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
 

 

James W. Gabaree
Private - A Co. - 5th Ranger Battalion

THE DAY I LOST MY RELIGION.

The alarm sounded in the early hours of June 6,1944.
A loudspeaker blazed the words "wakey, wakey, yavoe, yavoe". It was time to board the assault craft and leave our British mother ship for the assault on the French coast in a quest to free Europe from the grasp of the madman, Adolph Hitler.

The seas were extremely rough, waves so high that many times it seemed the assault craft was in a great hole surrounded by water. Rangers were seated on low benches on each side facing each other, and men straddled a low bench in the center facing the exit ramp, while a British officer and a seaman directed the craft from the front. This boat was an English design used for commando raids. It presented a low profile, unlike the American landing craft, and produced very little wake in the water; therefore its presence was hard to detect.

I was nineteen years old and was about to take part in an event that would affect the course of history, defeating those who would enslave humanity and rule the world by force. This day would change my life forever, if I lived to survive it. My youth would be sacrificed.

I would be entering a world of kill or be killed. Stress and fatigue would be tested to the limit of human endurance, a trial by fire. The emotional strain of not helping a fallen comrade in order to reach and accomplish your assigned mission would take its toll. Somewhere in the catacombs of my brain the horrible memories would lay dormant to be recalled when I would lie awake in the dark of night.

We were lowered into the wild waters of the English Channel in our landing craft assault boats. Some of the men were seasick and it was necessary to use our helmets to bail out the landing craft due to the tumultuous sea swells and the raging storm. Because of the rigorous training we had been given for this invasion of the Normandy coast, I was not frightened. We boarded the landing craft 10 to 12 miles from the beach, making us vulnerable to enemy fire from the big guns on Pointe du Hoc.

The landing area was fortified with mines and metal barriers to repel invading forces. The enemy had many fortifications and concealed underground connecting tunnels. Artillery and machine gun emplacements were strategically placed to kill men as they left their boats. German guns were also being fired parallel to the beach to achieve the maximum kill. Our navy and air force were bombing the beach creating smoke that concealed our landing area from us, causing much confusion. Casualties were heavy; American self-reliance came into play. Plans were scrapped, and on -the -spot decisions were made by individuals who saved the day.

I was a Bangalore torpedo man. A Bangalore torpedo is a long metal tube filled with dynamite. Several of them would be connected together and slipped under the barbed wire to blow open a passage. My job was to precede the troops and blow up the land mines and barbed wire so the soldiers could advance. Once I set the fuse I would dive in the opposite direction. The subsequent explosion would lift me into the air and I would land on the ground in a dazed condition. I didn't stay dazed long as my life and the lives of my fellow rangers depended on getting off the beach.

The command came to drop the ramp. I jumped into the water, which was knee deep and colored red by blood. The bullets, mortar and artillery fire were intense. The German 88 artillery gun was a deadly and accurate weapon that sank many craft and killed a great number of our men. The enemy targeted the ramp openings on the landing craft, killing men before they could get off the boat. It was a slaughter. Men were dying all around me.

Explosives were going off on the beach ahead of us; enormous sheets of fire from artillery guns, rifle and mortar fire blanketed the beach. Machine gun bullets were dimpled the water like rain. Our immediate objective was to get off the beach alive. We fought our way up the hill to the cover of some hedgerows that were practically impossible to penetrate. Looking down at the incoming forces presented a horrible sight of men being blown to pieces. I lost my religion. Crawling though the hedgerows was torturous, so I threw away all my gear except my gun and ammunition.
We were forced to kill many Germans and in turn many of my comrades were killed or wounded. War is hell.

Our group made the greatest penetration into enemy territory on D-Day; twenty-three of us were officially listed as missing in action. At one point we were ambushed on a road between two hedgerows. The Germans were throwing hand grenades at us from behind the bushes. Rangers grabbed the German's grenades before they went off and threw them back before they could explode on our side of the bushes. Their own weapons killed them.

Our assignment was to reach Pointe du Hoc and destroy the big guns that could annihilate our invasion forces. It had to be done, and we were expendable. These huge guns, 155 mm. canon, could cover both Omaha and Utah beaches and the incoming landing force and were capable of destroying ships ten or twelve miles out to sea.

