Veteran recalls D-Day, WWII

Published 5:13 pm Friday, May 22, 2009

90-year-old Ralph Boutwell fought in northern France. He fought in Germany. He even landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day where commanders told their soldiers not to become too close to the man beside you because “one of you is going to die today.”

Boutwell said he was the first man drafted from Butler County.

“But I was deferred for two years,” he said. “I remember getting on a train in Greenville to go to basic training in Texas. We had 20 days of basic training, followed by 10 days at home. We then went to New Jersey. We were there five days, then we went over.”

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German submarines were sinking Allied ships in the Atlantic Ocean at the time, so Boutwell said the ship he was on changed directions every eight seconds in order to avoid becoming targets. Boutwell said his division landed in Glasgow, Scotland and the staging began for D-Day, what would become the largest amphibious invasion in modern warfare.

“They put us on those little boats…about 20 or 30 men per boat,” said Boutwell. “The water was chest high so we had to hold our rifles high above our heads. I can still see those bullets hitting the water. Then, we hit the beaches and my rifle got sand in it and wouldn’t fire.”

Boutwell said the man in front of him was shot, so he picked up that rifle.

“I used it for the rest of the war,” he said.

Boutwell said he spent basically the entire day on Omaha Beach, pinned down by heavy gunfire from the Germans.

“The next day I was able to crawl about 800 yards to get to a sand dune,” said Boutwell. “I was able to crawl up and over into a crater where a bomb had hit and a German machine gun nest had been. I captured about 12 Germans and marched them out of that ditch.”

One of the worst things Boutwell said he experienced in World War II happened near Saint-Lo, France, where Boutwell’s division – the famed 29th Infantry featured in such films like Saving Private Ryan and The Longest Day – saw some of its heaviest fighting.

A young solider was hit near the top of a hill.

“I heard him up there, just saying over and over again, ‘momma, momma,'” recalled Boutwell. “When I got up there to him he was already dead.”

Boutwell said the U.S. Army lost three-fourths of a battalion at Saint-Lo, where soldiers were forced to crawl among the hedge rows and trenches, slowly advancing against dug-in German forces. After Saint-Lo came Brest, then Paris, then Hitler’s Rhineland and Germany, and finally Boutwell’s discharge from the Army in 1946. By the end of the war, Boutwell had earned the Good Conduct and Victory Medals, as well as the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater Ribbon with three-stars.