WELLINGTON, Maine — Seventy years ago, June 6, 1944, Sgt. Estol “Mac” McClintock splashed through the water and onto Omaha Beach in Normandy, France amid Operation Neptune, more widely known as D-Day.
McClintock, a native of New Lexington, Pennsylvania, was with the U.S. Army 1st Infantry Division as the Allies invaded Europe and began driving the Germans back toward Berlin. He enlisted in 1941 and was involved in the invasions of Tunisia and Sicily as World War II continued. They were the most battle-hardened unit to storm Omaha that day, he said.
“I’d already seen two invasions, but I’d never seen the carnage that I saw on Omaha beach,” McClintock, 91, said at his home in Wellington this week. “In the whole of World War II, that was the worst day. That was the longest day of my life.”
As the 70th anniversary of D-Day approached, McClintock shared the stories of blood and horror that marked the invasion and the war. But there were good times as well, he said.
On the night before the attack, McClintock and his men were stationed in Seaton, a seaside town in the south of England. McClintock and his men had some black market contacts in the town and would sneak a few bottles of liquor every once in awhile. McClintock had garnered a fair sum of money from gambling and knew the upcoming invasion would be the greatest challenge his men yet faced.
“I’d heard in England about [their] pheasant under glass [dinner], and I thought, ‘I’m gonna give these guys a dinner,’” McClintock said. “I knew it [might] be the last dinner they ever had, and it was true. I lost a lot of men on that invasion.”
McClintock organized a dinner consisting of pheasant under glass for the men in his unit, all 76 of them. The dinner cost him $1,000 — the equivalent of about $13,000 today.
“Those men would do anything for me. It’s a family, they’re just like brothers. That’s why I’d never take a commission,” McClintock said.
Then came D-Day.
It was high tide by the time they reached the beach, he recalled. The water had risen to the point where the barbed wire and steel girders with mines the Germans laid out were submerged. It was one of these girders that punched a hole completely through the bottom of McClintock’s landing craft, forcing the soldiers to abandon ship in eight feet of water. The weight of their equipment caused them to sink right to the bottom, right into the barbed wire.
“This wasn’t barbed wire like you see at a cow farm, this was different. It’s razor sharp, and [the barbs] will cut through you,” McClintock said.
After being torn by the barbed wire, McClintock and his men reached land. The beach itself was littered with mines that would send bursts of shrapnel into whoever was unlucky enough to set one off. McClintock said that Allied bombers were supposed to bomb the beach in order to destroy the mines and to give the troops craters to protect themselves from the German gunfire.
The bombers aborted their run for fear of hitting their own soldiers, he said.
The men had nothing but flat beach in front of them. No craters to allow them to take cover. No ability to move forward. They were left with no choice but to lay on the beach and shoot at the German muzzle blasts on top of the wall, while completely being exposed to bullets and mortar shells.
“How I didn’t get hit, I [will never] know,” McClintock said.
Eventually, the soldiers were able to establish radio communication and called in a destroyer to assist with the attack, he said. The destroyer was able to destroy a pillbox structure that had been launching mortars and gave the troops enough cover to move forward and finish the battle, five hours after it first started.
“I can see things just the way that they happened, and that’s hard on me,” McClintock said. “I still have dreams about stuff like that, and I just don’t let it get me down. A lot of [veterans] have PTSD, and I’ve fought it away. I saw so much death and so many people tore up to pieces. You saw so much of that [as a soldier], but you can’t dwell on it.”
After the war, McClintock came home and married Emaline. She worked as a secretary at the U.S. Navy Headquarters in Washington D.C. while McClintock was overseas. She originally signed up for active duty but was rejected because she wasn’t old enough.
“If I couldn’t be there, I wanted to know where he was at,” Emaline McClintock said.
Today, the couple live in Wellington, where they moved after McClintock’s retirement from the lumber industry. They live with Ranger, a black labrador with a loud bark. Their single-story home is nestled on the side of a hill of Huff Center Road and is surrounded by Oak and Ash trees. Next to McClintock’s garden are several apple trees he planted himself, as well as some open grass for Ranger to run around in.
McClintock has difficulty walking for long lengths of time. This doesn’t stop him from tending to his garden, where he grows corn and potatoes, or making trips to see his adopted son Michael and his children.
McClintock regularly donates $50 to the Disabled American Veterans association, and recently donated to Susan Eisenhower, who is trying to establish a memorial for her grandfather, former President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In return for the donation, Eisenhower sent McClintock a letter and a hat commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day.
“I was on that beach for five hours, and I will tell anybody that that was the longest 5 hours I have ever [experienced],” he said.