At the rendezvous point near a French farmhouse we were shocked to find that we only had 23 men, having started at the beach with 72 men in Company A. The combined forces should have equaled 560 men. We had a problem. The question was "Were we the only ones that got off the beach, did the invasion fail?" There was no time to ponder. Our mission was to destroy the big guns at the point so we took off at a run.

The dirt country roads were lined with hedgerows making them seem like tunnels affording cover for the enemy to trap us so we took to the open countryside. There were many firefights and in the process we captured about twenty prisoners. Our fighting force practically equaled the number of captives, what should we do, take them with us, kill them or turn them lose? We disarmed them and chose the latter. We ran like hell, fighting and dodging battles until we heard that sweet sound of an English-speaking voice that demanded the password. We had arrived at Pointe du Hoc and joined the 2nd ranger band.

To our dismay, we learned that the big guns were not in place on the cliffs but had been moved elsewhere. Telephone poles were put in their place in the pillbox to deceive the allied reconnaissance. Fortunately, members of the 2nd ranger band found the hiding place of the big guns and destroyed their firing mechanisms. Hurray!

Our men were deployed with the 2nd band to secure the point and block the German advance. Night fell and the enemy attacked with vengeance and enormous firepower, shouting and blowing whistles. At one point they were within fifty yards of us. To our men in the foxholes it was practically hand to hand combat; we were in a survival mode. Food or water had not passed our lips in days. Our ammunition supplies were very low. On D+1 our combined forces of the 5th and 2nd ranger battalions consisted of only 90 men able to bear arms. We held out.

The situation was becoming desperate. We were running out of food, water and just about everything plus the batteries were dead in our radios. Seven of us, led by Captain Parker, volunteered to try to make contact with the main force on the beach. The patrol advanced, only to discover we were in the middle of a land mine field in open ground with 20 yards to go before we could reach the shelter of a small mound on the cliff's edge.
German machinegun fire opened up on us before we could reach the berm, killing one man ‚ my best friend. While trying to make the run for shelter I was shot. My comrades pulled me into a crevice in the cliff but had to leave me to continue on with their mission. I realized that my chance of coming out of this alive was practically nil. The primeval will to live kicked in.

The cheek of my left buttock was blown open; it looked like a big red bowl of Jell-O. The army provided us with two first aid kits to use in the event of being wounded. Sulfa drugs were included. I spread all of the drugs on the one wound and applied the bandage. After taking off my canteen belt I found another wound where a bullet had entered my back.

An unknown force told me to exchange the first bandage with the drugs on it and apply it to the newly discovered wound. I put the new bandage on my buttocks thereby having the sulfa drug on both wounds. I also spit on the wounds for some reason.

A decision had to be made. Do I stay here and hope they come back for me? Not very likely. I chose to start crawling back towards the point. Sometimes I would try standing part way up until I could not stand the pain then I would drop to my knees and crawl.

At one point on my journey a bullet went by my ear. The nearest shell hole was my refuge. I put my helmet on the end of my rifle and raised it, hoping to draw fire - no shot. A sniper was in the tree and waved for me to surrender. I started towards him half-walking, half-crawling but decided I would rather be dead than a prisoner, so dove into the bushes. The expected bullet never came; he let me get away. Not all Germans are bad guys.

Somehow I kept going and eventually came to an open field. I did not hear or see anyone or anything. A sixth sense told me to turn and fire my weapon. I killed a German lying in wait for me. He had fired his rifle but missed his mark. By this time I was pretty well out of my head having had no food or water for days and having lost lots of blood.

The German foxhole looked like a pretty safe place to be, so I crawled in. I lay next to the dead German, ate his black bread and promptly threw up. I then started to hallucinate, seeing Mickey Mouse and Goofy on a large screen in full color. I decided to wait four hours, and then kill myself, as I did not relish a slow death. Luck was on my side; a U. S. patrol picked me up.

I had cheated the grim reaper. The clothes on my left side were coated with dried blood, I was filthy and hadn't eaten, shaved or bathed since the landing. In my delirious state I insisted on rejoining A company. The medics picked me up and carried me to a landing craft to evacuate me to a hospital ship.

My recollection of the hospital ship was a scene of blood with maimed and dying men everywhere.

I was alive.

James W. Gabaree     (February 23, 2007)