Charly DiDominic was born 10 February 1922 in Detroit, MI, the son of Assunta and Tony DiDominic. Charly entered service in March 1943, and became part of the 83rd Division on 16 July 1944 as a replacement in E Company, 331st Infantry along with 43 others. He was with E Company for nine days before he was killed in action on 25 July 1944. A single bullet hole in the brim of his helmet may have been caused by machine-gun fire or a sniper. Originally buried at Blosville, France, his body was returned home for burial in May 1948 at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Detroit. He is one of nearly 4600 men lost by the 83rd Division during the month. The hedgerow campaign began on the 4th of July and ended on the day that Charly died. On the first day of fighting, "the division gained 200 yards, took 6 German prisoners, and lost almost 1400 men." The story of that first day follows.
On the morning of 4 July 1944, the 331st Infantry moved into position along the front line south of the village of Meautis in the hedgerows of Normandy. To the south of them, the crack German paratroopers of the 6th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment were well dug in and waiting on the other side of a swamp. The 331st was supposed to jump off at daylight, with the Second and Third Battalions on the line and the First in reserve. They moved up along the roads accompanied by a company of medium tanks which would supply direct covering fire from a ridge above the swamp. In the Second Battalion, F Company, on the right, faced south towards the Les Ormeaux farm, and E Company was on the left facing open marshland.
At 0430 hours, the pre-dawn sky lit up as seven field-artillery battalions and three infantry cannon companies fired a 15-minute preparatory barrage. At 0445 hours, the Second Battalion moved across the line of departure with mortars firing in support. The infantrymen had gauze strips tied to the back of their helmets so that they could be seen in the pre-dawn morning haze. As they moved out, artillery fired on prearranged targets about 700 yards in front of them. The first sign of enemy resistance was when the sun's rays lit up the swamp, reflecting its rays in bright streamers over the murky terrain.
In E Company, Lt. Ned Burr, a forward observer for the 908th Field Artillery, and his radio operator had been hit by shrapnel about three minutes after they crossed the line of departure. This left E Company without any way of calling in artillery support. In F Company, another forward observer, Lt. Cobble, had reached a point about 75 yards from the U-shaped farmhouse at Les Ormeaux. Heavy machine gun fire had caught him and he lay pinned down in a ditch. Soon the enemy was firing heavy artillery and mortars. Two high-velocity weapons fired round after round into the ridge behind the swamp.
Somehow, H Company (the heavy weapons company) had managed to make it across the swamp and past the farmhouse. There, mortarman John Aller recalled that they were in plain view of the house which was sitting above the bank of the swamp. "Despite heavy concentrations of enemy automatic weapons and mortar fire, some of the battalion had made it, only to find that all hell broke loose behind us. The enemy had let us cross over or in between them, as they had been well camouflaged and we had passed them up." Aller realized that they were surrounded and were in clear view for the Germans to take "pot shots" at them.
To the left of F Company, German snipers and patrols had caught most of E Company off guard near LaRayerie. Lt. Col. Henry Nielson (who had temporarily taken command of the regiment after Col. Barndollar had been killed by a sniper) learned that E Company had become badly disorganized. He directed Lt. Col. Faber, the 2nd Battalion commanding officer, to relieve E Company and pull it back across the line to reorganize. The situation was actually much worse than Nielson realized. E Company had gone about 200 yards when they were stopped by heavy machine gun and mortar fire. When Col. Faber and his party managed to make their way to E Company, they learned that there was only one officer left, and only about 50 men were known to be alive. For all practical purposes, E Company had ceased to exist.
Meanwhile, F Company was pinned down about fifty yards from the U-shaped house. To assist them, Col. Faber brought up six tanks to the observation post, where they started firing directly across the swamp. The enemy returned fire on the tanks, and started shelling them with mortars and heavy artillery. G Company, which had not yet moved out of reserve, was about 500 yards to the rear, and was caught under this rain of fire and received as many casualties as the troops out in the swamps.
