By Henry John Steiner
Historian of Sleepy Hollow
The following is an excerpt from a story in my forthcoming book, The View from Sleepy Hollow. The book is scheduled to be out in late 2020.
With the approach of the annual remembrance of D-Day in a few weeks, I thought I would tell a little of Ralph’s story. It was Americans like Ralph, “the Greatest Generation,” who used to remind us that “freedom isn’t free.” Now, with the last of that generation fading away, we need to remember this on our own…
A luncheon spot called the Cupcake Kitchen may sound like an odd place to have a discussion about a horrific wartime amphibious landing, but that is where I met with Irvington resident, Ralph Goldsmith, in 2012. Ralph passed away on October 11, 2019 at the age of ninety-six. He was just twenty when he was a soldier in the “first wave” on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. Anyone with just a cursory knowledge of military history will have some idea of what that implies.
Ralph’s life did not start or end on a beach in Normandy. Yet, as with so many men and women of his generation, D-Day was a very important moment. I felt especially fortunate to have this conversation with Ralph about his own experience. Here, he told what happened in his own words:
“The invasion was set for 6:30 AM; I got shot at 6:31. We were on a LCVP (a small landing craft that held about forty men); most of the other guys were miserably seasick from the rough seas. As we got up to the beach the sailor dropped the ramp. I got shot with one foot on the craft and one foot in the water. Everyone else got shot too. In fact most of them were dead. We were great targets for a German gunner. They were sitting there with all kinds of ammunition. We were told to throw our guns in the water so we could run up the beach faster.”
Ralph was shot in the head, but he said it was not a painful wound. “Men were dying all around me. It was all a mistake.” Unknown to American reconnaissance, a veteran German Panzer Division happened to arrive on maneuvers at that location just four hours before the landing. “They had everything they needed—we had sand.”
“We had to cross about 200 yards from the beach to some relatively high sand dunes that offered some cover. Some of our experienced troops tried to dig in on the beach—but they were killed. Some of us, not many of us, tried to make the run up the beach. When I got there, I found only four other wounded Americans. I didn’t know them, but they had the same division patch. They were all wounded in the legs. Soon, one of my closest friends in the service came over to me. He seemed to be the only guy not wounded, and he was only six-foot four. He tried to feed me a chocolate bar, but my face was temporarily paralyzed from the wound. He moved back down the beach, and he turned out to be one of the few survivors.”
“Later, we could hear the Germans talking about twenty yards ahead of us, but they seemed not to know we were there. My group of five wounded men remained all day and all night behind the sand dune. I managed to find some blankets at night and covered the other guys to keep them warm. Unbelievably, at dawn the next day, looking at the beach, you’d think you were at Coney Island—no sign of a war. The tide had washed the bodies and landing craft out to sea, or covered them with sand. Our part of the landing at Omaha Beach was a disaster, it was a total annihilation of Americans.”
Through a chain of events, Ralph made it back to the USS Tuscaloosa, a heavy cruiser lying off the coast. After three weeks of care, he was awarded the Bronze Star. Before the end of the war, among other awards, he would receive three Purple Hearts, the Combat Infantry Badge, and the French Fourragere. Four weeks after D-Day, he requested assignment back to his outfit in France. “There were many new faces”, he said.”
Ralph Goldsmith was born in the Bronx on September 27, 1923. His parents, Henrietta and Leopold Goldsmith lived on Marcy Place near the Grand Concourse and East 170th Street. When Ralph was three, the family moved to Coney Island. There, he became a close childhood friend of Catch 22 author, Joseph Heller. Ralph and “Joey” went to grade school together and attended Coney Island’s Lincoln High School. “Coney Island was a great place to grow up.” During his second year of high school, Ralph’s father died, and Ralph and his mother moved back to the Bronx where he finished up at Morris High School.
Now the sole support of his mother, Ralph started working as a delivery boy for a stationary and office supply company after school. Years later he would own his own stationary company in Wilton, Connecticut.
[End of excerpt from The View from Sleepy Hollow.]
[Copyright © 2020 Henry John Steiner]