When D-Day rolls around every sixth of June, I remember Andy Andrews.
I first met Andy in 2006 when he spoke at my high school about his harrowing experiences as a 20-year-old machine gunner in World War II. I am now quite a bit older than he was when he stormed the Normandy beach, but I will never be old enough to imagine some of the things he went through when he was just a boy.
To mark the 75th anniversary of the largest amphibious invasion in history, The Daily Caller obtained an interview that 91-year-old Andy gave with the Witness to War Foundation in September 2014, a year-and-a-half before he died. He lucidly recalls the most memorable aspects of his wartime ordeal, making good to the end on a promise he made as a young man.
“If God gives me the strength,” he vowed as his ship returned from Europe, “Im going to tell the story of how He took care of me for 10 months in combat.” (RELATED: Snatching Coals From The Furnace: A Millennials Perspective On Billy Graham)
Seven Minutes To Live
Ernest Albert “Andy” Andrews Jr. was born July 27, 1923, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and grew up in nearby Signal Mountain, the fourth of six children. His childhood was typical of a Tennessee mountain boy. “I spent most of my young life as a Boy Scout — camping, fishing, hunting,” he said. “We had a good church experience. I became a Christian at 16 years old and we all lived real close to the church.” His boyhood community of faith provided Andy with the strength that would sustain him through the war.
Wartime portrait of Andy Andrews. (Photo courtesy of D.H. Ramsey Library Special Collections, UNC Asheville 28804)
All 250 boys in Andys graduating high school class were drafted in June 1943. At Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, he was inducted into the “Big Red One,” the Armys 1st Infantry Division. From there, he traveled to Fort McClellan, Alabama, for 13 weeks of basic training, where he learned he would be a machine gunner. (EXCLUSIVE: Andrew Brunsons American Pastor Describes Harrowing Turkish Courtroom Experience)
Andy carried the guns 50-pound tripod on his back throughout the war. When they hit trouble, Andy would flip the tripod over his shoulders while a second soldier came up from behind to latch the gun barrel; a third then followed with the ammunition, followed by a fourth with the water can to cool it.
The critical position was especially dangerous, and Andy often claimed that the average machine gunner in combat was dead within seven minutes. The tentative title of his extensive memoirs, which are still being edited, is “Seven Minutes To Live: A Machine Gunners Story.”
The SS Île de France carried Andy and 10,000 other troops across the Atlantic to England, where they prepared several more months for the D-Day invasion. “We thought they were joking,” Andy said of when their commanders told them they would see combat.
An Allied soldier with a machine gun surveys the crossroads of a partially occupied German village in April 1945 at the end of World War II. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)
“There we were, in almost total darkness,” Andy described the four-hour ride across the English Channel to France. “Nobody talking, nobody laughing, nobody shooting craps. Everybody quiet. Most of us praying.” By the dim lights inside the hull of USS Henrico, some of the soldiers were reading tiny New Testaments that the Army had given them. The man next to Andy repeated the Lords Prayer about 30 times, he remembered in a 2003 interview obtained by the Caller. “Thats all he could say. I figured that was all the prayer he knew.”
“And at that point, I remembered what my pastor said: God will not send you into uncharted territory without giving you the grace to sustain you there. And I thought, Boy, oh boy, I really believe that. I believe Gods going to help me.'”
Andy was among the third wave of soldiers to strike Omaha Beach, sparing him the barrage of machine gunfire that had decimated the two before. Climbing down the rope ladder and landing in one of the Higgins boats that circled the troopships, he rolled into a thick layer of vomit — the miserable expression of seasickness and fear that gripped them all. (RELATED: Heres The Story Behind The Allied Weather Forecast That Saved D-Day)
American assault troops in a landing craft huddle behind the shield 06 June 1944 approaching Utah Beach while Allied forces are storming the Normandy beaches on D-Day. (Photo by US Army Photo/AFP/Getty Images)
Hearing an explosion on the way to shore, Andy peered over the lip of his Higgins boat to see the one beside him blown apart by an artillery shell, sending men into the air before they sank into the sea.
“You had a feeling of fear and the feeling of adrenaline — of excitement and, of course, the fear of the unknown,” Andy said in 2003. “You got to where you believed that courage doesnt replace fear, but its the mastery of fear.”
Andy remembered vividly, across 70 years, that as he viewed the blood-soaked tide lapping at the many dead and wounded on the shore, he was overcome with grief at the “tremendous waste.”
“The American dead would break your heart, but youd run into German dead all around and you didnt think much about that. But they were human beings, too. But we didnt think about them that way.”
I Christian, Too
Andys unit pressed across northern France during the summer of 1944, at last breaking through into Germany by September. “Most of my worst battles were in Germany,” Andy said.
Perhaps the most poignant episode Andy ever recounted took place on the early morning of Nov. 19, 1944, outside Hamich, Germany. During the grisly battle for “Hill 232,” which he described as his most harrowing, the Germans attempted to regain the high ground by attacking an American force of about 35, all but five of whom were killed.
It was during this skirmish that Andys good friend, Jesse Beaver, was shot through the head and died in his lap, gasping for air as blood spilled out of his nose and ears.
Andy was ordered to take over the machine gun after the four gunners before him had been shot in the face. During a furious and bloody fight, he swept snipers in the trees and mowed down the enemy as they crested the bluff. The violence subsiding, Andy shot at a German soldier who had lobbed a grenade at him. The shrapnel struck Andy in the shoulder.
Andy Andrews, farthest at left, with fellow soldiers in Europe. (Photo courtesy the Andrews family)
After 30 minutes of silence, during which time Andy thought the soldier was dead, a white handkerchief emerged from the darkness and a frightened voice said, in broken English, “Please, may I surrender?” The soldier crawled over to him, covered in blood and badly wounded by Andys bullets.
