||James Roland Argo
Omaha Beach - Pharmacist Mate 1st class for LCI 489
I am 79 years old and for
years tried to forget the pain and suffering I witnessed in World
War II, particularly June 6th and 7th, 1944. However, in my advanced
age I guess I am getting nostalgic. When I read Karl Bischoff's
story, I decided to tell you about my memories on LCI (L) 489 at
Omaha Beach on June 6th and 7th of 1944. I hope that my story may
answer questions that others might have had about their loved ones.
First, let me give you a
little background about myself. I was born and reared in Gadsden,
Alabama. I was only 17 when I misrepresented my age and joined the
Alabama National Guard. I served in Guntersville, Alabama, Jacksonville,
Florida, and Camp Beauregard, Louisiana. When we were inducted into
the Federal Army in 1940, all of us guys who had misrepresented
our age were given a COG (Convenience of the Government) discharge
and sent home. By then I was nineteen and old enough to enlist.
My cousin Joseph R. Erwin and I joined the Naval Reserve. My first
assignment was at Balboa Park, San Diego. I attended Hospital Corps
School in San Diego where I received my Hospital Apprentice Certificate
of Graduation on May 21, 1942. After that, I served in Pensacola,
Florida at the U.S. Naval Hospital. Then I was stationed at TTSA
(Transition Training Squadron Atlantic Fleet) in Norfolk, Virginia.
I was one of the first twelve men assigned to what later became
the U.S. Naval Amphibious Training Station at Solomon's Island,
Maryland. I literally was one of the first 12 men. When I got there,
I thought somebody had played a joke on me. No one and nothing else
was there. I spent the night in my hammock. In the morning some
other men arrived and I knew it wasn't a joke. Some of the other
Pharmacist Mates on Solomon's Islands with me were Charlie Sanders,
Nils Snelling, Hornsby, Roscoe Brannon, George Van Amburg, Gunn,
my cousin Joe Erwin, and Phillip…whose last name I can't remember.
Eleven other Pharmacist Mates and myself received an additional
period of intensive training in Portsmouth, Virginia related to
combat injuries. This training was specifically in preparation for
D-day. This training was exactly right on target. We didn't know
at that time that it was in preparation for D-day. I learned that
later. Pharmacist Mates took the place of physicians on small landing
craft such as LCIs. Our group of Pharmacist Mates (Number 28) traveled
in convoy across the Atlantic in 1942 on LCIs numbered 487 through
492. I was on LCI (L) 489. We stopped at Little Creek for medical
supplies before leaving Norfolk. Roscoe Brannon came later on LST
505, which served as a medical evacuation ship. Most of the memos
I received were signed by J Zoole, Surgeon, Lt. Comdr., U.S.P.H.S.
I served as Pharmacist Mate
1st class for LCI 489. I was the ship's "Doc". The Navy prepared
us well for war. As Pharmacist Mate, I received extensive training
on wound care, shock treatment, bullet/shrapnel removal, setting
fractures, control of bleeding, trauma treatment, stitching, treatment
of infectious diseases, dressing and bandaging wounds, chemical
warfare first aid, etc. Onboard, everybody got immunizations. I
gave typhus fever vaccine every 6 months, typhoid fever every 12
months, tetanus booster as needed, yellow fever every 24 months
and small-pox every 6 months. I also served as Chemical Warfare
Representative, and Lend-Lease Representative. I completed the required
communicable disease reports and sanitary reports. Our commanding
officer was H. H. Montgomery, Lieutenant USNR. As I recall, our
LCI ship's complement included four officers and between 25-28 enlisted
men. Around May 1944 we brought on two additional medical men in
preparation for D-Day. These men were Burton H. Hockel, PhM1/C NR,
and Harold Alvin Kadle, Hospital Apprentice 2/C. I set these men
up in the sick bay to give IVs and plasma. Approximately two weeks
before the Normandy Invasion, our LCI was quarantined as a precaution.
My recollection is that our
LCI and 5 other LCIs among LSTs, and LCMs pulled up to Omaha Beach
just at daybreak on June 6, 1944. Actually, our LCI didn't land
up on the beach, which was the goal of LCIs. We hit an obstacle
in the water and were not able to get right up on the beach. Chuck
Phillips would know the details on that. There was a sandbar and
we could not have made it up on the beach anyway. I was on the bridge/conning
tower with Lt. Montgomery, Neikerk and Wilson. Another man was on
the bridge, too, but I can't remember who it was. Lt. Montgomery
was surveying where he wanted to direct fire. Suddenly all hell
broke out. Montgomery yelled, "Get off the bridge" and we abandoned
the bridge immediately. The German bunkers that were supposed to
have been blasted out in an air raid weren't. Fire started coming
from everywhere. To make things worse, the water was very rough.
