My name is Christopher Granger and these are the stories of my Uncle's Benjamin Miliano and Louis Giehle. They are similar in nature and similar in the way that day took place. I want you to understand that these are personal and something that I have never talked about. In my family, the dinners that we would have tended to separate and the men would go off to talk while the women would do the same. It was at these times that these two men would open up about their experiences of the war. This being the 70th anniversary of D-Day I feel compelled to pass on the knowledge. You see both men are now dead as is my father so I am possibly one of the last family members who listened to them. At 53 it's time to speak and be heard.
They had been on the transport ships for several days waiting for an opening in the weather. They were on different ships and didn't know each other at the time. They were in port at Dover, England and it startled to trickle down on June 5th that they were possibly going the next morning to France. Normandy and the beaches of Juno and Sword as they became known.
These two men at very young ages where about to go to war. They were trained and they thought they were ready to take on the Nazi's and the challenges ahead. They were both so very wrong about this. The trip across the channel was rough. Many people would puke their guts out into the open water. It wasn't until they began to board the landing craft that they really stared to realize they were scared shit less.
The trip to the beach was hell. In addition to the fact that everyone was still puking they were being shot at. They both told of men who were shot next or near them and would die in their arms. This is before hitting the beach. Artillery shells were landing by them and sometimes a boat would be hit and bodies would fly through the air. My Uncle Lou told me that it was like everything was in slow motion and it was so surreal.
The doors of the landing craft would and laying ahead of them was open water, the beaches, and cliffs to overcome. They would drop into the water and sink with all the weight they carried on them. Some people would drown or just float on the top of the water for a period of time. Bullets would fly by and all they could think of was to get onto that beach. Once there they had to get to the cliffs and climb up to the artillery and machine gun emplacements.
Along the way they both told of friends getting shot and there was not much they could do to help. It was at the cliffs that life would become hell. Germans would be shooting straight down just to keep the men from climbing up. My Uncle Sonny (Ben) would start climbing up and some dirt got in his eyes by a bullet and he would fall some twenty feet. He didn't break anything, cleaned his eyes and started up again. This is where their stories get personal, this is where they would kill men. As they both climbed to overcome the precipice they had to deal with machine gun nests and camouflaged Germans.
My Uncle Sonny told us of a machine gun crew that would be wiped out by hand grenades yet when they came upon it one of the Germans was still alive. He was speaking to my Uncle and since he didn't know German he didn't understand. Ben looked at the man and noticed most of his stomach area was gone. There was little for this man to live for since he was not going to make it. My Uncle shot him when the German went for his rifle. Ben would later realize that the German was begging for his life. This stayed with Uncle Sonny all the rest of his days. You see this was the first man he ever killed.
My Uncle Lou would tell us of the first German he had to kill. It also, was still very personal to him. He came upon a German hiding in some bushes and with his utility knife he slit his throat. He would remember that gurgling sound forever.
You must understand these were two of the sweetest Uncles a person could ever have, and to this day I love them dearly. This was war and they wanted to survive. They both would go on to other parts of Europe. My Uncle Sonny would fight in the Battle of the Bulge. My Uncle Lou would go on to Berlin.
On this day though, they both were in agreement they were lucky to have survived. I can't explain to you that as a child of ten how mesmerized I was by their stories, and how I looked at these two men with such awe. My Uncle Sonny would go on to marry my Grandmother's sister. My Uncle who was my Grandmother's brother would marry. Both men would have beautiful lives. My Uncle Lou taught me how to bet on Jai Alai and because of it I was able to live for about a year just betting on the game. He actually was very proud of me for that. He taught me not to get greedy and to always stay with your same numbers.
I sit here this morning crying like a little baby and I miss these two very much. On this day I am very proud and honored to be able to tell their stories. There are more but for now this is good. The world must know the sacrifices this generation of Americans had to take to survive not just overseas in battle but also at home. Benjamin Giehle R.I.P. Louis Miliano R.I.P.