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
 

 

John Hooper
Omaha Beach - 115th Infantry Regiment, 1st Bn, Hq Co, A&P Platoon

My name is John Hooper; 29th Infantry Division, Headquarters Company, A&P (ammunition and pioneer) Platoon of the 1st Battalion, 115th Regiment. This is an unusual opportunity for me to relate a time in my life that was the most exciting, yet most frightening, ever branded into my memory as that first day's action on the Normandy coast in a sector known as Easy Red.

Although it is 1991, I can still recall quite vividly those days in 1944, the endless preparations in England and that morning of terror on the 6th June. My 19th Birthday was only 3 month's past, and I had been assigned to the Division's 115th Regiment as an Infantry replacement after arriving in England via Scotland in January. We new replacements were filling voids in a Division that had been in the U.K. since the fall of 1942. Obviously we realised this activity was to complete the Division's table of organisation for something big about to happen. Considerable barracks talk was of an impending invasion of France, but when and where was all conjecture.

Our Battalion Commander was Lt. Col. Richard Blatt, a tall imposing West Pointer who, when forming the Btn for a lecture would refer to us Company Headquarters chaps as "you specialists". Each Battalion had in its HQ Company a reconnaissance or intelligence platoon, an anti-tank platoon, and an ammunition - pioneer platoon (or the A&P platoon), to which I was assigned. It was responsible for laying mines, finding and removing enemy mines, laying barbed wire obstacles, supplying all ammunition needed by the battalion, blowing up or destroying obstacles and in general doing the work required by engineer troops.

We were not allowed to keep diaries or cameras. About the middle of May, we were told to send home all no-essential things that we could not, or did not want to carry. At this time we turned in our green HBT fatigue uniforms. We wouldn't be wearing them again. There was much activity in camp but we were told nothing specific. We were simply moving or what?
One morning we boarded trucks that took us the ten miles into Plymouth into a Naval Base named Sir Walter Raleigh. When the gates closed, no-one was allowed out. We were quartered in the Navy barracks and a detachment from the 5th Armoured Division prepared our meals on a grand scale that had not previously been enjoyed. Steaks and delicious menus were not seen since the states. The wags quipped, they were fattening us up for the kill. Here we were issued French language books and paid the equivalent of four dollars in French invasion currency. Outside we were marched one platoon at a time into a specially fenced off building where large photo maps were displayed of a panorama of the French coast, and we were told of the invasion some time in the next few weeks. Co. Blatt pointed out our Regiment's objective, a little village a mile or so from the coast. "St Laurent sur Mer", he called it. The map revealed the draw we were to try to utilise in getting of the beach. Our platoon leader was told to have his men set up a road block on a road leading south, just east of the village.
We were told that our Regiment would not be the assaulting regiment, which was left up to the Division's 116th Regiment, along with some elements of the First Division. We would be in the second wave and would be loaded down with extra ammo and explosives. We had a lot of invasion training on the English coast, so I suppose we considered ourselves as prepared as we'd ever be. The many hedgerows were pointed out and we saw they were very similar to those in England. We checked the functioning of our gas masks in the usual gas filled building, and were issued new OD wool uniforms that had been soaked in a gas resistant oily chemical.

It was the ending days of May, days of beautiful spring sunshine, and as I looked over the vast Plymouth harbour, the sun glistened on the waves as hundreds of invasion type boats silently rocked in their moorings. That night a lone German plane flew high over Plymouth. The great searchlights went on and would reveal the plane for a moment while anti-aircraft fire filled the sky. I was amazed no bombs were dropped and the plane disappeared into the night. We thought about what a target all those invasion ships anchored in the harbour was, yet they were left entirely alone. Surely they'd be back, and this time with lots of friends - but the remainder of the night was only an eerie silence.
The next day we were marched from the Naval Base to the docks, where rows of ships were waiting. Sleek looking craft they were, not those boxy little infantry landing craft we trained with. These ships had the appearance of private yachts. Long and slender but bristling with 20mm guns. We walked aboard on ramps just wide-enough for a single company of men. I believe it held our entire company minus the anti-tank guns. The ship's captain greeted us from a miniature bridge and identified his ship as a landing craft infantry (LCI), with big white letters painted on its hull - 455. I took a special note of this and wrote a letter to my folks mentioning the number in the event they might see such a ship in the newsreels or papers that would surely cover the invasion.