We carried men from the 1st Division (the Big Red One) to Omaha
Beach on June 6, 1944.
Wood timbers/cross ties and
barbed wire were attached to mines. One of the first things I remember
seeing just before all hell broke out was a couple of dead men draped
over these obstacles in the shallow water. Later I learned that
these men were sent in to clear and mark channels for other landing
craft and us. The fighting on the beach seemed to be the most horrendous
for the first 5-6 hours. It eased up a little around what I thought
seemed like lunchtime, but the shelling continued for two days.
You should have seen my helmet. I wish I had saved it for my kids
to see. I was told that the Germans wouldn't aim fire directly at
men in the Red Cross helmets. A few hours into battle, I took my
helmet off because I was certain they were aiming right at that
Red Cross. I guess the German's figured for every hospital corpsman
they took out, the more overall casualties there would be. Dead
corpsmen can't save lives.
During the invasion itself,
the sick bay expanded to include the mess hall and the deck. The
shipmates on our LCI were lucky. We did not have one single casualty.
The mess hall and deck were filled with men from the Big Red One
whom our LCI had carried and soldiers who had come in on other landing
craft along side us. Travis Wilton Allen (Al), seaman 2/c NR, is
the name of the man who secured the lifeline rope that Karl Bischoff
mentioned in his story. Al Allen brought wounded men to me all day
on the 6th and 7th of June. He never stopped even though he injured
his knee. I think he took a surface shot across the knee. He was
a good young man. He probably saved more lives than we can count
in those two days, literally hundreds and hundreds. I don't know
how he maintained the stamina to keep bringing the injured from
the beach onto the LCI. I patched these men up the best I could
and got the really injured ones transferred to hospital ships. When
Allen couldn't get the injured to me, I went to them on the beach.
It was so loud with strafing, shelling, and mortar fire. I'd yell,
look out behind you Allen. Allen would yell, hit the deck, Doc.
We looked out for each other. It seems a miracle now that we did
not lose one crewmember on our LCI on D-day. Sometimes the air was
so full of fire that is seems impossible that any of us survived.
By the afternoon of June 7, disabled boats/ships that were beyond
repair had been sunk out away from the beach to make a makeshift
harbor/blockade. Other less disabled ships had been pulled up alongside
the sunken ships. This reduced the waves a bit and made things a
I remember when we rescued
men from the Susan B. Anthony. When the waves would swell, our ship
would rise up and the men on the Anthony had to judge it just right
to get the timing right for their jump across. I remember one young
man who just couldn't make himself jump. He finally tried and had
both legs crushed badly. However, he managed to hang onto the Anthony.
I climbed up the cargo rope and slung the young man over my shoulders.
I brought him onto our LCI and treated him. I had him transferred
to a hospital ship. I never caught his name. I have wondered over
the years if he made it home safely. By this time I was 23 years
old, in fact, I turned 23 on June 7 1944, the day the Anthony hit
a mine. Twenty-three seems young now, but at the time I was one
of the senior men on board and these 18 year old fellows seemed
terribly young to be fighting. My heart really went out to them.
Around 2 days out from D-Day
a group of men from our LCI set out on the beach. I treated men
from Omaha and Utah Beach. I believe it was an LST that brought
in Ernie Pyle, a war correspondent. I think we were actually on
Utah Beach when we met Ernie. We talked to him about what we had
seen. We were deactivating German bombs that had not detonated and
were checking for any survivors. By this time the fighting had moved
inland a couple of miles. But we still got occasional shells. It
was about three days out that I was authorized to give each man
2 ounces of Brandy. It was prescribed to help settle their nerves.
That was a common prescription in wartime for shell shock.
A few weeks after D-day,
we got some leisure travel approved. John Spompanato, about four
other guys and I went to Cherbourg, then to Brest, France which
was under seize by the U. S. Army. From Brest we went to an island
where we visited an abbey called Mont St. Michel.
LCI 489 made many trips across
the channel after D-day carrying troops and supplies. I was not
on all these trips. I would treat wounded in the mainland dispensaries,
Portland, England; Falmouth, Cornwall; Dartmouth, England; etc.,
flotilla sickbays, or somewhere, that part is hazy to me.
These are the names of my
shipmates on LCI(L) 489 that I am able to remember. My spelling
and the ranks may be incorrect as this is from memory. (I am going
to be getting a copy of the ship's log and will correct the names
at a later date.)
