
Americans suffered heavy losses when they landed at Omaha

When I got back to this country I thought it would be appropriate to get in touch with his family.

I told them they could be very proud of their son. It was a great cause and he did a great job before being left there.

There is a cemetery at the top of that hill in Normandy which now has 10,000 graves. You look at this thing with 10,000 crosses and the occasional Star of David, and you just shake your head. You can't visualise that many people being lost.

James Milnor Roberts
"The beach was a very horrible sight. We had a lot of wounded and corpses"


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