I was twelve years old when the radio announced that the Allies had launched the long awaited invasion of Europe that would ultimately lead to victory and the end of World War II. That day was June 6, 1944 and would come to be known as D-Day.
This June will be the 60th anniversary of that historic event.
I beg your indulgence as I begin the story, about one of the greatest assignments of my long career as a newspaper photographer.

By Dick Kraus
Staff Photographer (retired)
I always had difficulty sleeping on planes and this long flight proved no different. We had left JFK Airport around midnight on a non-stop flight that would take us to Frankfurt, Germany. I had the window seat. Dozing in the seat next to me was Jim Kindall, the reporter with whom I was working.
I turned and gazed out of the window. We had been flying for hours. For exactly how long, I had no clue. I had lost track of time as we passed through one time zone after another while we sped eastward to greet a new sunrise. As I looked down through the stygian night, expecting to see nothing more than the darkness that was the North Atlantic, I was surprised to see lights far below. At first I thought they might be the navigation lights of some fleet of fishing trawlers working the ocean far beneath me. But, I noticed that there were regular patterns to the lights and assumed that we must be over land now, and passing some small villages on the coast of Great Britain. That would mean that we would be landing in an hour or so.
Six weeks earlier, I had returned to the office after covering several forgettable, mundane assignments. Sandy, the Photo Department Den Mother/Secretary, stopped by the door of the color processing room and said, “Jim wants to see you in his office as soon as you have a chance.”
Hmmm. What could that be about? Jim had been the Chief Photo Editor at Newsday for a number of years. He and I had different opinions on newspaper photography and our working relationship could be said to have been cordial but nothing more. I was obviously not his first choice among the staff of some thirty-odd photographers to be awarded any plum assignments. But, he was the head of the department, so I got my film started in the processor and went to see him.
His back was toward me as he worked at his computer. I knocked on the frame of his open door. “You wanted to see me, Jim?”
“ Oh, yes Dick. Come on in.” He turned to face me. “I have a project that I want you to work on.”
Oh, Jeez. What could this be about?  Projects were normally sought after assignments that usually went to his preferred staffers. If he were giving one to me, it would probably be something that required an obscene amount of headshots. Many of our projects were all about headshots. They were usually investigative pieces that involved making head shots of the people involved. And, since so many of them were reluctant to be photographed, it would mean staking them out and playing paparazzi. I hated that. But, Jim invited me to sit down and I listened as he explained what this project entailed.
Newsday was planning a huge special section to commemorate the 50th Anniversary of D-Day, which would occur in less than a year. It was then early November 1993 and he wanted me to collaborate with James Kindall, one of Newsday’s top feature writers. Kindall would be interviewing American Veterans who survived the landings and the war, and documenting their recollections of that historic event. Mostly we would interview vets who lived on Long Island, but some would require a bit of travel.
Oh crap!! Just as I thought. Headshots.
He went on. Kindall and I would travel to Germany to interview German veterans who had fought against our troops and attempt to prevent them from landing in Normandy.
Hold on a second. Did he say Germany? Was I going to Germany to do this? Or would he say that I was only doing the local angle and they would get the wire services to shoot the German part of the story?
No, he was really saying that not only would I go to Germany, but I would travel with Kindall to France where we would talk with survivors of the French Resistance and also photograph the locations in Normandy where those Allied landings took place.
We were to spend a week in Germany and then a week in Normandy. After that, there would be more work locally. As Kindall wrote his story, we would get together and wed the art with the words. I was told that I would play a major role in putting out this special section. My boss said that I would collaborate with the Art Director who was to do the layout. Plus, Kindall and I would return to France just prior to the actual D-Day Anniversary to file daily stories about the preparations as well as the ceremonies on June 6th. All of this was unprecedented and I couldn’t believe that I had been chosen to do this great project.

© Newsday

This is the wrap around front and back page of the special D-Day issue put out by Newsday to commemorate the 50th Anniversary. The photo was from the archives and was shot on June 6, 1944 as American troops waded ashore in Normandy. My copy is a bit faded and yellowed with age.

