I really don't remember getting onto the ships very vividly at all. We were on these two British ships which were to carry us across the Channel. I don't even remember which one I was on, of the names that I have in my book. But anyway, we were aboard. The assault boats, the LCA's, were suspended around the sides of this ship. My memory is that they said that these would be lowered well before we were in position to get into them ourselves, because the hazard that they might not be able to lower them later, and that we would climb down the rat lines into the boats. My memory is that wasn't done at all. We actually climbed into them in their suspended position, following which they were lowered away.
But before that, I remember that they did give us a good breakfast of fried eggs, and that's the only thing I really remember. But in trying to think of some of the questions that were on your suggestions, I really don't remember what we wore that day. I think we were wearing our fatigues, but I couldn't swear that we weren't wearing our OD's. Regardless, I'm sure I had a light field jacket, probably the fatigues, we all had paratroop boots in the Rangers, and so this is what I was starting out with.
My personal equipment that I carried as the Section Sergeant, I carried an M-1 rifle, so I wore a rifle belt with all of the ammunition for the M-1. I had binoculars, I had wire-cutters on the belt. I might add that I strung my binoculars on the back in-between the pouches of M-1 ammunition rather than carrying it on a strap over my shoulder. I had the wire cutters attached on one pouch. I had a grenade launcher in a pouch hanging on the belt. I had my canteen on my belt. I had a compass on my belt. I had the first aid pouch on the belt. We had fighting knives. I always wore my fighting knife on my trousers' belt rather than on my rifle belt. And I had a bayonet, I'm sure, but that went on the pack. We were carrying light packs, as I recall, without our bedrolls. This is the basic equipment I was carrying, anyway. (I missed mentioning a most important tool-a shovel for digging slit trenches!) We did have to take gas masks, and we had those, and as we started out then-I might say that we had 17-jewel Hamilton watches issued to each man, and we had switchblade paratroop knives that would flip the blade open at the touch of a button.
This is really what I recall in the way of equipment that I personally was carrying. Of course, in the pack, we had our raincoat, mess gear, primarily those things. And then we put on Mae West life preservers, and ultimately got into our LCA's, and as I remember, were lowered down and set sail for the coast. We were each issued 2 puke bags, and to the best of my knowledge, in our boat of 30-some men, there were only two of us who didn't use them. Probably most of them used both. But they certainly were well used, and I might say that when you were crammed in that craft, there was no place-you were front to back solidly, so that if one was sick, if they didn't have a bag, it would simply have gone down the neck of the person ahead of them but that wasn't very good.
So, we set sail, and it was quite rough. The boats pitched quite a bit, and this, of course, was a great contributor to the seasickness that assailed most of the people. So we headed for the coast, and as we approached it, it didn't look like we thought it should. It was obscured by smoke. The grass apparently was burning there from the many shells that had landed on it, and as we got closer in, it didn't look very promising either, in that we could see tracers going down the beach, and that meant people were shooting on the beach, and if they were shooting, somebody was going to get hit, and we were the ones going in. Anyway, as we got closer and closer, we could see more and more detail. There were the obstacles, these triangular pieces of steel sticking up there with mines dangling from them, and this looked a little formidable.
And, of course, as I say, the bullets are still flying along the beach. You can see The tracers and the shells coming in, and so as we proceeded shoreward, we ultimately go to a point where the British coxswain on our boat said: "I'm aground, I'm aground!" He dropped the ramp and the Lieutenant in ours, I believe Lieutenant D. Anderson, said "All out" jumped and disappeared beneath the waves, and some in the front of the boat reached down and dragged him back in. I believe it was Sergeant Charles Vander Voort who simply put his tommy gun in the ribs of the coxswain and said: "I think you had better get us ashore!" I might say that our boat, under those circumstances, probably got closer to the actual sand beach than any other, because we were able to get out without getting in water more than to our knees! I don't really blame the ship's crew; as soon as we were out, they could retreat and get away from this rather dangerous spot.