“I reached down and picked him up,” Andy said, asking in broken German what his name was.
“Heinz,” the boy answered.
“Heinz, thats a good German name,” Andy replied.
“Are you going to kill me?” Andy remembered Heinz asking as he tossed a look over to Andys pistol. Andy said he could never do such a thing because that would be murder, and he was a Christian. “I Christian, too,” Heinz said. They also told each other they had both been drafted.
“He was 17 years old,” Andy remembered sadly. “And thats when I thought, My goodness! 17! Why couldnt we be sitting around the campfire talking, sharing our fishing and hunting stories, instead of trying to kill each other? I didnt have anything against him and he didnt have anything against me, but we were trying to kill each other. Our countries put us together to kill each other.”
Andy and Heinz limped together to the aid station to receive care for the wounds they had inflicted on each other. Andy always expressed regret for never finding out what happened to him, but he kept the small golden cross Heinz gave to him for the rest of his life. He showed it to every group he ever spoke to.
Andy in 2012 with the cross Heinz gave him in the battle for Hill 232. (Photo by Max Cooper/Mountain Xpress)
This War Was Necessary
The 1st Infantry Division at length found itself in the Battle of the Bulge, trying to contain the southern German flank in the cold darkness of the Hürtgen Forest. Here Andy suffered a frozen hand after having lost one of his combat gloves, which earned him his third Purple Heart. He managed to thaw it out after six days in the hospital.
For three days after the German surrender, Andy battled the lingering remnants of a depleted German military in Czechoslovakia. Barely failing to qualify for a return home, he was chosen to be among the occupation forces in Germany.
Several days following its liberation in April 1945, Andys unit entered the concentration camp at Dachau. Any mention of what was one of his last experiences during the war remains conspicuously absent in both of the video interviews obtained by the Caller. “He didnt talk about [Dachau] much, only to say that it was horrific,” Andys son told the Caller.
In a short personal statement written for UNC Asheville in 2003, Andy characterized the camp as “a somber and unbelievable spectacle.” He recalled “the shack-like barracks; the concrete whipping post over which prisoners were tied and whipped on the back; the blood ditch where prisoners were made to kneel, shot in the neck and kicked over into the ditch to bleed; the gas chamber where prisoners were herded to take a shower and watched in horror as the huge iron doors closed and the gas came hissing from the ceiling.”
“Next to the gas chambers were the brick ovens with sliding iron baskets or grates, on which bodies were placed for burning,” he continued. “And under the grates, iron trays for receiving the ashes and the gold from teeth or other jewelry, which some prisoners swallowed to keep from having to give it up to their captors and tormentors.” (RELATED: Rashida Tlaib Uses Historical Inaccuracy To Explain Why The Tragedy Of The Holocaust Gives Her A Calming Feeling)
French prisoners sing their national anthem, “La Marseillaise”, upon the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp of Dachau, near Munich, by Allied troops at the end of April 1945. (Photo by ERIC SCHWAB/AFP/Getty Images)
He remembered the grim barracks, in which bunks of rough wood planks forced prisoners so close together that even sleeping on ones side was difficult. Outside, there were “fearsome fences topped with barbed wire with rolls of barbed wire all along the base, next to a moat-like ditch. [On them] hung three prisoners, whose desperation made them believe they could make it over the top before being machine-gunned.”
They “were left hanging there as a lesson to other inmates.”
When Andy arrived, he said that “bulldozers were already at work on large and long open pits in which to bury the dead that littered the ground and lay scattered over the floors of boxcars. Looking down the railroad tracks leading into the camp, one had but to imagine the loaded cars coming from all parts of Europe — humans treated worse than cattle, crammed into a horror worse than death.” The camp guards he encountered were “idiots,” he once said.
“I never did hate the Germans,” Andy said in a 2012 interview. “I just thought it was a pathetic situation. But with the Nazi regime, I got the feeling that this war was necessary. And when we ran into the concentration camps, we knew it was necessary to get rid of this evil.”
The ship carrying Andy to Japan veered toward New York upon the explosion of the atomic bombs. He often claimed they were truly convinced they had just fought the last war.
U.S. soldiers look at the pile of prisoners dead bodies in a train near Dachau concentration camp in late April or early May 1945, after the camp was liberated by the U.S. army on April 29, 1945. (Photo by ERIC SCHWAB/AFP/Getty Images)
A Man Of Peace
“I am sure he had some kind of post-traumatic stress disorder, though they wouldnt have called it that back then,” Andys son, Al Andrews, reflected to the Caller, explaining how his father struggled to adjust to civilian life after the war. “He failed out of college — or was asked to leave — because he just couldnt focus. He was only 19 years old when he was drafted.”
People often told Andy that he didnt seem like much of a killer, to which he would always respond, “Im not!” Al believes his father struggled for much of his life with the guilt of having had to kill so many other young men, often in gruesome ways. In one battle that Andy recounted unforgettably — presumably the infamous one at Hill 232 — he had to stand at the edge of a ridge and shoot Germans point-blank in the face with his pistol as they climbed up over it.
“He hated the war,” Al said. “He was a man of peace.”
UTAH BEACH, FRANCE: As a sailor plays “Taps,” US veterans of the 06 June 1944 D-Day invasion lay a wreath 06 June 1994 in front of a monument at Utah Beach during commemoration ceremonies of the 50th anniversary of the landing. (Photo by PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)
Al accompanied his father and a group of other D-Day veterans to Normandy in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the invasion. In a 2006 article he penned for The Tennessean on Fathers Day, he recounted the touching experience of witnessing Andy return to the battlefields for the first time.
“I thought that my fathers return [to Omaha Beach] would be an emotional catharsis,” Al wrote. “Instead, he was almost giddy. Its great to be bRead More – Source