BERRIEN SPRINGS —It was 20 minutes before 6 a.m. — H-hour — on D-Day, when Allied forces crossing the English Channel were poised to participate in the largest military landing in history, and Joe Amorelli was nervous.
Strike that. He was “scared stiff.’’
“This was our first combat encounter. We were scared out of our wits,’’ the 89-year-old World War II veteran recalled Tuesday at his home in Berrien Springs.
Sixty-eight years ago Wednesday, Amorelli and other soldiers were crouched in their Tank Landing Craft, anticipating their arrival on Normandy’s Omaha Beach. Already, he said, the craft had drawn fire from German artillery and the vessel had sprung a leak, dumping the craft’s three tanks into the sea.
“So in the middle of the channel, we were shinnying down this cargo net to (another) landing craft. We lost one man right there. He couldn’t make the jump,’’ Amorelli said. “There wasn’t any time to stop for him either.’’
When Amorelli disembarked, the water was so high and his footing so unsure he nearly toppled over. Trained as a demolition man, he said he lightened his load by ditching the explosives he’d intended to use to blow up obstacles on the beach. Such obstacles turned out to be the least of his worries once he reached the beach, where the German Army had opened up on the first wave of Allied invaders.
“Everything was coming our way,’’ he said. “A guy beside me had his arm blown off, and while he was looking at it, he was shot again. He went right down. They were dying all around me. I still don’t know how I survived that day.’’
DRAGGED TO SAND DUNE
He nearly didn’t. Moments after his feet hit the sand, a shot from a machine gun ripped through his right leg. Seconds later, a shell exploded, propelling shrapnel into his inner right thigh. Amorelli said he would have died on the spot if not for a fellow soldier, Frank Morabito, who dragged him up the beach to a dune line.
Spotting a landmine next to him, Amorelli said he slid beside one of the many G.I. bodies that lined the beach. It was fortunate he did, he said, as sand had jammed his rifle, leaving him momentarily defenseless as he raised his head and observed a German rifleman aiming at him.