Men of D-Day


    
 Troop Carrier
Michael N. Ingrisano
Robert E. Callahan
Benjamin F. Kendig
John R. Devitt
Arthur W. Hooper
Ward Smith
Julian A. Rice
Charles E. Skidmore
Sherfey T. Randolph
Louis R. Emerson Jr.
Leonard L. Baer
Robert D. Dopita
Harvey Cohen
Zane H. Graves
John J. Prince
Henry C. Hobbs
John C. Hanscom
Charles S. Cartwright
 
 82nd Airborne
Leslie Palmer Cruise Jr.
Marie-T Lavieille
Denise Lecourtois
Howard Huebner
Malcolm D. Brannen
Thomas W. Porcella
Ray T. Burchell
Robert C. Moss
Richard R. Hill
Edward W. Shimko
 
 101st Airborne
John Nasea, Jr
David 'Buck' Rogers
Marie madeleine Poisson
Roger Lecheminant
Dale Q. Gregory
George E. Willey
Raymond Geddes
 
 Utah Beach
Joseph S. Jones
Jim McKee
Eugene D. Shales
Milton Staley
 
 Omaha Beach
Melvin B. Farrell
James R. Argo
Carl E. Bombardier
Robert M. Leach
Joseph Alexander
James Branch
John Hooper
Anthony Leone
George A. Davison
James H. Jordan
Albert J. Berard
Jewel M. Vidito
H. Smith Shumway
Louis Occelli
John H. Kellers
Harley A. Reynolds
John C. Raaen
Wesley Ross
Richard J. Ford
William C. Smith
Ralph E. Gallant
James W. Gabaree
James W. Tucker
Robert Watson
Robert R. Chapman
Robert H. Searl
Leslie Dobinson
William H. Johnson
 
 Gold Beach
George F. Weightman
Norman W. Cohen
Walter Uden
 
 Juno Beach
Leonard Smith
 
 Sword Beach
Brian Guy
 
 6th Airborne
Roger Charbonneau
Frederick Glover
Jacques Courcy
Arlette Lechevalier
Charles S. Pearson
 
 U.S.A.A.F
Harvey Jacobs
William O. Gifford
 
Civils
Philippe Bauduin
Albert Lefevre
René Etrillard
Suzanne Lesueur
 

 

Richard J. Ford
2nd Lt, K Company, 115th Infantry Regiment, 29th Infantry Division

We loaded on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) which held one Company of Infantry (180 men and 6 Officers). The men were not laughing. They had laughed and used to say we were in England to take the place of the "home guard". They now knew the jig was up. They had been briefed on what our job would be. We were just thankful that we were not the first wave. This fell to the 116th Regt. which ended up being decimated on the beach.

We loaded up in broad day light at "The Hoe" in Plymouth on a nice sunny day. As you loaded on your craft you called out your name, rank, and serial number. There was a fellow recording this information. In 1975, I worked with a fellow who was an Officer in charge of the recording mentioned above. He vividly remembered that process of loading the troops and noting the number and type of craft they were put on. When I told him the type of craft I loaded on he said, "You must have hit that beach early."

We had one man who stabbed himself in the foot with his bayonet during the crossing. There was no going back. The Navy would not keep him on board and take him back after unloading us. He landed with a bandaged foot.
During the crossing we heard speeches by President Roosevelt and Gen Eisenhower. It was in this speech that Eisenhower coined the phrase " a great crusade" and said God was with us.

We started out the night of June 4th, the landing was to be on the 5th. As we sailed out the weather got stormy and the seas rougher and rougher. Finally we put into Weymouth Harbor, and the men thought it had been called off. We sailed again during the night. The crossing was not too bad, but the seas were still quite rough. Luckily most of the men were fishermen from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We were to land at the Le Moulin draw. Primarily our job was to move through the 116th Regt. who would have assaulted and cleared the beach. We would advance and secure the towns of St. Laurent and Vierville and move on to a line which would run from Trevieres through LaCambe. This was not to be too difficult a job "as there were only labor troops in the area." Famous last words. They weren't throwing shovels at us when we landed. Intelligence said the nearest German fighting troops were at St.Lo about 60 miles back from the landing area. This proved to be wrong as later we found out that the German 352nd Division had moved up from St. Lo to practice counter invasion tactics. They knew we were coming but not exactly when. I think they were a little surprised. In hind sight, if we had landed at night, we might not have had as many casualties. They would have had a harder time seeing us, but that would also apply to us seeing them.

