Anyway, I just wanted to share these memories from my dad.
It was June 4, 1944. Every last one of us was taken to a hush-hush meeting in a large, brick warehouse type of a structure. Soldiers were there by the thousands, and we were all standing since there was no place to sit.
A high-ranking officer quieted us down, after which he identified himself as an emissary of General Eisenhower. He laid out before us in the most top-secret of terms as to what was ahead in the next few days. He unveiled a large tabletop model which was big enough for all to see, a mock-up of what he said was Normandy Beach on the coast of France. He went on to reveal that all of us in the room would be landing at a place they had named "Omaha Beach", more specifically in an area called "Dog Redbeach." We all studied the mock-up, making mental notes of the landmarks to the extent that we would feel as if we had been there before when our time came to go ashore. Further, the officer went on to say, tomorrow morning we would be loading up in Army trucks with all of our gear and then proceed to the port of Southampton, about 40 miles to the south. There, we and our equipment would be embarking on the ships which were already awaiting our arrival. From there we would sail for the coast of France under the cover of darkness.
As for the success or failure of the entire operation, there was no "plan B." What we were about to undertake had to succeed, do or die. He assured us that we would not be alone in our venture— there would be quite a gathering, all of us with a single purpose in mind. And again, it was to be a surprise party for the Germans who were well dug in and bunkered there, so we were not to talk about it — the walls might have ears.
We went back to our barracks, thoughtful and quiet, each of us harboring thoughts of how we were going to come out in this thing, how many of us would be missing the chow line in the next day or two, and if I would be one of those. By and large, we were all happy that something was about to happen that could play a major part in bringing the war to a close. Some of us were gong to die... we knew that. But let's get on with it.
We had our last breakfast on English soil the next morning and then loaded up and moved out to Southampton. Arriving at dockside, thousands and thousands of soldiers stood aside while the equipment was being swung into the ship's holds. Our particular vessel was a liberty ship named the "Robert S. Tombs". I looked at the moniker and hoped that the last name was in no way prophetic.
I hunkered down to watch our ship being loaded as performed by the English longshoremen. trucks would drive on top a big rope sling, something on the order of an outsized hammock. The winch cables would tighten, and away went the fullyloaded truck to be slung neatly in the cargo hold. Up went our code truck with its dog house on the back—also C Company's trucks, loaded down with field wire and their wire dispensing and recovery gear. Our battalion had lots of trucks and other rigs of all sizes.
The loading process was sailing along smoothly and efficiently well into the afternoon when suddenly, the whistles blew all over the waterfront. Immediately, everything stopped. Some trucks were left dangling 30 feet in the air, others only a few feet from being set in their hold space. I wondered with no small amount of instant alarm as to what was going on. i thought that maybe word had come down from the air raid spotters that we were under an imminent air attack.
I was wrong. It was tea-time, and no war was going to interfere with that English tradition. When the tea cups were all drained, work resumed and it was on again with the war.
We shipped out that night after dark. It was a spooky feeling. There were no lights on anything. As far as we could tell, we were completely alone. There wasn't the usual horseplay or crap games below deck. Everyone was in a pensive mood, nobody saying much. As for me, I was clinging to a Bible verse which said: A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but it shall not come nigh thee. (Psalm 91:7) That verse put me to sleep as we later anchored in the darkness off the coast of France.
Morning came, and with it came the greatest military invasion in the history of the world. The activity that brought us out of our sacks and onto the deck was the sound of a heavy bombardment. Battleships, cruisers, and destroyers were laying down a carpet of artillery on the beach. As the day was breaking and the land was becoming visible in the early light, it was my guess that we were anchored about a mile off shore. To look around was awesome from the sheer number of fighting ships and cargo carriers in the vicinity. We couldn't even begin to count them, but later news reports claimed there to be 4,000 ships present.
It was not our particular job to storm the beaches — for that I was extremely grateful. But I had a deep feeling for the soldiers who had inherited that task. We were far enough away to not be able to see how they were making out, we could only guess and pray for them the very best.What was immediately apparent from our vantage point was that the skies were ours. Our Air Force was up there in overwhelming abundance, not a single German plane showed up. Also, none of our ships were showing any signs of turning tail; both comforting observations. We gathered around a radio someone had managed to bring along and listened to BBC in its account of what was going on.
All day long there was the din of the battle in the distance with occasional salvos from our warships nearby. Then there would be big explosions on land sending up ominous clouds of black smoke. We couldn't tell from our ship whether those explosions were good news or bad news.
We, of our ship, spent D-Day in relative security, much as a bleacher's spectator at a bull fight. As things began to make sense out of an operation of this magnitude, it became apparent that it would be some time before we, ourselves would be going ashore. Reason being, the landing barges were acting as ferry boats plying the waters between ship and shore. They would come alongside an anchored ship, pick up a load of men and material, and then scurry to the beach to disgorge their burden. Then, if the landing craft survived that trip, it would return to the ship for another such load and repeat the process. And on and on. It was going to take some real doing to unload all of the cargo vessels in this manner.