The 3rd Battalion, near La Chenay, made up the left flank of the 331st line along the Carentan-Periers Road. They had made no progress and, in fact, had lost some ground. Unlike the swamp in which the Second Battalion was operating, the ground here was thickly crowded with hedgerows. The troops had moved out only a few yards, where they were cut down by the enemy every time they made a move. The Germans had stopped the 3rd Battalion cold. K Company had been mauled and had a lot of the fight taken out of them, and only L Company on the right had made any advance. Lt. Col. Schuster, the battalion commander, decided to contact L Company personally as there were no other communications. He crawled out of the observation post and started along the hedgerow. He reached a point about fifty yards from the observation post when he was hit. A few of the men rushed to his side and brought him back to the aid station. His executive officer, Maj. Brown, took over the front lines.
In the Second Battalion, Capt. Fleming had the only communications to the rear. All other wire and radio communications were out and runners, who were sent out in an attempt to contact the regimental command post and the other companies, never came back. From the observation post Fleming could see the men crumple over and fall to the ground.
F Company launched a new attack, and in the resulting battle, killed and wounded scores of Germans and secured the U- shaped house. Lt. Cobble got into the house with his radio and remained there for about half an hour when the enemy counter-attacked in force, preceded by direct fire from high velocity guns. This forced the men of F Company back to their former positions about fifty yards from the house. The Germans moved back into the house, and one of them started up a phonograph which was inside. The voice of Al Jolson could be heard singing over the din of battle.
One platoon of F Company, which numbered only about twelve men by now, pushed in against the German counter-attack and retook the house. They brought a heavy machine gun with them, which they set up just inside the door. About fifteen minutes later, forty enemy troops came down the main road toward the house. Lt. Mitchell, who was in command of the platoon, kicked open the door and the machine gun mowed down the Germans in the line of fire. The enemy then started to lay direct fire into the house killing or wounding many in the platoon. The survivors destroyed the machine gun and withdrew from the house.
F Company's casualties had been severe and it was decided to throw G Company into the line on the left flank of F Company, with the mission of storming the objective on the opposite side of the swamp about 1400 yards away. Platoon leaders and scouts reached the objective through a sheet of enemy fire, but were then killed. The rest of the company had become strung out in a thin line all the way back to the line of departure. Then four enemy tanks rumbled down a road, firing as they came. One of the tanks turned left while the others pulled up on a line in a field and faced the narrow ribbon of men that made up what remained of G Company. This was about 1100 hours. Artillery set one of the tanks on fire. Two of the tanks then withdrew and another was abandoned by its crew.
John Aller with H Company realized that their position beyond the farmhouse was precarious, and they had to get back across the swamp if they were to survive. Two "ducks" were sent in to help them evacuate, but they got bogged down and stuck in the swamp. Finally, with casualties increasing by the minute, Aller and the others decided to make a mad dash back across the swamp under artillery and small arms fire, a distance that Aller figured must have been about 200 yards.
Aller managed to make it back across without being hit (which he attributed to his high-school cross-country experience). When he reached the other side, he spotted a hole and dove into it headlong. All through the evening other survivors straggled across the line, and by nightfall it was apparent that the first round of the battle had been lost. The only advance that had been made during the day was along the Carentan-Periers Road where the 1st Battalion moved out late in the day after a 15-minute artillery preparation. In the semi-darkness of evening they managed to move forward about 650 yards to Le Varimesnil before being stopped by German artillery and machine-gun fire.
Gauze streamers on our helmets marked us
As we moved out across the line
Machine gun tracers found us and mortar shells burst round us
And when the morning mist had burned away
There were only fifty of us left to save the day
We were too young to fade away so soon
this far away from home and those we loved
So save us in the thoughts that you keep near
Protect us in the memories that you hold dear
We never had the chance to say goodbye