1. H. H. Montgomery-Lieutenant, Commanding
Officer from PA
2. Charles McMillian-Executive Officer from Texas
3. William McCone-Communication Officer from South Dakota
4. Chuck Phillips-Engineering Officer from PA
5. W. R. Wilson-Signalman
7. Travis Wilton Allen-Seaman from Florida
8. Alexander Wilson Andrews-Radioman
9. Robert Charles Higgins- Motor Machinist Mate from New York
10. Karl Bischoff-Motor Machinist Mate from Mass
11. Merton Mitchell Smith- Coxswain from PA
12. Willie Lee Edwards Jr.-Steward
13. Alexander William Forcinio-Motor Machinist Mate from Pennsylvania
14. Marshall Raymond Murphy-Motor Machinist Mate
15. Robert Clyde Hart-Coxswain from TN
16. Arthur Jovan-Motor Machinist Mate from Maryland
17. M. P. "Marbles" Williams-GM from North Carolina
18. Frances Paul Scavetta-Coxswain from New York
20. Mike Yakimo-our cook
21. John S. Spampinato-Bos'n from New York
22. Charles Sensabaugh
23. Louis Spadaccino-GM from Phil. PA
24. A. Elliott-Motor Machinist Mate from Mass
25. Paul McDonough-Signalman from Boston
26. Charles T. Stone-SM from Washington, DC
28. Cal Henry-GM from Ohio
30. Kenneth Golowski-Coxswain from Illinois
31. James Roland Argo-Pharmacist Mate from Alabama
I want to say a word about
Willie Lee Edwards Jr. He was a black man from the south. Back in
1944, black people weren't allowed to have many high positions or
ranks in the Navy. Willie served as steward for the officers. He
was well received and popular among the crew. Willie was a boxer,
not professional. He would box anyone willing just for fun. Joe
Louis was his hero.
I also remember a fellow,
I believe it was Murphy who always took up for me when the men started
talking bad about southerners. He would say "Doc is from down East,
right Doc? He is not a southerner.
Wilson was a real clown. He kept us laughing.
Hart had a coffee cup in
his hand day and night. Whenever you saw him he had a coffee cup.
I teased him that it was permanently attached to his hand.
Scavetta was a jockey from
New York. His mother used to send us salami.
LCI (L) 489 was decommissioned
in Nov. 1944 in Edinburgh, Scotland. I slept on the ground at Vicarage
Barracks in Plymouth, England until time to go home. From Vicarage
Barracks I came back to New York. I then had thirty days rehabilitation
to recover from a back injury I received when I slipped on deck
during the Normandy invasion. I was assigned to the Naval Air Station
in Atlanta, Georgia in 1944 where I was certified as an Assistant
Medical Examiner. I was transferred to the U. S. Naval Separation
Center in Memphis Tennessee where I was separated from the Navy
on Oct. 9, 1945. H.H. Montgomery recommended me for a commission.
I really appreciated that but I was ready to go home.
After the War:
After I came home I graduated
from Pharmacy School at Howard College in Birmingham (now Samford
University) on June 6, 1949. I married Mary Lee Rushing from Elba,
Alabama who served in Washington D.C. as a WAVE during the war.
I opened the first little drug store in Millbrook, Alabama. Later
I went to work at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Montgomery
where I served as Chief Pharmacist and stayed until my retirement.
After I retired, I worked part time for Mike Mikell at Mike's Pharmacy
and for Harco Pharmacy.
Mary and I had three children.
My son Jim has served his country for nearly thirty years. He flew
Cobra helicopters in Vietnam. He is an attorney in Georgia. My daughter
Carol is Director, International Scholar and Student Services at
the University of Alabama in Birmingham and my daughter Lee is Deputy
Commissioner of Beneficiary Services for the Alabama Medicaid Agency.
I have four living grandchildren: Jason, Jennifer, James and Amy
and one grand daughter, Amanda who died when she was nine years
old. Last year I received my certificate of recognition for serving
as a registered pharmacist for fifty years.
Communication with Shipmates:
I talked with Arthur Jovan
in Baltimore in 1945. He had returned to his job at the Coca-Cola
plant. Arthur had a tough time with seasickness while on LCI 489.
Charles Sensabaugh wrote to me once after
We weren't supposed to talk
about what we did or saw in the war for ten years. I had a very
detailed diary but it was confiscated. I was given an address that
I could write to after ten years but I lost it and after that time,
I really didn't want to talk or think about the war any more. I
saw too many men on the beach that I couldn't fix. I tried to save
everyone that I treated. The Hospital Corps School and all the training
I received were excellent.
I had no further communication
with any of my shipmates until Nov. 2000 when I reconnected with
Karl Bischoff and Chuck Phillips via the USS LCI website. I am glad
James Roland Argo. (November
These memories were published
with the permission of James R. Argo's Daughter : Lee Rawlinson
who send me these memories.
Lee Rawlinson, Mr. Argo's daughter.