As we were doing this, and starting to unload, I noticed that the 2nd boat of our company wasn't quite so fortunate as we were, in that we're being able to step off in water knee deep, and they're getting off in water about waist-deep, and as I watched waiting my turn o get off, I noticed that one of my men in the squad in that boat, my problem girl-lover George, who wasn't very tall and was an ammunition carrier laden with mortar shells, jumped out and was in water almost to his armpits, and he couldn't make any progress at all, and then Sergeant Beccue who was a pretty rugged character dashed out and grabbed him and dragged him up out of there and to shore.
Meanwhile, we all unloaded from our LCA, and having no trouble so far, but we promptly moved up and sprawled out on the rocks that we were now on above the sand, and we were instructed to stay there until the officers got together to decide just what our next move should be. And I might describe the scene at that time, the tide is now coming in a bit. There were quite a few wounded men who had been scattered along there, where they had been hit. some of them were out some distance, and the tide is now coming in, and the little sand is now becoming sandbars, which are getting smaller and smaller as the water rises, and they were crying out in hope of succor from someone. There wasn't much that could be done for them, certainly, from our standpoint.
Tanks had been fitted with flotation devices-we had seen these before the invasion, with canvas sides built on that would raise up and they had propellers and they were supposed to drive off the craft on which they were being carried and propel themselves to shore, and then be ready to go to battle. The problem we heard was that they simply drove off and sank in the rough water, so there were very few tanks ashore. One was running up and down, but it didn't seem to be accomplishing anything, other than almost running over some of the wounded who couldn't get out of the way .
Well, our desire was really to get off of there, but I was lying there, alongside of our Company Clerk, John Spurlock, and I remember that as we were lying on these rocks, John is very carefully reaching under him and lifting a rock at a time, and moving it aside to make his body get lower and lower, which wasn't a bad idea at all.
Finally, they did decide what we should do, that the perimeter sector had not been acquired by the infantry troops that came in an hour before. They were still right there on the beach instead of having the beachhead, including the road along the top that we were supposed to have gone out through, and they said that our mission should be changed to taking a beachhead. So someone put a bangalore under the barbed wire that was strung along-there was kind of a seawall and a fence with many strands of barbed wire , and ultimately, they put the bangalore under there and blew a breach in that, and we started our ascent up this very steep hillside, which was still obscured by smoke. And so we began to go up that, hesitantly, of course, not knowing what life was going to bring. Life may be bringing death! Anyway, we began to go up that, following paths. There were signs all over the area: "Achtung! Minen!"-and it was very possible that these were mined and we would blow ourselves up if we proceded. Yet, we had to go!
Suddenly, I missed one of my squads-they were both with me at that time, the two squads of my section-and I missed one, and I went back down the hill and I found them. "What are you doing down here?" "Well, they tell us that there is a minefield up there." I said: "That's tough, let's get back up there!', and so we went back up, and we continued up, and suddenly, I saw a-I wasn't sure what it was. It was really a dead German, but I had never seen a dead person like that before. He was lying there in his uniform and his waxen skin, and I thought, that must be a dummy someone has rigged up there. If I touch it, it will probably explode. It is probably a booby trap. And such are one's thoughts when they see something for the first time.
But we continued up and got on top of the hill, finally. We reached the road that was the coast road running through Vierville sur Mer and St. Peirre Dumont. And so we're there for a bit, and we suddenly hear this whoosh! whoosh! whoosh! whosh! and 1, 2, 3, 4 rockets fly over us, which are then landing down on the beach, and we can see the beach, and an LSI (Landing Ship Infantry) is there, and they're disembarking down the stairways on each side of it-I'm not sure what the proper term for them is, and then suddenly that's engulfed in flame. We heard later that a shell hit someone carrying a flame-thrower, but anyway, it simply disappeared in flame. And this is the kind of thing that was happening.
They kept shelling the beach, and these flights of rockets were going down there, and we were so happy to be above it , because it was far more dangerous there than it was on top, and so we continued on and we crossed this coast road. I'm kind of the tail end of the Company. The Company had 65 men at full strength, so that wasn't a very big Company, so it isn't stung out too long, but they were moving up a kind of a ditch along a hedgerow and I'm kind of back with the special weapons. About that time the Battalion Commander, Lt. Col. Schneider, arrived there and, as I listened to him, it was quite interesting. We were apparently supposed to have an artillery group of some kind supporting us, and some Lieutenant reached the Colonel at this time and reported to him that they had only gotten one gun ashore, and he said: "Fine-let's have some fire right up here." and pointed at the hedgerow across facing us, and the Lieutenant says: "Sorry Sir, but that's too close. We can't fire that close a range. We have to fire further." So that didn't help any.
