- John Trippon, 92, escaped with his life as machine gun fire poured down
- He said of machine gunner: 'I guess he was too busy killing other guys'
- Veteran described how bodies had to be cleared to continue landings
Survivor: John Trippon pictured on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, 70 years after he landed there during D-Day
He was a solemn, silent figure behind the crowds that flocked to Omaha Beach yesterday to watch a re-enactment of the bloodiest battle of D-Day.
Thirty men in US Army uniform ran towards the cliffs across a vast expanse of sand and were cut down by make-believe machine-gun fire until only six remained standing.
They had gained no more than ten yards.
You couldn’t really blame John Trippon if he wasn’t too impressed by the reconstruction because 70 years ago, he did it for real.
And yesterday, above a beach that was once drenched in blood and carpeted with the bodies of his friends, he was quietly staging his own reconstruction.
At the same spot where he eventually swam, crawled and ran ashore under heavy fire in 1944, the 92-year-old engineer allowed his children and grandchildren to film and record his testimony – a startlingly graphic, deeply humbling account of a horror he does not want anyone to forget.
How he survived when so many died around him, however, is something he still struggles to explain.
He was a fit young soldier then, one of 40 dropped 90 yards offshore as German machine gun and artillery fire pinned down and tore through the ranks ahead of them.
What no-one realised was that shell-fire had blown a massive, water-filled pit into the sea bed, and the troops were jumping into it. ‘All my equipment weighed me down and I sunk to the bottom of a 20ft crater,’ he said.
He had to shed his kit, ammunition, grenades and weapons and swim to shore. ‘All the time the German machine-gunner was mowing people down.
'Why the hell I didn’t die there I can’t say. I guess he was too busy killing other guys.
'There were so many bodies lying in the water they stopped bringing any more troops ashore because it was freaking people out to see all these guys dead. They had to bring bulldozers in to push the bodies into a trench so they couldn’t be seen.
The Longest Day: U.S. reinforcements wade through the surf from a landing craft in the days following D-Day and the Allied invasion of Nazi-occupied France at Normandy in June 1944
Aftermath: Omaha Beach secured after D-Day, 1944
‘We ran across the beach as fast as we could and I picked up a gun on the way. We got up against the cliff face and it was so steep the Germans couldn’t shoot down at us. We could only move after the ships used their guns to take out the pill-boxes.’
Mr Trippon, a grandfather and great grandfather from Sun City, Arizona, still bears scars on his legs from his role as a ‘human bridge’ assigned to lie across concertina barbed wire to allow his comrades to run over him in safety.
At one stage – starving hungry – they ran into a field to collect dismembered limbs of cows they assumed had just been killed by shellfire. Only later, when infantrymen were blown up advancing through it, did they discover it was a minefield.
Last night Mr Trippon, making one final pilgrimage to Normandy to visit the graves of fallen friends, was staying with his family as guests of honour in a chateau overlooking Omaha Beach. Seventy years ago, he and his comrades had scaled the cliff to liberate it.
As John Trippon watched the reconstruction of the landings (pictured), he reminisced of his very real experiences of them, 70 years ago