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The Dead and Those About to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach

Related Articles. Looking for More Great Reads? Download Hi Res. The Dead and Those About to Die. As a young man, Allen had washed out of West Point because of his independent nature and maverick tendencies, a dismissal that must have smarted for the scion of such a distinguished military family.

True to his resilient nature, though, he rebounded from the setback to earn a degree from the Catholic University of America and a subsequent Regular Army commission. Allen's personality meshed perfectly with the independent professionalism of the 1st Infantry Division. In combat, he was the embodiment of an inspirational commander-courageous, relentless, and energetic-the sort of general who circulated easily among subordinates from the lowest-ranking private to staff officers. On the Tunisian front, he had made a point of regularly visiting the forward positions and speaking to each man personally.

In action, he dressed in a simple, rumpled olive-drab uniform, helmet often askew or at his side, smoking cigarettes, grinning, tossing around one-liners.

The Dead and Those about to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach

He was a natural backslapper and storyteller. He enjoyed an easy familiarity with his men, yet he managed to maintain a strong command presence. Almost everyone who served in the 1st had encountered him firsthand and had come to love him, in part because of his magnetic personality, in part because of his competence, but mostly because of his obvious concern for their welfare. We're not out for glory. We're here to do a dirty, stinking job.

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True to his cavalry roots, he believed in swift maneuvers, slash and dash, night attacks and esprit de corps. He cared little for his own promotion or his postwar military career. Command of the unit was the limit of his ambition. The men sensed that they were his first priority, and they loved him for it.

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In combat, this attitude contributed to success, but when the unit was off the line, it sometimes led to disciplinary problems. In the Mediterranean, the 1st earned a reputation as a hard-fighting outfit on the line, but a hard-drinking, rebellious, troublemaking group away from combat, contemptuous of rear-echelon troops, higher authority, and, for that matter, anyone who wasn't affiliated with the division. Allen seemed not only to tolerate this attitude but to encourage it, at least in the view of Bradley, George Patton, Dwight Eisenhower, and other senior officers in the theater.

The most notorious example occurred in the spring of , after the Tunisia campaign. The combat-weary men of the division yearned to visit the bars and brothels of Oran, a city they had actually captured during the initial invasion of North Africa back in the fall of However, only soldiers in rear-echelon-style khaki uniforms were allowed into the city.

The Big Red One soldiers were still clothed in the same filthy olive-drab wool uniforms they had worn all winter during the hard fighting among the hills of Tunisia. The combat men felt that if anyone should enjoy the pleasures of Oran, it should be the front-line soldiers who routinely risked their lives. Therefore, they deeply resented being excluded from the city at the expense of the "typewriter commandos," as they often referred to the service troops. Allen was clearly sympathetic to the views of his men. A substantial amount of brawling, drinking, and mayhem ensued, involving both officers and enlisted men.

Rearguard troops were not going to keep us from taking it this time, either. It will stop soon. A more career-conscious officer would have been eager to do the bidding of his superiors, regardless of what his men might have thought about that. Allen was different. Certainly his soldiers came first on his list of priorities, but perhaps he was also eager to remain popular among them even if that meant alienating the higher-ups.

In the view of senior officers, the Oran clashes represented more than just the usual tension between combat soldiers and rear-echelon types. Bradley, for instance, came to believe that a distinct whiff of parochialism, self-pity, and disregard for discipline and the chain of command emanated from the Big Red One. The soldiers had become a little too loyal to Allen and his equally charismatic assistant division commander, Ted Roosevelt, son of the former president. And it believed itself the only division carrying its fair share of the war.

Allen had become too much of an individualist to submerge himself without friction in the group undertakings of war.


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In August , near the end of the Sicily campaign, he fired him. Roosevelt also got the ax, in part because Bradley felt that he, too, had failed to enforce proper discipline and also because "Allen. Word of the firings hit the division like a sledgehammer. It was hard for the men to understand why such a successful commander had been cashiered. Some were resentful over Allen's relief; their bitterness hardened into anger at the brass and, ironically, an even more insular attitude about their division's greatness and the uselessness of all outsiders.

D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach

Those who were a bit more even-tempered, like Lieutenant John Downing, simply thought of it as "a bad omen. If a new general took command, we could be sure we would continue on somewhere in combat. Other men were simply mystified or sad. On the evening Allen left to go home, Captain Dawson, who had worked closely with him, wrote to his family about the melancholy mood that pervaded the ranks: "Terry left tonight, and with him went a record unequaled by any general officer in the divisions of the U. We've been through a lot and we all feel keenly sad about his going.

Fortunately, he made a very wise choice in Major General Clarence Huebner, a man whose personality could hardly have been more different from Allen's, but whose competence and courage were every bit his equal. Whereas Allen was born to soldiering, Huebner was drawn to it. While Allen's success was a testament to resilience and charisma, Huebner's was a testament to the Army's culture of meritocracy at least for white men.

Born to a non-military Kansas wheat-farming family, Huebner was educated in a one-room school of the sort that pervaded frontier lore.

The Dead and Those about to Die: D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach

A gifted storyteller, McManus provides more than just a rehashing of the chaos and carnage. Through extensive research he tells the story of the Big Red One, puts it in context, and explains why it mattered. An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page.

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Omaha Beach, D-Day (June 6, 1944)

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