On our way toward the landing beach we passed across the bow of the American Cruiser Augusta. It looked huge from our perspective which was close to the water. The Augusta ended up later on as our artillery support since the 110th Field Artillery, which was our Regimental artillery support, had lost their guns in the channel. The Battleship Texas was a little further beyond the Augusta and was firing its big guns.There were big halos of flame around the muzzle of their guns when they fired. It made you feel good to see this as it was kind of reassuring. "How could they take this pounding by the Navy." Sad part was they did and were waiting for us.

I felt sorry for some fellows in the crossing. They were riding on huge flat barges loaded with fuel and ammunition. These barges rode only a foot or two out of the water. As we went quite closely by one of them, I waved and wished them good luck.
The weather was cold, gray and forbidding. The water was rough and cold.

As we approached our designated landing sector, we knew the jig was up as there was so much noise, smoke and firing of big guns. It was difficult to see the beach through all the smoke and haze. We didn't land at our selected area but about 1500 yards to the North or left. We were to land on Dog Red at the Le Moulin draw. Instead we landed in the 1st Div sector on one of the Green beach sites. This resulted in my Platoon being mixed in with the 18th Regt of the 1st Division. At this spot the fire was not too intense but there was enough artillery and mortar fire to make you move. The LCI had a disembarking ramp on each side of its bow. There was no loitering. I led my Platoon off the right side without too much difficulty. The water was cold and rough and in my case chest deep. I was about 6 ft. tall. Many days later, found out that the Navy changed our original landing site because the original landing site was covered with corpses, under heavy fire and littered with disabled equipment and the Naval Officer in charge "didn't want to waste the men". A Naval Officer told me this about a week after the landings. He said our craft had been hit and sunk and did I know how many men were lost. I replied that I wasn't aware of this and that I must have been off the craft and also my men when it was hit. My Platoon was the first off the craft. I surmised the craft was hit and sunk after we had departed it as the Company was pretty much intact.

Forty years later, I learned that things were so bad on Omaha that they were thinking of abandoning it and not waste anymore resources there and move the rest of the landing units to Utah Beach. Southwick House, near Portsmouth, England, was the headquarters of Operation Overlord . On one of the walls they have the whole operation painted on the wall, showing the dispositions of all units in the operation.

As we were approaching the beach in the landing craft, I saw a little dip , or niche, in the skyline of the bluff. Forty years later, as my wife Vera and I walked Omaha Beach, she asked if I could find where I had landed. As we walked north on the beach, I saw that niche again, and told her,"this is the place." We went up a path nearby that went up the bluff. Vera and I went up the path and it brought us out near the present American Cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer.

Below that niche, there was a small shelf-like piece of land. I made this my first objective, and had as many men as were about me to go with me.. Forget about the original plans, try to stay alive. We were under Artillery and mortar fire. When wading in through chest deep water, some shells exploded nearby. I thought "good thing we're in the water" but realized that shrapnel travels through water as well as through the air. An LCT (Landing Craft Tank) was backing off the beach and he offered to take us in to the beach. I declined the offer thinking it would take too long for us to scramble up into that craft, and when doing so we would be a good target, standing still in the water. Some of the men near me didn't like my decision and the craft moved on. There were runnels under the water and when you stepped in one you could be in water over your head. That is why men wearing their life belt too low would up- end and drown. When finally got to the beach there were some men with me. The beach was flat and it looked like a mile to the base of the bluff. I remember saying, "Follow Me" and thought at the time "how corny", I sound like John Wayne. I never looked back to see what the rest of the Company was doing or where they were. It would be certain death to stand or wait on that beach for the rest of the Company.
The beach was wide and flat and there were no craters for us to take cover, so we made for the bluff and that little "shelf". The artillery and mortars were giving us a fit. On the way to the bluff we went by a little marshy area with cat-tails in it and a sign saying "Minen" which told us the area was mined. By the time we got to the "shelf" we were tired and we sat there to rest. It was discouraging to make our way up the bluff (about 200 feet) and not be able to see who was firing at you and you had no target to fire back at, just take it and keep going. I had looked at my watch as our craft touched down and it was around 9:30 am. As we rested, there was an enemy artillery emplacement to our left. We could see it and they could see us. I think they had communication with the people on top of the bluff as every time we moved a little it would bring fire from above. This wasn't too effective so they began to drop hand grenades at us. As I sat there and looked down on the beach, I was shocked to see the number of bodies and the amount of material that was littering the beach. At this point, I didn't think I would ever see England again, let alone the United States I thought my number was up.