Then there had been supposed to be two companies of the 2nd Ranger Battalion who were supporting our 5th Battalion. Three companies of the 2nd were hitting Point du Hoc, one company was hitting the heavily fortified point Et Raz do la Percee from which a lot of the fire along the beach was coming, and two companies were to come in with us under the command of our Commander, and my memory is that some of them reported in but they only had about a platoon out of the two companies. And we heard that one of the boats of our F Company had not gotten in. Fortunately, it turned out that the men had all gotten on another boat as they were swamped and did make it ashore. Since my buddy Harry Vogler was in that group whom I joined the Rangers with, I was happy to hear that later.
Anyway, this is where we were. And then they called for some mortar fire, and so one of our mortars was set up and fired a few rounds up there, and there supposedly was a counterattack coming up there and so this at least helped repel it, and then they said that we should go in and take the town of Vierville sur Mer, and so we moved. We were east of that, as I recall, and so we moved towards Vierville and went through the town trying to find any snipers or other Germans that were hidden in there, and we really finished the day doing that operation. We ended up on the other side of the town on the west side in kind of a perimeter, and at that time, it was getting dark, and we were told to dig in there for the night, and so I dug a fairly deep slit trench that night, and bedded down after D-Day, after, I guess, the longest day!
Anyway, I slept that night. Of course, we did have guards out. I was awakened early the next morning by the Captain calling to me: "Baseplate!". This was the name I had been christened by the First Sergeant for reasons quite intelligible to anyone who knows anything about the army. (In a mortar section, the one who carries the baseplate only has to have a strong back, he doesn't have to know anything!) "Baseplate, is there room in there for me in your slit trench?" And I said: "No, Sir" and he said: "Well then you had better come over here." so I got out of my trench taking my things and dashed over to him, since there could well be fire coming at any time, and he told us that we needed to go back in and clean out Vierville again because there was a problem that apparently snipers had come back in during the night. We went back in, and they was some more interesting operations. I know I was out around a big wall out in an orchard on the outside of the town.
At the moment I was in a prone position for I was having a little trouble with a sniper. We were firing at each other and neither of us knew exactly where the other one was. Just then some American GI, newly arrived from the beach and inside the wall calls: "Get up and come in here!" " I can't get up and come in there-I'll get shot!". "Well, then, I'm going to throw a hand grenade over." That didn't sound very enticing either, so luckily I talked him out of that idea. I might add that, as a student who had graduated in horticulture, I did find a strawberry patch and sat down and ate some later in the day! That might not have been what I was supposed to be doing, but there were more troops getting ashore that day and it was quite a sight to see the barrage balloons. Every ship out there had a barrage balloon on it to keep the enemy aircraft from coming down and strafing them, so it was quite a sight to see that, but you couldn't help but think how can there be so many people out there and so many ships and so very few people ashore, because it hadn't sounded very promising that first night as we got the reports of who was not there, but fortunately, we were able to hold on and move down the coast and things like that.
These are only some vague remembrances of D-Day. They stand out in my mind, although certainly after these years, things are pretty dim. It was a memorable day. I really cannot remember actually being frightened. This was something we had trained for, it's something I had wanted to participate in. I had almost missed it for having been in the hospital and going back through a redistribution; depot, and I wasn't quite in as good a shape as I was earlier after our rigorous training because of the hospitalization, but it was a strange feeling to want to participate in D-Day. I'm sure it was not rational, but I don't regret it. Perhaps those who didn't make it through did. I'm sure they did. It seems so unnecessary perhaps that we cannot get along better in the world, but that's the way life is. Anyway, these are my recollections of D-Day. Things were perhaps even more interesting and hotter in the next few days, but this is what happened to me personally on D-Day, June 6, 1944.