Norwegian American

  Officer, Military Advisor, Diplomat, Writer

July 14, 1920-May 13, 1996


June 6, 1944..."D Day." More than 150,000 Allied soldiers participated in the invasion of Normandy, on the north coast of Hitler-held France. Among those wading ashore, braced for the battle that was to come, was 23-year-old Army Lt. John C. Ausland of the 29th Field Artillery unit.

Others who participated in the offensive that day and the days following have written of that battle, the battle that resulted in the liberation of France, as well as other battles of World War II. Ausland's recitations were notably poignant and effective.

Publication of his war memories did not come while combat was in progress, or even on the heels of victory. It was 50 years after the end of the war that Ausland, by then retired from an illustrious 25-year career as a diplomat and military adviser, put together a book based on messages to those back home which he had penned on the battlefields. The book was entitled, "Letters Home: a War Memoir." Although it was one of six books he authored, it was this 1995 book that drew the widest attention in the press   notwithstanding that Ausland published it himself, for family and friends, and but 500 copies were printed.

An Associated Press article by Doug Mellgren began:

 

For half a century, John C. Ausland avoided the little green box that held the letters he sent home from World War II's battlefields, including Utah Beach on D-Day.

The bombs of another war, in the Persian Gulf, finally jarred the retired U.S. diplomat into opening the box and sharing his observations, horror and humor in a book called "Letters Home: A War Memoir."

"I knew that there were a lot of Iraqis being killed, but TV   as it always does   was presenting it as theater. As if there was no blood. There was," said Ausland, who lives in Oslo, Norway.

He said he understood why the gulf war was necessary, but it disturbed him. He decided it was time to confront the small metal box, in which his parents had saved his letters. They had given the box to him when he came home from the war, and he carried it from post to post around the world.

He opened it only once, 10 years ago, looking only at the letters about D-Day, for a book he wrote on the 40th anniversary of the landings.

The hardest part was getting started, to open the box. There are things in there I still find it difficult to talk about," said Ausland. "The letters were like reading something I had never seen before."

 

The following letter which Ausland sent back home was dated  June 28, 1944, and was from "Somewhere in France":

 

Dear Folks,

H-Hour passed while we were still far from shore. We couldn't even hear the terrific naval and air bombardment we knew was going on. But we knew that right then a death struggle was being waged on the beach, one which had to be won by the infantry, since they were the only ones ashore....

At last our craft touched the beach. The ramp went down. Automatically, we went off the side of the ramp and into the water up to our knees. We walked ashore (one doesn't run in surf). Aside from rifles and machine guns firing inland, all was quiet.

There were surprisingly few dead on the beach. Just back of the sand dunes, several hundred German prisoners huddled. Already, hundreds of people were organizing the beach for the largest amphibious undertaking in history....

I saw my first German dead. He must have been killed when running. Even in death, his body seemed to be surging forward. His helmet and uniform were all in place. He had been dead for several hours; I could tell by the color of his skin. He was wearing glasses, still not broken.

I remember self-consciously saying to someone, "Well, he won't bother anyone again." Now I wonder whether he ever wanted to bother anyone.

Moving up the road, I came across an American soldier lying beside the road. He was wounded in one arm. With the other, he was trying to hold a match box and strike a match. I leaned over, struck the match, lit the cigarette. He was hit pretty bad . Neither of us spoke a word. What could one say? I moved on....

For the rest of the day, there are only momentary recollections. Tough paratroopers wandering about, killing German snipers. The medics, who dropped, unarmed, with the paratroopers. The sniper (we later learned he was 75 yards from our command post) who shot at us all day without hitting anyone. The French people in a small village ignoring the bodies about them and waving to us as we went by. The same village was held for 12 hours by four paratroopers.

That first night when all the men were trigger-happy (nervous) and shot at anything that moved. The dumbfounded glider pilot who had 200 Germans surrender to him, who asked me what in the h--- he should do with them. The thrill of watching the multitude of gliders come in and the multicolored supply parachutes drop. And the dull thud of your heart when you watched the wounded and dead carried out of the gliders that crashed.

That and a hundred other events made up D-Day for me.

    Love,

    John


 In further encounters in France a few weeks after the Normandy Invasion, Ausland exhibited such gallantry in action as to be promoted to the rank of captain abd be awarded the Silver Star. His citation read:

 

JOHN AUSLAND, 01167725, Captain (then First Lieutenant) Field Artillery, 29th Field Artillery Battalion, for gallantry in action in the vicinity of La Mardell, France, 24 July 1944. Captain AUSLAND was artillery liaison officer with the second of 2 Infantry Battalions attacking in column formation. An intense enemy artillery concentration registered on the leading unit, wounding its liaison officer and destroyed wire communications. The battalion in the rear was ordered to withdraw to an assembly area. Captain AUSLAND immediately left his element and advanced to the forward group. Although a large volume of hostile fire continued to fall throughout the area, he immediately reestablished wire communication between the forward observer and the fire direction center. As a result, effective counter fire was directed on the enemy's units. He then voluntarily reported to the battalion commander as liaison officer and, for several hours afterward, expertly directed and coordinated artillery fire upon hostile positions. His initiative and enterprise in this instance were material factors in the seizure of the battalion objective. Captain AUSLAND'S courage, enterprise and complete application to duty are in keeping with the finest traditions of the military service.

  

After the war, Ausland  returned to the United States and graduated from Princeton University. He joined the U.S. Foreign Service in 1949.

Ausland served on the State Department's Berlin Task Force after the Berlin Wall was raised on Aug. 13, 1961. He delivered a briefing to President Kennedy about one year later, setting forth "what has been accomplished and what remains to be done." Ausland presented a four-phase Allied plan. Phase 4, he said, "[w]ould take place only after non-nuclear action had failed to restore access.  The dominant event in this phase would be the use of nuclear weapons."

He served as an adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962.

Ausland retired from the diplomatic corps in 1974 and made two major changes in his life. He moved to Norway, and he pursued a second career as a journalist.

His works included six books on the military and foreign affairs. His last book, "Kennedy, Khrushchev and the Berlin-Cuba Crisis 1961-1964," which is still in print, was published days before his death.

Ausland frequently wrote articles for newspapers, including the International Herald Tribune. On Nov. 14, 1989, his opinion piece appeared in that newspaper under the heading "When they Split Berlin, Washington Was Asleep." It began:

"The opening of the Berlin wall has at least one point in common with its creation. It caught Washington and other capitals by surprise. I trust that George Bush will not react so cautiously that he will end up in trouble as John Kennedy did."

His closing observation was:

"An irony: The Cuba crisis was followed by a Soviet military buildup that helped bankrupt Moscow. That in turn led to the opening of the Berlin Wall."

Ausland had an acting role in a Cold War movie thriller, "Orion's Belt," produced in Norway. It is available here, in English, on VHF. Ausland portrayed, fittingly, a U.S. military officer.

His voice was heard in a 1994 award-winning British documentary on the invasion of Normandy, "D-Day Remembered."

Ausland died in Oslo of cancer.  

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