Once aboard and assigned to our bunking areas, we were free to relax, read a few armed forces paperbacks or listen to phonograph records on the portable phonographs provided by the navy. Rations were 10-1 prepared by navy cooks. A sailor brought a case of unusual soup cans. They were grey painted cans, made in England, about twice as tall as a conventional soup can with the unique feature of a self heating device activated by a pull-wire to ignite a heating mixture. I took a couple with me. We sailed out of Plymouth and several hours later assembled at another harbour someone said was Weymouth. D-Day was set for tomorrow morning, Monday June the 5th. Leaflets containing a message from Eisenhower were distributed explaining the great task ahead. I carefully folded the leaflet and put it in my shirt pocket. I would include it in my next letter home. I still have it with the scrap book my folks had begun to assemble.

Church services were conducted that night of June 4th. I was assigned to guard duty which amounted to nothing more than standing on deck for two hours at a time looking at the night. It seemed to me a rather senseless thing to do with the hundreds of ships anchored there. Our equipment was rechecked. Our gas masks, which included a large green plastic bag with a clear plastic end, forming a 306° window were folded into a compact package about 4x8 inches. When opened it would completely cover the soldier and presumably protect against any vesicant type chemicals the Germans might use.

In addition to the previously mentioned anti-gas impregnated OD's, I wore a pair of smooth leather hobnailed shoes - just like the World War I shoe. Others had the regular rough shoe. All wore canvas leggings and the tan or khaki field jackets. Our packs were virtually the same as the World War I infantry pack. Entrenching shovels strapped into their canvas cases were the new folding type shovel. In my pack were 6 boxes (2 day's supplies of K-rations) in addition to the two cans of the British self-heating soup I scooped up earlier. We also had a raincoat, a pair of socks, one change of underwear and a cloth bag containing shaving stuff and a toothbrush. My pistol belt contained a carbine magazine pouch with two magazines for my M1 carbine. (The early version with the 'L' type sight set for either 150 or 300 yards, and no provision for the bayonet, as did the later version that was introduced at the war's end). The previous mentioned M3 was attached to the belt along with the usual canteen and first aid pouch. I had two fragmentation grenades attached to my pack straps. About this time we were issued waist type Co2 inflatable life belts. They worked by squeezing a pliers - like grip releasing the Co2 bottles.

That evening we began moving out into the channel. The sea was quite rough and our little ship rolled and pitched uncomfortably, but shortly we turned back towards Weymouth harbour. It was announced that the invasion had been postponed for another 24 hours. The weather we learned was not favourable for what we had to do. We relaxed again and wondered about tomorrow. I sat on my bunk and wrote another letter. I guess I slept some too.
About this time the Lieutenant in the Communications platoon made a rather startling announcement. Addressing his platoon sergeant and all within speaking range "Sergeant, I want you to understand you have my permission to shoot any orders given from here on out." I thought that is hell of a pompous statement to make. We're soldiers and soldiers are conditioned to obedience. Why make such a remark? (I'll tell you about that Lieutenant later).

Late in the afternoon of the 5th, the ship's engines started again and we headed toward France. As our little ship neared the Normandy coast we could hear the heavy pounding sounds of the explosions. An announcement was made earlier that no-one was allowed on deck so we imagined what must be happening as the ship shook with each explosion, making the hull ring as if it were a kind of giant muffled bell. The tension was growing and our voices were ominously silent when someone over the PA system cautioned us to hang on to something solid as the driver was going to ram the ship as close to the shore as possible. He also said we were off course by a hundred yards or so from the assigned landing point and that one of the sailors would attempt wading ashore with a rope attached to an anchor that we might use to steady ourselves in the surf. He wished us good luck and we made for the hatches to the deck, our platoon going up and off the starboard ramp. On deck at last there was no mistake of this being a full blown war. Hudge explosions seemed to be going off everywhere. I wondered if they were mines or artillery shells. As I hastened down the ramp I glanced at my watch. It was 8:20 a.m.

I stepped into what seemed like four feet of water, I inflated my waist belt with the Co2 activated release, just in case the water goes too deep. We were all carrying extra ammunition. I had two bandoleers of rifle ammunition plus my own supply of carbine cartridges and twenty pounds of TNT in a waterproofed burlap package we called a satchel charge. My carbine in its green plastic waterproof envelope was not immediately functional until I reached the shore, which worried me, some. Wading single file through the water I remember attempting some ridiculously humours remarks just to relieve the growing tension, I suppose. I think it went something like "Hey Guys, we best get the hell out of here. Looks like they don't want us!" I couldn't see much beyond the beach as heavy smoke covered the high ground ahead. It covered the entire area blowing from West to East.

