Charles Cawthon

Charles Cawthon's picture

A newspaper editor before World War II, Charles R. Cawthon (1912-1996) was a front-line officer whose 116th Infantry Regiment landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought its way across Europe to the Elbe. He joined the Virginia National Guard in 1940 and when America entered the war, his division was among the first shipped out to England, where they spent two years preparing to spearhead the largest amphibious military operation in history.

Cawthon’s book, Other Clay: A Remembrance of the World War II Infantry (University Press of Colorado), was a survivor’s account of infantry combat, told by a frontline officer whose 116th Infantry Regiment landed at Omaha Beach on D-Day and fought its way across Europe to the Elbe. Other Clay included many of Cawthon's reminiscences written first for American Heritage.

On the beaches of Normandy, on June 6, 1944, the U.S. Army suffered its heaviest casualties since Gettysburg. The losses were greatest among the infantry companies that led the assault, and Cawthon described firsthand the furious and deathly chaos of the daylong battle to get off the beach and up the heights. Reduced by casualties to half its preinvasion strength, Cawthon’s regiment still managed to fight off German counterattacks and engage in an all-out pursuit across France before the Germans counterattacked again at the Ardennes forest.

Cawthon provided a deeply felt and carefully recollected study of men confronting the face of death—their fear, their courage, their hunger and exhaustion, their loyalty to one another, and their miraculous and unreasoning ability to go one more step, one more day, one more mile.

Cawthon remained on active duty after hostilities were over and later commanded a battalion in the Korean War. After retiring from the U.S. Army Reserve, he operated a tree farm in Virginia.

Articles by this Contributor

June 1974

A soldier remembers a great battle

February/March 1978

An infantryman remembers how it was

October/november 1983

Along this narrow stretch of sand, all the painstaking plans for the Normandy invasion fell apart. One of the men who was lucky enough to make it past the beachhead recalls a day of fear, chaos, grief—and triumph.

May/June 1994

A soldier who landed in the second wave on Omaha Beach assesses the broadest implications of what he and his comrades achieved there