The Allies had mustered 7,000 ships, 11,000 aircraft and over three million fighting men. Twelve countries were represented in the massive concentration of men & materials: United States, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Norway, Poland and the Netherlands.
When France was finally free of the Germans at the end of August 1944, our armies had suffered 153,000 wounded and 37,000 dead. The invaders were seasick, scared kids. Scores of our young men perished on the bloody sands of Omaha Beach in Normandy. Some of them-far too many-were ground into the wet hard sands by the steel treads of our Sherman tanks, under orders not to stop at any cost. Time stood still as Death conducted a symphony of death rattles. I saw a lot of men die on June 6th, 7th and 8th 1944. My comrades and I stood in the midst of blood and gore as the agonized screams of humans pinned in the flaming wreckage of trucks off our lowered ramp echoed throughout the corridors of eternity. I shall hear their screams for the rest of my life.
Meanwhile, the German defenders, kids like us and middle-aged veterans of the war in Russia, shed tears as they begged us "Amis, go back; please!" Before we reached the bluffs overlooking Omaha Beach, 3,000 men would become casualties. From there, the surviving Rangers and other units would advance cautiously into the dark, foreboding boccage country just back of the beachheads. Many of our men would die there in the tangled roots of the hedgerows. And so it went.
After the war in Europe ended, we all pinched ourselves to see if we were-indeed-still alive. Many of us received medical discharges while others remained in military and VA hospitals to recovers from wounds sustained in the horrible battles waged on the bloody beaches of Normandy. It would be at least twenty years after World War II before I could think about the nightmares of Omaha beach and Normandy. One look at my diary buried deep in a sea bag convinced me that I owed the world an intimate look at the horrors of war. That would be the strongest argument against war.
My vivid accounts have been published many times over, even in serial form. They were well received by the reading public. The first book titled "Vagabonds of War" was published in a limited run and sold out completely to veterans of D-Day who gave glowing reviews of the book. I have written at least eight more books since then, all published at my expense. A lot of the D-Day survivors got a chance to read about the place they called "Bloody Omaha" before they crossed over the bar. That is my role as a "Keeper of the Flame." Each day, at 77 years of age, God takes my hand to show me the Way. As it should be.
While circling in the English Channel just before our troops hit the beaches of Normandy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, read the Order of the Day to us over the pa system. It began..... "Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force. Three paragraphs later, he ended with..... Good Luck! And let us beseech the blessing of Almighty God upon this great and noble undertaking.
Dwight D. Eisenhower
The night skies continued to rumble as thousands of bombers thundered toward France. We could not carry on a normal conversation as our invasion fleet moved forward, loaded with seasick soldiers who were destined to die on the beaches of Normandy soon. I was bow lookout on Coast Guard LST 27, straining my eyes to spot any floating mines, E-boats or subs lurking in the area. Our LST dropped anchor off Omaha Beach on the 7th of June and immediately dispatched our LCVP's loaded with special troops to relieve the Rangers encircled on Pointe-du-Hoc.
The day before, soldiers of the 16th RCT and the 116th RCT had been landed on Omaha Beach in a withering hail of bullets and mortars. Not many of them survived that first day. Omaha Beach was covered with a low-lying haze of smoke, dust and airborne debris on the 7th so it was difficult if not impossible to see what was going on. 32 of the DD flotation gear-equipped tanks had been treading water for some 50 minutes until 27 of them disappeared beneath the choppy waters of the channel on the initial landing.
A report from Patrol Craft 552 at 06:41 on the 6th of June reported back to the USS Chase that the "entire first wave had foundered". It didn't look good. On Sector Easy Red, 22 LCVP's, 2 LCI's and 4 LCT's were lost to mines and the withering fire from the German defenders. A friend of mine, Leroy Bowen on Coast Guard LCI 83, easing into position on Sector Fox Green to land combat engineers, narrowly escaped death as she was damaged by a mine. 72 troops had to be off-loaded in LCVP's. The US Navy and Coast Guard would lose at least 50 landing craft and ten larger vessels with a much larger number of all types damaged. Our landing ship, LST 27, was unable to land as the area was not yet clear of mines and obstacles. On the 8th of June, we made another attempt to land on Omaha Beach. It ended in disaster.
The lead vehicle of the 175th AT Company rolled over a mine off our starboard bow while leaving our lowered ramp. A second vehicle was soon enveloped in flames that began to consume the bodies of those trapped in the twisted steel. A tall plume of black greasy smoke spiralled skyward to mark the funeral pyre. The beach master quickly flagged approaching landing craft away from the horrible scene. My helmet was hit by spinning shrapnel as I raced toward the burning trucks in an attempt to rescue the screaming men. Our deck officer, Mr. Cerf sprinted down the ramp and scooped up a fallen soldier in his arms. The wounded man's uniform was still smoking. The ammo n the two burning trucks began to explode, hurling packs of cigarettes in all directions. As my helmet had a gaping hole in the top, I ran out and picked up one with netting on it. The dead soldier who lost it certainly wouldn't need it now!
Someone shouted "Shut those damned bow doors!" Slowly, they began to close. Our tank deck was overflowing with the dead, dying and the wounded by that time as we had been taking aboard a number of casualties from the beach. A few hours later, the flames had been extinguished by the incoming tide and we landed the rest of the 175th AT and its support units. The skeletons in the charred trucks were still in a seated position and seemed to be grinning at us as we moved into position to unload their comrades. They would continue to appear in my nightmares for years after the war.
Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons of the LST 27
American Campaign Medal - Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal (2) - World War II Victory Medal
LST-1 Class Tank Landing Ship: Laid down, 10 December 1942, at Dravo Corp., Pittsburgh, PA.; Launched, 27 April 1943; Commissioned USS LST-27, 25 June 1943, with a Coast Guard crew.
During World War II, LST-27 was assigned to the European Theater and participated in:
- Convoy UGS-36, April 1944
- Invasion of Normandy, June 1944
Decommissioned, 9 November 1945; Struck from the Naval Register, 28 November 1945. Final Disposition: sold for scrapping, 15 December 1947, to Rhode Island Navigation Co., Newport, RI. The LST-27 earned two battle stars for World War II service.
Displacement 1,780 t.(lt), 3,880 t.(fl);
Draft unloaded, bow 2' 4" stern 7' 6", loaded bow 8' 2" stern 14' 1";
Complement 8-10 Officers, 100-115
Enlisted; Troop Capacity, approx. 140 officers and enlisted;
Boats, 2-6 LCVP;
Armament; one single 3"/50 gun mount, five 40mm gun mounts, six 20mm gun mounts, two .50-cal machine guns, four .30-cal machine guns;
Propulsion, two General Motors 12-567 diesel engines, two shafts, twin rudders.