Friday, May 15, 2009

John Robert (“Bob”) Slaughter; Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter (Zenith Press, 2007)

John Robert (“Bob”) Slaughter

Born on February 3, 1925, Bob Slaughter enlisted in the Virginia Army National Guard at age 16 in his native Roanoke, serving in Company D, a heavy weapons company in the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division. The Virginia National Guard was inducted into Federal Service the following year on the date of Slaughter’s seventeenth birthday. In 1942, he trained for eleven months with the elite 29th Rangers in the Scottish Highlands, but returned to the 116th when the Rangers were disbanded. On D-Day, Slaughter hit the infamous Dog Green Sector with Company D in the first wave of troops to come across “Bloody Omaha.” The company lost over seventy men, twenty from his hometown. Slaughter lived through the carnage to fight on in Normandy, including the tremendous Battle of Saint-Lô, for which his battalion received a Presidential Unit Citation. He was wounded twice in Normandy, once severely in a mortar attack on 7 August at Hill 203 overlooking Vire, where his battalion earned an Oak Leaf Cluster to its Presidential Unit Citation. Evacuated to England, Bob later returned to his company, participating in the Battle of the Bulge, crossing the Roer River, and fighting on into Germany.

Slaughter’s memoir, Omaha Beach and Beyond: The Long March of Sergeant Bob Slaughter (Zenith Press, 2007), offers a rare eyewitness account of what General Bradley called “the greatest show on earth.” Painting vivid scenes of some of the most ferocious and epic battles of our time, Slaughter also incorporates a wealth of data; pinpoints names, dates and places; and quotes many other 116th Infantry veterans. An appendix contains fifteen eyewitness accounts of Omaha Beach, many published for the first time, by survivors of the 29th Infantry Division.

Slaughter was only gradually moved to break the heavy silence in which he, like so many others who had faced heavy combat, enclosed himself after the war. Omaha Beach and Beyond recounts this inner battle, tracing Slaughter’s path as he came to take on an increasingly public role on behalf of other veterans. As Founder and a Chairman of the Board, he was extremely instrumental in establishing the magnificent D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, dedicated on June 6, 2001 by President George W. Bush. One of three veterans to walk Omaha Beach with President Bill Clinton on the 50th anniversary of D-Day, Slaughter returned to France for the 60th anniversary, where he was the subject of a documentary for French National Television, gave the keynote address in St-Lô, and led a parade of 29th Infantry Veterans and local children through the city. In Cherbourg that year, ceremonies included a reunion with another machine-gunner like and unlike himself—the German Franz Gockel, who manned the defenses on Omaha Beach where so many of Bob’s friends and fellow soldiers died.

Today Bob Slaughter is one of a handful of surviving World War II veterans whose images and stories have come to represent the American Veteran in both the United States and abroad. The subject of dozens of documentaries, he has appeared on major news channels in the United States and throughout Europe, and given interviews too numerous to mention, bearing witness to the deeds of his many comrades-in-arms who could not speak for themselves.

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