We watched as suddenly one of our Destroyers come straight toward the beach. I thought it was going to run aground. It suddenly turned broadside to the beach and began pumping rounds into that artillery emplacement. After about five rounds the artillery piece ceased to function and we resumed our ascent of the rest of the bluff. We were ascending the bluff along a trail of dead men, who had given their lives to make it safer for us. I speculated that they had set off personnel mines as their bodies were quite mutilated and mangled and reminded one to be cautious. Walking, in a crouch position, along their bodies it was safe, but the goriness was very sobering to say the least. I passed one fellow who had been blown in half. You could see the organs hanging out of the upper half of his body. Moving up the bluff, the most frustrating thing was not being able to see who or from where you were being fired on. When we got on top of the bluff, we rounded up as many of our men as possible. I had no idea where the Company was. By this time it was early evening. It was light until 11:00pm at this time of year. I remember lying behind the rear wheels of a truck and being shot at.

One of the things that made this landing so disastrous was the fact that we had no place to take cover on the beach. The Air Force was to have bombed the beach creating craters for us to use. They missed the beach by three miles. Their explanation being they were afraid they might hit the landing craft, as the water was full of ships. How ever, this bomb preparation was to take place long before we got on the beach. As a result, that beach was as smooth and flat as a road and looked about two miles deep. As a result the Germans were in a "shooting gallery" and we were the "ducks."

I have talked to a fellow who was in the Pacific. He had gone to Normandy and was surprised that so many houses near the beach were not damaged. He said, in the Pacific they bombed the hell out of the beach area in preparation for a landing.

It was getting dark and I didn't know where the rest of the Company was. Had a Sgt. round up what men we had and put them inside a walled courtyard. Then set out to find the Company. Found one of my brother Officers, but he didn't know anything either. At least we were in an area with some of our Company so didn't feel too alone. I remember, when doing this wandering around, a lone German fighter plane came over the road so low, I felt like I could reach up and grab his tail wheel. During this wandering I fell into a ditch with a dead horse. I ran across the road and jumped into the ditch only to land on a dead German. That poor sucker must have been there all day as he was beginning to smell ripe. My introduction to "war". The odor was very unpleasant but in the days to come you got used to the stench of dead bodies, human and animal, and to eating in such perfumed air. To this day, France has an odor of "death" for me.

One of our Officers, a Catholic, just had to go to Confession. He was the first Officer of our company killed on D-Day. Somebody said he had entered a building and was cut in half by a German "burp" gun, actually it was a Schmeiser Machine Pistol. We named this weapon a "burp" gun because it fired so fast that a burst from it sounded like a "burp".

The thing that really struck me was that I had never seen so many dead and dismembered human bodies in my life. For a kid of my upbringing this was a real shocker. However, before I left combat, it was "old hat". The amount of abandoned and ruined equipment on the beach was staggering.

Recalling how we were equipped for this operation, in my opinion we were overloaded. The men had close to 60lbs on their backs. We were loaded with ammunition each man carrying a couple extra bandoleers of ammunition and several grenades. Our clothing , impregnated against gas, was hot and smelly. We wore a Navy type gas mask, almost under our chin, to keep our head above water if wounded while in the water. We had a CO2 operated life belt around and above the waist. Some fellows wore them too low and when they got in deep water and expanded the belt, they floated upside down and drown.

Richard J. Ford     (May 22, 2006)