As I go to the beach, I flopped down, not on sand as I expected, but on smooth rocks everywhere, and I crawled forward between two tanks at the water's edge, about 50 or so yards apart. The one to my left appeared to be on fire but both were firing their 75mm guns. Wounded and dead seemed to be scattered everywhere. My god, I discovered I was crawling on rocks slippery with blood, and a chap to my right seemed to be cut in half, and held together only by his clothing. Tearing off the protective plastic cover of my carbine, I immediately unfastened my inflated waist belt enabling me to get an inch or two closer to the ground. I could see what were artillery rounds bursting in a line towards me from the right in about five seconds intervals. I decided I must get out of there, and crouching, I ran forward about 20 feet, when a shell burst behind me. Looking back at that instant I saw one hit the very ramp of the LCI I had left moments earlier. The utter confusion added to the frightening situation. Here the frightening realisation that there was a distinct possibility I might not get off the beach alive added to my confusion. The almost continuous explosions of both incoming, as well as the navy fire were terrifying! Which direction should I move toward? Then I spied my platoon sergeant 50 feet or so ahead, who signalled us to the higher ground. There, where a gap had been opened in the barbed wire, we were attempting to reach a more sheltered spot on the rising slope of the beach.

My next thoughts were for the mines, and stepping through a small shell crater was one, half exposed and I leapt over it. Another fluttering swish of an incoming shell made me dive to the ground. It burst terrifying close behind me. As I tried to get up, I discovered I couldn't move a muscle. I realised I was completely paralysed. I could only hear someone shout, "Anyone hurt?" But, not feeling any pain, in seconds I could move again. Working my way forward and still on my stomach, something seemed to be tugging on my pack. Looking back, no-one was close and I continued to crawl forward. (This is something I'll get back to later). Glancing back at the beach I saw huge eruptions and smoke filled debris hurtling skyward. I was glad to be this far off the beach. By God, this was all to frightening a business. Our assault regiment, the 116th Infantry, appeared to have been decimated. I felt the whole German Army was firing at me. Some of the fire hitting us was coming directly from prepared positions inland.

The trench works we were encountering were producing prisoners but obviously not Germans. They resembled Orientals and might possibly have been Japs. They were held in little groups on this slope of the hill. A destroyer not far off in the channel was firing into these entrenchments and the defenders were surrendering after grenades were thrown in. It was there I noticed my right hand drenched in blood. I felt nothing and couldn't imagine what caused it. I saw it was nearly sliced open between the thumb and forefinger. I wrapped my handkerchief around it and continued working my way up the steep slope. To our right was a rather deep draw and some of us tried taking it to avoid the incoming shells, but it was under the fire of inland artillery. I noticed one huge crater obviously made by the navy's big guns, as there, partially buried, was the nose fuse of what must have been a 16-inch shell. I thought then how I'd love to have it for my collection back home. But as German artillery was falling in that area I decided to lose interest in it. Somebody later would have a dandy souvenir.

Crossing the draw to the right and higher ground, we reached a crest with smoke from grass fires that were as thick as fog. We couldn't see any Germans and our platoon sergeant made some attempt to organise our group. The platoon leader was missing and I suspected him to be a casualty. It was now mid-afternoon. Creeping forward ever so cautiously, I tripped a bouncing Betty mine. It popped into the air and I hit the ground expecting to be blown to bits. It fell back to earth with a thump, a dud probably failing to explode after several years in position. We were well spread apart some 20 or 30 yards and I hesitated to move in any direction. When encouraged by another, I followed in his footsteps until we believed we were out of the minefield. The people with the mine detectors were still making their way up the steep slope. We got down and started digging in to await for the platoon to re-group.

German artillery shells continued, though sporadically, overhead on their way to the beach. From here I had a good view of the beach area and saw one ship on fire, and some tanks making their way up hill. There were many aircraft that seemed to fill up the sky; fighter planes with their black and white stripes - just as we had been told they would be marked back in the briefing back in England. There appeared to be thousands of them flying back and forth over the beaches and were a reassuring sight.

It was difficult to hold my shovel to dig, and a medic bandaged my hand while asking what happened. I told him I had no idea, and he went on. Engineers began marking lanes through the mine field with white tape as things began to quieten down. I didn't like the way my white bandage on my hand showed up and covered it with my blood soaked OD handkerchief. It made too much of a target, I imagined. Greatly fatigued, I just lay there wondering if the war would last much longer. In a short time we were up and moving inland. Our Lieutenant appeared as if from nowhere and our platoon seemed intact again. But confusion continued and communication with our commanders did not apparently exist. We reached a farmyard surrounded by apple orchards. Rifle companies on either side were not finding any Germans and we cut through a farmer's yard on to a road leading south. We were following some distance ahead in the vicinity of the road and an army fighter plane dove toward the location strafing and bombing the area.