As D-Day's dusk began to assert itself, it was evident that we were on the beach to stay. We could believe that many of our young men who set out on this venture on this very morning did not see the dusk, for they had already given D-Day all they possessed. For we who remained, our work was cut out for us. At least we were able to rise to meet it.
D-Day's nightfall did not bring with it solace from the terrors of the day. Instead, a new game began. With the darkness, the word was passed around that if there were any planes overhead, give them all you've got, for our planes were all on the ground.
After having witnessed the devastating strength of our own air armada overhead, it was reasonable to believe that the Germans would respond in like manner when they had their chance. We expected the worst. However, a single plane came droning over just after dark. With its arrival, every gun the invasion fleet owned opened up. With 4,000 ships in our so-called harbor, and each ship having at least several guns, arithmetic deductions quickly pointed out that there was immediately a lot of hot lead in the air. Our Liberty ship though strictly a cargo carrier, had half dozen or so 50 caliber machine guns which were adding their part to the unbelievable cacophony of gun racket.
All American machine guns were loaded, with every fifth round being a tracer bullet. As a result, from all of those ships firing at the plane above, the sky was literally filled with red hot sparks moving skyward. With every gunner zeroing in on the intruder, those sparks took on the appearance of an inverted funnel making the most incredible light show I had ever seen, then or since. It was impossible to believe that anything could fly through such a barrage.
Evidently, the Luftwaffe pilot got the message that he was not welcome at our beach party. He got out of there as quickly as possible without leaving a single calling card.
A little later, another plane, same scene, again and again all night long. But I never heard of a German plane that ventured over us as being shot down. They had to fly so high to save their necks that their raids were nothing more than a nuisance.
The bigger risk was all of the junk hoisted aloft from our guns falling back on the decks. All personnel except the gunners were ordered below for safety's sake and we could hear the fall-out like so much hail rattling down on the hold covers overhead.
With that spectacular light show which rivaled any in history anywhere, so ended D-Day, the longest day in the lives of those who stormed the beaches and lived to tell their grandchildren about it. .... and the shortest day for those who tried, but gave their lives in trying.
D-plus-one and two were more of the same, though not nearly as hectic. Visible activities on the beach were slowing down. There would be an occasional blast when something or someone tripped a land mine; there were plenty of those. The big guns of our battleships and heavy cruisers had only an occasional job to do, but for the most part were being quiet. All day long, our own fighter planes ranged overhead looking for trouble over the beach and not finding it. Then after dark, the occasional lone enemy raiders overhead came searching for a hole in our defenses and, finding none, left us along.
D-plus three came, and it was our turn to go ashore. The landing barges were still shuttling men and material as fast as they could make the round trip. The landing craft pulled up alongside our ship, and the loading booms began handing our jeeps, weapons carriers, and trucks over the side and onto the barge. As soon as the last vehicle was fitted in, we went over the side too and down the webbed rope just as we had rehearsed it in basic training and may times thereafter.
It had been a whole day since any landing craft had drawn fire, so we settled down to enjoy the trip to shore. Nearing land, our landing craft drug bottom as was expected, then stopped and dropped the front ramp. We loaded into our jeeps or trucks, all of which had been
waterproofed so the could run under water as deep as the top of the windshield. I was in a jeep with two others.
The first jeep down the ramp and into the water carried the Captain, our ranking officer, who was exhibiting his fearless leadership by blazing the way for others to follow. The Captain, not wanting to get unnecessarily soaked, was sitting on the back of the jeep seat with his feet firmly planted on the cushion. The jeep went into the water only floorboard deep and was proceeding as if it was a Sunday outing, at which point the Captain kissed the prospects of getting wet goodbye. He then settled down comfortably in the seat, at the same time looking back at his men on the barge, smiling broadly and waving triumphantly. Just at that point, the jeep disappeared. All we could see were two helmets skimming the water like a pair of seagoing turtles out for a leisurely swim. Presently, the jeep came up, pouring water from its every opening with Captain and driver sputtering and spitting. Our Captain, for sure, had had his dapper dampened!
The barge pilot, reacting to the Captain's wet ride, lifted the barge gate, backed off, went to the right about 50 yards, and sent out another jeep. Bingo! The jeep made it, barely getting its hubs wet; and the rest of us, using the same trail, hit the beach safe and dry.
The carnage of the fierce battle of D-Day's assault was all around us. There were sunken landing barges, blown-up tanks, and shot-up trucks. No such terror was our lot and as we pulled up the first hill off the beach, we were greeted by the most incongruous sight imaginable. There on the left side of the road and atop a stone fence adorning the front yard of a French beach home sat a little girl about five years old. She was clean, and pretty with a bow in her hair and dressed up like Easter Sunday waving at all of us as we passed by. Not another civilian or another house still standing was in sight.
I wonder to this day how that little girl and her apparent home made it unscathed to D-plus-three....