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The last hours of Pvt. Melvin Cowdell before his landing on Omaha Beach

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This article is a continuation of Salt Lake man killed on D-Day during the assault on Omaha Beach.

Pvt. Melvin C. Cowdell, a 22 year old infantryman from Riverton, Utah, was killed in the initial landings on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. He was a member of L Company, 3rd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1-st Infantry Division, U.S. Army. Although no record survives of his experience on D-Day, the final hours of his life can be pieced together from surviving members of his own Company L.

Pvt Cowdell had been sent overseas in March 1944, following his basic training at Little Rock, Arkansas and Infantryman training at Fort Benning Georgia. The company boarded ships in New York for the 10-12 day voyage across the ocean. “We slept in bunks that were several tiers high. Whoever got the top bunk would tie themselves in so they would not fall out. But you didn't want the bottom bunk because you never knew when someone may vomit on you.”

Upon arrival in England, Pvt. Cowdell and the rest of Company L were billeted at a little hamlet in Dorset called Long Bredy. Cowdell was part of several groups of Soldiers arriving between December 1943 and April 1944.

Daily training consisted of firing all types of weapons such as the .30 caliber and the .50 caliber machine guns, the 60 mm and 80 mm mortars, bazookas, and more; Soldiers also hiked, ran, walked, and crawled with all of their equipment. They trained in the countryside and on beaches similar to those of Normandy.

On June 4, 1944, L Company boarded the HMS Empire Anvil, one of four attack transports, expecting that the next morning they would be hitting the beach. However, the weather was such that the invasion was postponed for a day and H-hour was delayed to June 6, 1944.

The ships sailed to the middle of the English Channel to a rendezvous point code named “Piccadilly Circus.” PFC Robert "Bob" Rice recalled “After we left port. Lt. Cutler called us to the deck. When we arrived, his head was hanging down and he was holding his helmet in one hand and rubbing his handle-bar moustache with the other. He informed us that we would be landing on Normandy (Omaha Beach) at 0630 the following morning. He told us all to get as much sleep as possible.”

Later that evening, Chaplain Deery, a Catholic Priest, gave absolution. According to Major General (Retired) Albert H. Smith, Jr., then a 25 year old Captain and the Executive Officer of the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, “everyone—Catholic, Protestant, and Jew—turned out for the blessing. As far as I could tell, there were no atheists aboard.”

The men were awakened at 0200 for last minute checks with company commanders and then to the Mess for breakfast at 0300. The breakfast menu was relatively extensive and complete. Captain Smith recalled “everyone could have anything he wanted to eat. I ate steak and eggs with pancakes on the side. Even the mess stewards were kind and solicitous that morning. I guess they were glad they could remain aboard.”

After arrival at the rendezvous point, the assault troops transferred into the smaller Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP) boats for the long run to shore. Within a few minutes, most men in the LCVP were soaking wet and cold, many were seasick.

PFC John "Jack" Sweeney recalled “As we bobbed along the channel, the water began to come over into the craft. Within a few minutes, men became seasick and were vomiting up the corned beef sandwiches they fed us before we left. Here we are, in the middle of the English Channel, bobbing up and down in a small craft, while standing in water and vomit. This was not a very pleasant time." At a speed of about 5 knots through 4-8 foot waves, it took the LCVPs about 3 hours to travel from the HMS Empire Anvil to Omaha Beach.

It is unknown which of the five LCVP transports Pvt. Cowdell was on. The boat of the 4th assault section capsized about two mile from shore and all personnel aboard were missing. The remaining four LCVPs of Company L made it ashore.

Continue reading about Pvt. Cowdell and Company L’s assault on Omaha Beach.

Sources:

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