From the Fall 2016 edition | Back
By Deputy Commandant of Cadets Lt. Col. Don Russell, U.S. Air Force (retired)
All cadets and alumni know of 1st Lt. Jimmie Monteith, who on June 6, 1944, was a section leader in L Company, 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, in the first wave of the invasion on Omaha Beach.
They know he heroically led an assault off the beach, died from enemy fire, and posthumously earned the Medal of Honor. He is one of seven alumni recipients of the nation’s highest honor.
Twelve cadets connected more closely with the Monteith’s lore during a May trip to France, the capstone of the VTCC Global Scholars Program.
The 2016 VTCC Global Scholars at WN60 and the bluff overlooking Omaha Beach, site of 1st Lt. Jimmie Monteith’s assault on June 6, 1944.
German strongpoint WN60 was the easternmost fortified position overlooking Omaha Beach. Perched on a steep bluff, it was made up of 40 German soldiers with a commanding view of the beach arching to their west. From this position, they could rain artillery, mortar, and heavy machine gun fire on invading Allies.
They also protected a draw coming off the beach. The Allies identified this draw as Exit F-1. Securing five exits coming off Omaha were among the first American objectives, but F-1 was so far east it did not seriously factor into Allied planning.
Sea conditions put L Company’s landing craft 30 minutes behind schedule and several hundred meters east of the intended landing sector. Monteith and the 31 men in his section ran aground under withering fire at 7 a.m. on the sector know as Fox Red. Finding little shelter on the beach and suffering heavy casualties, Lima was the only rifle company in the 16th’s assault wave that crossed the open beach as a unit.
Monteith had 26 men remaining, and they managed to gather at the lee of a cliff directly under WN60. Other company officers had been hit. It was hardly a place to mount an offensive, but Monteith and other sections organized the men and worked through the problem.
The only way off the beach was to work their way right along the cliff to the base of the draw and scale a six-foot embankment that would expose them to fire coming from WN60’s commanding position to their left. Monteith and his engineer got over the bank and blew the protective barbed wire, allowing the sections to begin moving up the draw. Standing unprotected, he motivated the men to navigate a minefield and advance up the hill.
Realizing he needed more fire power when his men were pinned down, Monteith returned to the beach under fire to direct two Sherman tanks that managed to make it ashore. He led the tanks through the mine field and up the draw, pointing out enemy targets. Monteith’s section led the advance up the draw, using heavy brush for concealment. A direct assault on WN60 was not possible, but flanking through the draw to get to the rear was. For an hour they fought their way to the high ground.
At the top of the draw, the men enveloped the enemy position, systematically taking out bunkers and shelters with gun fire and grenades. By 9 a.m., WN60 had fallen with 31 Germans taken as prisoner. It was the first German position taken on Omaha, neutralizing fire on 1st Division troops on the easternmost sector of the beach.
L Company expanded several hundred meters to secure a defensive posture atop the hill previously occupied by its prisoners. At about 1 p.m., a platoon of Germans hit back in the vicinity of Monteith’s flank. He moved position to position, exposed to fire, leading his men to beat back four counterattacks. He hurled grenades at machine gun positions and shot three Germans at point blank range. While re-crossing the field, Monteith was hit by enemy machine gun fire and killed.
In May, cadets retraced Monteith’s steps, taking in the beach, the cliff, the embankment, and the steep F-1 draw. Atop WN60, they explored the remains of the German fortified positions and the incredible view of Omaha Beach. They also experienced the serenity of the American Military Cemetery. You could hear a pin drop when the group came upon Monteith’s grave site amongst the nearly 9,400 others buried there.
Remembering the experience, Cadet Lindsey Bittenger, Class of 2017, an industrial systems engineering major in Navy ROTC, said, “Standing in the physical location was a truly amazing moment in the trip. Lt. Col. Russell directed the bus down a dirt road to WN60, where we found the gun emplacements Lt. Monteith’s men destroyed. As we were wrapping up that stop, a few of the cadets ventured back to the bus, but those of us who remained looked at the map and realized we hadn’t found all the gun emplacements. We ran around the flowing grass of the hill, overlooking the beach, discovering the rest of the battery. It was a good moment of reflection to realize the challenges those men faced on 6 June 1944.”
Help This Program Continue
Resources willing, it is the intent to continue and grow the VTCC Global Scholars Program. You can help support the program through a donation to the Commandant’s Priorities fund.
The VTCC Global Scholars Program was created to advance the Corps’ vision of global, ethical leaders and to build its own education abroad program.
Twelve upperclass cadets were competitively selected for a 15-week special study course on the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II.
The program’s intent is applied history, to open wider discussions about current leadership and national security challenges, to immerse cadets in international culture, and to honor veterans and alumni.