Lawrence “Doc” Schaeferle landed at Easy Red on Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944, during the second hour of the invasion — before the beach at Normandy was secured.
About 175,000 Allied troops would attack Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.”
The doctor served with the 32nd Field Artillery Battalion attached to the 1st Infantry Division — The Big Red 1.
“I was scared as our ship approached the beach. I knew it was gonna be tough and I had a wife and children back home. I imagine I was saying some prayers,” the 98-year-old retired family physician from Garwin, Iowa, who winters at La Casa mobile home park in North Port, said.
He was interviewed in 2010. He died at the age of 100 in Iowa.
In 1944, their landing craft grounded on a bar just off the beach.
“Our battalion commander was first to drive off the ship’s ramp in his staff car into 14 feet of water,” Schaeferle said. “The car went to the bottom and the colonel popped to the surface and scrambled back onto the ramp. The second time he tried it in another vehicle he was successful.
“We came down the ramp with our Jeep and trailer. By then the landing craft was closer to shore. We made it without incident. A German tank was sitting on a hill overlooking Omaha Beach, its gun pointed right at us,” Schaeferle said. “An American destroyer, (running parallel to the beach just off shore), spotted the tank on the hill and fired at it. Wake from the destroyer rolled up on the beach, swamped us and tipped over our Jeep and trailer. Most of my medical supplies were lost.”
The doctor found a 3-foot deep trench on the beach dug by the Germans before the Americans arrived. It provided him protective cover from enemy fire while treating wounded soldiers. His job: Operate a front line aid station.
“While working on wounded soldiers in the trench about all I could do was stop the bleeding, give them a shot of morphine, bandage ‘em up and send them on by stretcher barrier to waiting LCTs (landing craft) that would take them to a hospital ship off shore,” he explained. “The use of a doctor to run an aid station up front was a waste. As a captain, I was overqualified for the work I was doing. A medic could have done what I did.
“While the war went on all around me on Omaha Beach, I worked on the wounded. I wasn’t worried about what was happening on the beach. I concentrated on trying to save soldiers’ lives in the slit trench with me. I did everything I could to stop the bleeding and keep them alive. The hell with the enemy fire,” he said.
The 18th Infantry Division was the first American unit to land on Omaha Beach. It was followed an hour later by the 16th Division, according to the doctor.
“The 16th wasn’t on there long before Col. Taylor, the division commander, told his men, ‘You have to get off this beach or you’ll all die.’ He pointed toward the 100-foot hill towering over the beach. The colonel lead them to the top single file,” Schaeferle said.
“Because the beach was mined the soldier behind their leader tried to step in his foot prints going up the hill. They cleared a path through the enemy barbed wire and mines with Bangalore torpedoes (an explosive device that opened the way for them).
“A German machine-gun nest at the top of the hill was sweeping the beach with gun fire. Naval guns were called in to take out the enemy machine-gun emplacement.
“Many of those soldiers sacrificed themselves so the 16th Division could reach the top of that hill. There were a lot of soldiers who should have received Medals of Honor on the beach that day but didn’t,” the doctor said with tears in his eyes recalling their bravery 65 years later.
When Schaeferle got to the top of the hill over looking Omaha Beach, he found a burned out farm house he converted to an aid station. For the next few days the physician worked out of the battered home as Allied forces pushed the Germans off the beach and further inland.
His unit spent time in the hedgerows with tens of thousands of other soldiers for some time. Eventually U.S. troops fought their way through the protective hedges around French farmers’ fields and out into open territory as they moved on through France.
Just before The Battle of the Bulge began in mid December 1944 the doctor’s younger brother, Martin, came to visit him.
“He was also a doctor serving with the 9th Armored Division attached to Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army. On his way back to his unit he drove right through the German advance on our lines and didn’t realize it until later,” Schaeferle said.
“The 1st Division was on the north shoulder of what became The Bulge. We were almost surrounded by the Germans. Our 105 Howitzers were firing in three directions,” he said.
During the month of fighting in Belgium before the German unexpected advance was blunted, Schaferle found himself in a foxhole behind the front lines treating soldiers who were not only suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds but frost bite and trench foot. It was the coldest winter in 50 years along the Western Front.
“After the Germans were stopped at The Bulge the 32nd Battalion’s guns were atop a hill. We were looking down on the retreating enemy army. They were pulling their cannons and equipment with horses. It was a duck shoot for us and our 105s,” the old soldier recalled.
From there they fought on through the Siegfried Line, protecting the western entrance to the “Fatherland,” and into Aaken, the first German town his unit captured. It had been destroyed by artillery and bombs.
“I found an abandoned civilian hospital at Aaken and relieved them of some of their medical supplies. The hospital staff was gone,” he recalled.
By that time his brother and the 9th Armored Division had taken the bridge across the Rhine at Remagen, Germany. Schaferle’s unit crossed the span shortly before it collapsed.
“The 1st Division was poised to go into Berlin. But Roosevelt and Churchill wouldn’t let us. They made a deal with the Russians that they would take the German capital,” he said.
“We were near Kassel, Germany when we got word we weren’t going into Berlin. It was a big letdown for our troops.”
When the Germans surrendered on May 8, 1945, Schaeferle and the 32nd Artillery Battalion had stopped at Cheb, Czechoslovakia.
“Nothing was happening. We watched as thousands of German soldiers marched through our lines trying to flee from the Russians. Our battalion went with the 1st Division to a base outside Paris. From there I was on to Lisbon, Portugal and a ship home,” he said.
Dr. Lawrence Schaeferle who enlisted in the Army on May 14, 1941 was discharged on Dec. 13, 1945. He first landed in Oran, North Africa in 1942 where he was assigned to the 32nd Battalion. He took part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943 before hitting the beach at Normandy in ‘44. He returned to Garwin, Iowa, a small farming community of 1,000 residents, and practiced medicine for half a century.
The doctor and his second wife, Mary Jane, wintered in North Port starting in 1985.
Each summer they returned to Garwin. He had two children, Karen and Mark.
Dr. Lawrence Schaeferle, 100, of Gladbrook, Iowa died Tuesday, Aug. 7, 2012, at his residence while under the care of Iowa River Hospice.
Thursday was the 75th anniversary of D-Day.