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calendar   Monday - September 17, 2012

an american hero, lt. commander Joe vaghi, d-day, omaha beach. rip

RIP

Lieutenant-Commander Joe Vaghi

Lieutenant-Commander Joe Vaghi, who has died aged 92, was – at 23 – the youngest beachmaster at Omaha Beach on D-Day.

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At 0735 on June 6 Vaghi landed on Easy Red section of Omaha, the easternmost American beach of the Normandy landings, abutting the British landings on Gold beach. As Vaghi reached the end of the ramp on his landing craft, he saw the man before him shot and fall dead into the water. Undeterred he strode on “as if he was running out on a field with a football under his arm”.

Vaghi was one of the elite corps of beachmasters: naval officers who patrolled between the water’s edge and first contact with the enemy, responsible for directing men and vehicles on to and off the beaches. While performing this crucial role they held command over everyone of whatever rank or Service. In the US Navy beachmasters were known as “traffic cops in hell” and said to hold a rank “just above God”.

On D-Day Vaghi established radio contact with landing craft still offshore, drove a stranded bulldozer to a safe location, and comforted an unknown dying soldier.

Survivors remember him calmly walking along the beach issuing orders through a megaphone. At one point, an Army officer asked him to give the order to “Move forward!” and as he did so he watched soldiers half-buried in the sand rise from their prone positions and charge 50 yards across the heavily mined beach towards a steep cliff.

Midway through the hectic morning, as Vaghi helped to move the dead, whose bodies were being bulldozed out of the way of new, incoming troops, the explosion of a shell knocked him out. As he came round he found his clothes ablaze, but after dousing the flames, and ignoring an injury to his knee, he unloaded fuel canisters and ammunition from a burning jeep, saving the lives of several other wounded men who lay around him.

As he recalled later: “We had trained so much that everything came quite natural, except one thing we didn’t do in training is to allow people to die.”

Very little went as planned on Omaha Beach on D-Day: many landing craft missed the beach, the Germans were well dug-in, and casualties were numerous. By the end of the day only two small isolated footholds had been gained; that the Americans had got so far was due greatly to the leadership of men like Vaghi. Three of the nine beachmasters on Omaha were among more than 4,000 Allied casualties there on D-Day.

After 23 days in Normandy, during which time he celebrated his 24th birthday, Vaghi returned to America to train more naval officers as beachmasters. He later served in the war in the Pacific, including at the landings on Okinawa, and was at sea, en route for the invasion of Japan, when he heard that atom bombs had been dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His first thought was “I’m going to live a while longer.”

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Posted by peiper   United Kingdom  on 09/17/2012 at 08:03 AM   
Filed Under: • OBITITUARIESUSA War-Stories •  
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