After graduating from Fosdick-Masten Park High School, Herbert W. Lannen landed a job at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. warehouse on Main Street, just a short walk from his alma mater.
Little did he know that a couple of years later, he would land in one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
But at 17, he was happy to have a job.
“We unloaded semitrailers packed with truck tires, and then we loaded them onto smaller trucks to the tire dealers,” Lannen said. “It was very hard work, but I was young and healthy, and we were paid pretty well, $25 a week. That was in the days when you could buy an ice cream cone or a cup of coffee for a nickel.”
But after a year, he was drafted into the Army, and his days of prosperity were put on hold.
“After basic training in Virginia, I was assigned as a replacement in the 197th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion,” he says. “I wanted to be trained on radios because I didn’t like heavy artillery guns, but that’s just how it goes in the Army.”
At 19 years old, after spending six months in southern England, his unit got the word that it would be crossing the English Channel and landing at Normandy in northern France. He remembers the moment.
It was 10:30 a.m. June 6, 1944, when he set foot on Omaha Beach, where the guns of the Allies and the Germans blazed during the pivotal D-Day invasion.
He would much rather have been someplace else.
“What I had hoped for was to work in a warehouse in Ireland,” Lannen recalls. “My buddy who was in the Army was assigned to a supply depot in Ireland. He had a pretty good deal.”
In the battle at Omaha Beach, which would become known as “Bloody Omaha,” Lannen recalls that the Germans held the cliffs for a number of hours.
“We were stuck on the beach behind a breakwall until about 6 p.m.,” he remembers. “A lot of guys laid against the breakwall, which was made of concrete and 6 feet high. I laid under my halftrack.
“Some of the Army Rangers went down the beach and managed to get up and go around behind the Germans who were in holes that they dug. They were shooting machine guns. The Rangers took them out.”
That evening, Lannen and fellow members of his battalion walked up to the top of a cliff for a look-see.
“We finally got up there,” he says. “The Germans were only a hedgerow away, 3 or 4 hundred yards.”
He and his fellow soldiers then returned to their halftrack and drove it up the hill. “We stayed there all night,” he says, “and then we moved another thousand feet inward, and that’s where we stayed for a couple of days.”
Recalling how frightening it was, Lannen says, “I had guard duty the second night we were there, and the Germans were only a thousand feet away. I thought I heard something and opened up with my M1 rifle. I wasn’t taking any chances.”
Once the Allies punched through the German defenses at Normandy, Lannen said he often moved 50 to 60 miles a day in his halftrack, fighting in one battle after another until finally arriving at the Siegfried Line, the western defensive frontier of Germany.
“Thank God for the American 8th Air Force. They did a great job taking out the German air force,” Lannen says. “If it wasn’t for the 8th, I probably wouldn’t be here.
“After awhile, I only had to use my anti-aircraft gun at night. There weren’t many German airplanes during the day.”
All of this action provided Lannen with a high number of “points” that allowed him to be among the first American soldiers to return home after the European war was won in the spring of 1945.
Making use of the GI Bill, he graduated from the University of Buffalo with a degree in mechanical engineering, though he ended up operating his own insurance and real estate agency. He and his wife, Laurie Shoemacher Lannen, now deceased, were married for 50 years and raised eight children.
His war experiences, he says, turned him into a pacifist:
“I saw what war was like, and I’m not a gung-ho war guy.”
Herbert W. Lannen, 88
• Hometown: Buffalo
• Residence: Amherst
• Branch: Army
• Rank: Private first class
• War zone: Europe
• Years of service: 1943-45
• Most prominent honors:
Bronze Arrowhead device for
D-Day invasion; European,
African, Middle Eastern
Campaign Medal with five
• Specialty: Anti-aircraft
artillery operator on M15
halftrack armored vehicle