As soon as I finished with The Chief Photo Editor, I went out to the Newsroom to find Jim Kindall. I knew of him. I had read some of his stuff. But, I had never met him. He did features and I did mostly news. I asked around the room and was directed to Kindall’s desk. I found him working his way through piles of paper on his desk, which also contained open maps of Germany and France. Jim was a good-looking young man who had an intensity about him, which indicated to me that he took his work seriously. That was encouraging and when I introduced myself, he greeted me warmly and said that he was familiar with my work. I knew that he would be a pleasure to work with.
Kindall told me that he had spent the day on the phone to Germany, trying to locate several of the German veterans whose names he had been given. Some were deceased but there were several with whom he had made contact and he was able to set up interviews in the next couple of weeks. He had marked their hometowns on the map and now we made plans on how we would proceed once we got to Germany.
Our decision was to fly to Frankfurt on November 16th. We would get a Eurail Pass and would take trains around Germany to get to our various interviews. This would take a week and then we would take a train to Caen, France, which was the provincial capitol of Normandy, and we would operate out of that city as we covered the battlefields and the French interviews.

Before leaving for Europe, though, I would start photographing some of the local American veterans. Kindall was to concentrate his efforts on the main stories. Other reporters would do the interviews with the local vets, some of whom would be categorized under the heading of “Voices From The Battlefront.” I would photograph most of them. Other members of the photo staff would make those whom I couldn’t do because of time constraints.

Kindall did the first interview because it was a major part of the main story. The noted author, Cornelius Ryan, had documented this particular incident in his book, “The Longest Day,” which chronicled the D-Day invasion. It was later made into an epic movie. This story pertained to a specially trained unit of the US Army Rangers, which was to land at the base of the steep cliffs that ran down into the water at a place called Pointe du Hoc. The Rangers were to shoot rocket propelled ropes with grappling hooks attached, to the top of the cliffs and then they would climb the ropes, all the while taking heavy fire from the German troops firing down on them from the heights. Their mission was to secure the cliffs and destroy the battery of German 155 mm coastal guns that American Intelligence had determined to be there. Those guns could play havoc on the ships and landing craft as they discharged the troops on the beaches below.
In his book, Ryan wrote that the mission was a failure that cost many American lives, because when the Rangers finally got to the top, they found that the 155’s in their emplacements were phonies. The Americans had suffered many dead, only to find that the critical guns weren’t guns at all.
Jim Kindall and I drove to New Jersey to interview one of the survivors of that raid. Leonard Lomell was a highly decorated sergeant who remembers the battle quite well. I photographed him with his medals and as he spoke of that day, his voice was tinged with resentment when Ryan’s account of that battle in “The Longest Day” was brought up.

Lomell transported us with him into the Hell of that furious raid as he detailed all that had transpired. He talked of the brave comrades who fell under the fusillade of bullets that rained down on them as they stepped from their landing craft and ran for the temporary shelter afforded by the overhanging cliff. He spoke of the difficulty of firing those coils of rocket-propelled ropes to the top, many of which bounced off and fell back onto the beach below. And then, of the arduous hand over hand climb to the top, watching friends being blasted from the ropes by enemy gunfire and falling hundreds of feet into the ocean.

Len Lomell made it to the top with a flesh wound in his side, and along with a handful of brave survivors, secured the area. That’s when he made the horrible discovery that the guns were phonies.

It is here that Lomell departs from the account in the book. His voice rose as he tells us that Cornelius Ryan neglected to follow up on the Rangers’ actions after getting to the top of Pointe du Hoc. It was then that Lomell and another G.I. went on a scouting mission. After crawling on their bellies around one hedgerow after another they came upon the real 155mm guns in a field about 200 yards further inland from the top of the cliff where they had landed. The two men couldn’t believe their luck. Not only had they quickly located the reason for their mission, but the guns were unmanned and unguarded. A few hundred yards further away were the German gunners. They were grouped around an officer and were apparently being briefed about the Allied Invasion. They were oblivious to the Americans in their midst.

Lomell crept to the German guns and dropped thermite grenades in the gears of their tracking mechanisms. The grenades were relatively silent and went unnoticed by the Germans. The thermite burned at extremely high temperatures and melted and fused the gears rendering the guns, as Lomell put it, into huge paperweights, since they could no longer be turned to bear on any targets.

At least the proud veteran was able to clear the record on the efficacy of the raid at Pointe du Hoc as far as the readers of Newsday were concerned.



Contents Page

Contents Page Editorials The Platypus Links Copyright
Portfolios Camera Corner War Stories  Dirck's Gallery Comments
Issue Archives Columns Forums Mailing List E-mail Us
 This site is sponsored and powered by Hewlett Packard