Approximately a half-hour later we came to a German tank that had been burning, its crew scattered about the ground. All appeared dead and badly burned. Among the bodies there on the road was a bare white foot standing upright. It was cleanly severed from its owner and not even bloody. How awful things were getting. This tank must have been hit by the fighter plane strafing ahead. A German soldier called "Kameraden" from the bushes at the roadside. Ted Schwanke in our squad spoke to him in German and learned that he had been badly wounded and was asking for help. We could do nothing for him. Schwanke told him the medics would be along shortly. Rifle fire further up the road drove us into the woods prevented any determination of just where the fire was coming from. By now the rifle ammunition was running critically low and the extra bandoleers we carried were collected and distributed.

It was here, under a big tree growing on the hedgerow that the Communication's Platoon Lieutenant (mentioned earlier), took the sergeant's rifle and binoculars, saying he was going to climb up into the tree to get the bastards. I reached up to pull the Lieutenant back, saying "That's not a good idea Lieutenant." Or something to that effect. Glaring back at me he continued up and found a good firing position, and fired two or three rounds. He screamed "God, I'm hit!" and came, crashing down on the other side of the hedgerow.
The sergeant and I dove through the hedge and pulled him back in the cover of the hedge. Shot through the chest we called for a medic who gave him some morphine. The company was moving out and we had to leave the Lieutenant with others. What a thorough waste, I thought. All the money spent on commissioning this guy and he's trying to act like a sergeant York! Didn't last a day. What a terrible waste. He died that evening.

It was late afternoon as we followed a hedgerow in a single column of squads. We were all very tired. It had been an exhausting day and we had eaten nothing, although I do not recall being hungry. An explosion some yards to the rear of the squad caused a now instinctive flop to the ground. After a minute or so we got going again. Word passed that a grenade dangling from a man's pack strap had come loose releasing the safety pin. Several casualties and a cry for medics immediately followed. I thought, my God, they'd come this far without a scratch and now a stupid accident has probably killed someone. There was an awesome quiet as we made our way along a sunken road bordered by high hedgerows. It was getting close to dusk and we rested a few minutes. The Battalion commander came up indicating to our Lieutenant that he was looking for a place to set down the weapon company's mortars. They went through an opening in the hedge, and while scouting the adjacent field, German mortars began falling where Colonel Blatt and the mortar section were. The Germans must have had the field under observation. The Colonel was mortally wounded by the mortar fire. We were now some three miles inland and we were told the Colonel was carried on a litter back to the beach where he died that night of June 6th.

It was now dark and our company crawled into a kind of ditch beside the hedgerows that concealed us with overgrown trees and bushes. Dead tired, I lay there but sleep wouldn't come. Just where did this road lead that we were lying alongside? Would the Jerries be using this road in an attack? Listening for tanks, and excepting for my buddies near me in this ditch, I felt very much alone in this awful place. A few pulled their jackets over their head for a smoke. The familiar sound of incoming shell broke the stillness and I braced for the explosion. Feeling the impact when it thumped into the earth, I was relieved that it must have been a dud. Perhaps sabotaged by the forced labour we heard about. That one would surely be followed by more, but nothing came and complete silence continued.

God, what a good feeling I thought after such a miserable day. Sleep came in little doses as the night wore on. First, German planes flew low heading for the beach and their bombs suggested that the beaches were getting a hell of a pasting. Much better to be here in the front lines for now. Later a lone plane flying along the very road we were next to, unloaded a terrifying load of anti-personnel bombs that exploded with a staccato roar, apparently hitting no-one as I listened for cries for medics. Again, silence and more dozing. Footsteps on the road now startled me. I imagined they were Jerry's hobnailed boots coming down the road. "Christ sake" I thought is everyone asleep? Somebody, or maybe the whole German Army is marching up the road. I poked a couple of my buddies
"Ya hear that?" I asked.
"Oh hell, it's probably some damn Frenchman in his wooden shoes" was his reply.
Yep, it was the sound of two feet, nothing more, as they faded away. How could this be? I thought. The biggest invasion in all history has taken place and now in the middle of the night some French farmer clomps nonchalantly along the pavement as he probably done for years.

This then ended my first day for a combat infantry soldier - trying to get some sleep in a ditch a few miles inland from a beach known hereafter as Omaha.

A post Script. Now to a promise made earlier while attempting to get the higher ground on the beach. Some days later, rain called for me to open my pack and remove my carefully folded raincoat. What a surprise! It had been shredded into ribbons! It appeared that two or three bullets had entered the top of my pack almost parallel to my prone body. Entering just below my mess can pouch where I stored my K-rations, passing through the folds in my raincoat. Yep, there were pencil sized holes just under the flap that secures the mess can pouch. We had stored our mess kits along with blankets, an extra pair of shoes and a shelter-half in our barracks bags back in England to be trucked by the Battalion Headquarters people. I got soaked locating a raincoat from one who would no longer need it.

This ends my recollections of the long preparation for my being just one of the thousands on Omaha Beach that morning of June 6th, 1944.

John Hooper     (June 18, 1991)