by Jonathan Scott | Photography by Diana Matthews
During World War II, Private Andy Anderson knew what he was being asked to do the next day. After he and his buddies finished dinner, their mission was gone over one more time, and the men were ordered to check their equipment and weapons. Anderson could hardly believe how much they were expected to carry—a heavy gas mask and three days of cold rations in addition to their load of ammunition. But the weight didn’t stop him from taking along something extra. Tucked in his boot, Anderson had two photos of a beautiful brunette he had met on a blind date in Pennsylvania just a couple of days before he left on his journey, a journey that thrust him into the heart of battle in northern Africa.
In the very early morning hours of June 6, 1944, Anderson found himself heading toward the coast of France. They had been given orders. They knew what had to be done. However, the soldiers weren’t told where it would happen.
Anderson would later find out the 1,500 men in that crowded boat were part of an armada of more than 34,000 Allied troops heading toward Omaha Beach. The sun, when it rose through a dark gloom of threatening clouds, rose on what would forever after be known as D-Day.
When Anderson glanced at the faces of his buddies, tense with the unbearable anxiety of waiting, his eyes fell on Mallow. Mallow was 18 and fresh out of high school in Boston. He had only been with the squad for a month. Anderson knew what Mallow was thinking. It was what they all were thinking. There was no turning back. There was only going forward.
The sea was still rough from a storm the day before. As the landing craft continued to circle, waiting for the first wave to attack, many of the troops became seasick. Anderson stood near the front of the boat next to a captain, who was watching the fighting—and witnessing the casualties—through a pair of field glasses. When they were a few hundred yards from the water’s edge, the craft was fired upon by the enemy from concealed bunkers on the beach.
Under a storm of small arms, mortar and artillery fire, the captain ordered the ramp lowered and the men splashed into the waist-deep water. The casualties started immediately. Anderson and some of the other lucky ones helped the sea sick and walking wounded make it to the beach. He knew that staying in the water would be certain death.
Finally, slowly, painfully, dodging death at every step, only 30 of the men from Anderson’s landing craft made it to the relative safety of the shale bank about a half mile from shore. It had taken them two hours. Many of those 30 men were wounded and others so sick and exhausted they could barely function.
Anderson could see Col. Taylor, the regimental commander, going up and down the beach organizing the surviving troops. Mallow, Anderson realized, wasn’t among them.
As he lay on the ground that night, his mind replaying the gruesome details of the day, Anderson also thought about the two photos, still tucked in his boot. Josephine was beautiful. There was no doubt about that. Her letters had been one of the strongest things to keep up his spirits through the tough times. There was no doubt about that, either.
What he did wonder about, though, was whether he’d ever see her again. As he closed his eyes, trying to invite sleep, he also wondered if Mallow had left a girl behind, far away in Boston.
Many more battles lay ahead for Andy Anderson. He would be wounded twice when his service took him through the thick, misty forests of Germany and finally on to Czechoslovakia, where he would find himself meeting the Russian army across a small creek. His valiant efforts earned him two Purple Hearts and the French Legion of Honor Award.
After the German surrender, the Army offered Anderson a choice of three locations to be discharged. Anderson chose Ft. Sheridan, near Chicago. It wasn’t that he had a great love of the “Windy City.” In fact, the whole decision rested on just one person, Josephine, the young brunette whose photo he had kept with him through his nearly three years of service to his country. She was in Chicago studying to be a nurse.
The two were married for 46 years. When Anderson retired, he left it up to Josephine to choose where. She chose Pinehurst. Anderson, 94, is still very active. He has been interviewed many times and loves to share his extraordinary war memories, particularly with young people.
Anderson’s buddy, Mallow, never made it out of the water at Omaha Beach. He was officially listed as Missing-in-Action. When Anderson returned to France in 1969 for the ceremony marking the 25th anniversary of the landing, Mallow’s dog tag and part of his uniform had been found and posted, giving closure to a quarter century of uncertainty.
“I am proud to have served my country,” Anderson says, “and under the same circumstances, I would do it again. I did not find war to be an act of glory but one of death, destruction and devastation. War is a horrible way to solve the world’s problems, and I sincerely hope future generations will find other means to resolve their differences.”