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Salt Lake man killed on D-Day during the assault on Omaha Beach

Army troops wade ashore on "Omaha" Beach during the "D-Day" landings, 6 June 1944. They were brought to the beach by a Coast Guard manned LCVP.
Army troops wade ashore on "Omaha" Beach during the "D-Day" landings, 6 June 1944. They were brought to the beach by a Coast Guard manned LCVP.
Photograph from the U.S. Coast Guard Collection in the U.S. National Archives.US National Archives

This article is a continuation of The hours of Pvt. Melvin Cowdell before his landing on Omaha Beach.

Melvin Clyde Cowdell brentclarenceaston1

June 6, 1944 (D-Day), Pvt. Melvin C. Cowdell, a 22 year old infantryman from Riverton, Utah, was killed in the initial landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France. A graduate of Jordan High School, he entered the Army on November 19, 1942; he received his basic training at Little Rock, Arkansas and Fort Benning Georgia. He was assigned overseas just a few months before the planned invasion, in March 1944.

Cowdell was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1-st Infantry Division, U.S. Army. His company was charged with the initial invasion of Omaha Beach on D-Day. Omaha was the code name of a crescent-shaped section of beach with rocky cliffs found on either side. Omaha was between the Utah and Gold code-named beaches of the Normandy coast.

Company L was initially scheduled to land at 6:30 am with the rest of the initial invasion forces but high seas and poor visibility delayed them 30 minutes and pushed them 500 yards east of their planned landing location; they landed on the easternmost section of Omaha Beach code-named “Fox Red” at 7:00 am, just short of beach obstacles located about 25 yards from dry land.

As the men came onto the beach they found that the planned air bombardment had overshot its target area and the plan to use bomb craters as foxholes was no longer an option; men who lived to reach the beach started desperately to dig holes in the sand but found that the high waves filled them with water. The only cover the men could find was the wreckage scattered on the beach and the dead bodies which had floated ashore. Enemy machine gun fire was particularly deadly during their first minutes on the beach.

Members of L Company who survived the beach landing were fortunate enough to have some cover provided by a vertical cliff at the edge of the water and just 300 yards from where they landed. This is where L Company regrouped and discovered the loss of one of their Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) boats carrying the 4th assault section which capsized about two miles from shore as well as their losses from the beach landing. Company L had been reduced to 123 men from the original 187.

Although the exact details of Pvt. Cowdell's death are not known, it is likely that he was among the 64 Soldiers initially lost to L Company.

Company L regrouped and incorporated some survivors from Company K and began the assault on the strong points of Omaha Beach. In the fierce fighting that ensured, Company L suffered heavy casualties but in the confusion of battle, elements of the 116th Infantry and Company F of the 2nd Battalion were also landed by mistake on Fox Green beach and they were immediately put into action as reinforcements for L Company.

Except for Company L on the extreme east flank of Omaha Beach, and a small Ranger force on the extreme west and Company E’s section in the center, the first waves of tanks and infantry were decimated by enemy fire. Company L was the only one of the eight rifle companies in the first assault wave which was ready to operate as a unit after crossing the beach.

Throughout the morning of June 6th, L Company along with their reinforcements and members of surviving companies continued to advance on Omaha Beach. That afternoon L Company moved into Le Grand Hameau.

Continue reading about Pvt Cowdell and his last hours before the assault on Omaha Beach.


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