Captain Leonard Treherne “Max” Schroeder Jr looked out over the choppy water between the landing craft he was on and the shores of their destination…the beaches of Normandy, France. The beaches had been given code names, to protect the mission…Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno, and Sword; the operation was code named Overlord. The beach ahead of Schroeder had been code named Utah. Along the hills behind the beach were many German bunkers, with armed German snipers hiding inside of them. Schroeder knew they were just waiting for them to step onto the beach before the snipers would open fire.
Schroeder was about to find out firsthand, just how bad this day was going to be. In fact, he was the first American soldier whose feet hit the sand on the beach at Normandy on D-Day…so, while his men were right behind him, he would experience this horrific battle at its inception. I have wondered just how they knew that he was first amid all that chaos, but it is a documented fact. Operation Overlord was pivotal in the United States’ overall success, but it was also extremely bloody, with great loss of life. While every life lost was horrific, the men who stormed the beaches of Normandy that day were willing to give their lives for a cause that they felt was essential…and I have so much respect for each and every one of them. Captain Schroeder led his team of men onto the beach…along with thousands of others…and managed to get them to their secured location. Nevertheless, during the mission, he was shot twice by German snipers. Once the mission was accomplished and his men were where they needed to be, Captain Schroeder passed out from his injuries.
Schroeder woke up at an aid station on the beach, with medics taking care of his wounds so he could be transported to an army hospital in England. While in England, he recovered and had a lot of time to read all about his role in the successful mission…in many papers. I don’t know if he realized that his had been such a pivotal role in the battle, but it had. At the time, I doubt if he thought he would ever see that beach again, but in 1994, Schroeder revisited the beach at Normandy as a guest of the French government. It was an amazing ceremony to pay homage to his heroic efforts that helped turn the tide for the Allies in World War II. It was an honor he had given no thought to as he looked out at that beach on that long ago June 6, 1944…but, an honor that he had earned along with all the other men who fought, and the many who had died. I’m sure those who gave all, were thankful that some made it home and managed to live a long life of liberty. Captain Leonard “Max” Schroeder, who was born on July 16, 1918, in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, passed away from emphysema early on the morning of May 26, 2009, in Largo, Florida at the age of 90.