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
 

 

Jim McKee
Sergeant, Rifle Company K, 3rd Battalion, 12th Regiment, 4th Division.

In April 1944 I was in charge of two squads of riflemen. We were billeted in a house in Broadstone, a village in Dorsetshire near the southwestern coast of England. The house belonged to a widow whose husband had been killed at the battle of El Alamein. He had been a soldier in "the Queen's Own Boys", a British unit. We got along well with the people of Broadstone and shared our rations and food parcels with them. An orange was worth its weight in gold to us and to them.

We spent May 1944 in a marshalling camp near the harbor town of Poole on the south coast of England. Our camp was ringed with armed guards and barbed wire to keep spies out and us in. At the end of May word came down that the invasion was imminent. Barbers cut off all our hair so we would not need a haircut for months. My buddies and I wanted to grow long, drooping mustaches (like the Chinese villain Fu Manchu in movies) to frighten the Germans, but our officers said no. By June 3 my battalion boarded a ship (LST or Landing Ship, Tank) at Poole. There was nowhere to go, few pastimes but card games and shooting craps, the weather was foul, the meals were "character-builders", the ship stank of a thousand men packed like sardines and overworked plumbing, we slept on decks, vehicles, in passageways, maybe a bunkbed, but only the ship's crew had berths.

We left Poole after nightfall on June 5. Once we were out of the harbor swells in the Channel made a lot of us "green at the gills" in spite of seasick pills. We did not know whether there were U-boats or torpedo boats waiting for us as had happened during Operation Tiger in April. It turned out there were none. Nobody slept well that night, except the Germans. At maybe 2 o'clock on D-Day morning our officers awakened us sergeants, and we awakened our squads. We were offered a breakfast of beans and bacon along with a hot drink (coffee or cocoa), smoked cigarettes, and collected our gear. Each man carried 50 to 80 pounds: his weapon, its ammo, maybe his share of ammo for a machine gun or mortar or bazooka, pack, K-rations for three days, gasmask, entrenching tool, raincoat, life-jacket, canteen, shelter-half, first-aid kit, and so on. We also carried rope and toggle ropes. The latter was a short rope with a wooden handle (toggle) at one end and a small loop at the other end through which the toggle was pulled to make a big noose. These came in handy. Morale was good, all things considered. It got better at dawn when we could see our ship surrounded by others and smaller landing craft from horizon to horizon.

My regiment, the 12th Infantry, would be the third regiment in my division to land. After the first landing craft headed toward shore 12 miles away I had a wait of some hours. About 5:30 on D-Day morning the battleship Nevada opened fire on Utah Beach an hour before the first troops landed. I remember the thunderclap of its broadside. (After the war I learned the British cruiser "HMS Belfast" also opened fire at 5:30 but against Gold and Juno Beaches; as a boy I visited her when she docked in Brooklyn and had my picture taken wearing a British sailor's cap.) Our aircraft were carpetbombing the coast, and some landing craft fired vollies of rockets. Our side was putting a lot more fire on that beach than the Germans were returning.

My regiment's turn came. My rifle company, K Company, climbed the rope netting down the side of our ship into an LCI (landing craft, infantry) that held only us. We landed on Utah about 10:30 in the morning, walked down the twin gangplanks at the bow, hardly got our boots wet. The beach had already been swept of mines and obstacles. The Germans had been driven from the beach, and the seawall had been breached to let vehicles reach the causeway exits from the beach. German artillery was firing on Utah from inland batteries, and our ships were answering this fire. Battleship shells flew overhead like freight trains, and I actually saw the shells. Within a week the Germans would teach us two new noises: the "88" (millimeter cannon) and screaming meemies (Nebelwerfer). The 88's shell flew so fast that we never heard it coming. Screaming meemies were rockets fired in clusters of six or twelve, a second and a half apart. You could hear them screaming or moaning in flight, and the rocket cluster landed in a "shot pattern". Crossroads were a favorite target, and I had a boot-heel blown off by one later. We also quickly learned to tell other German weapons by their sounds. Their light machine gun fired much faster than any of ours, their burp gun (machine pistol) was unmistakable, and their mortar rounds (heavy or light) made a distinctive "crump".

There was not enough room on the few causeways from the beach for our full division to advance. So after climbing the seawall and crossing the mined dunes behind it, we waded knee deep or waist-deep or neck-deep across a good mile of marshland or pasture that Rommel had ordered to be flooded (by shutting drainage gates). Buddies with toggle ropes paired up. One buddy would hold the toggle while the other wrapped the noose around his chest. If either stepped into an underwater ditch his flotation gear would keep him afloat while his buddy pulled him to the next patch of higher ground. Other men roped themselves together like mountain climbers. Some men lightened their loads as soon as they hit the beach by throwing away gasmasks and other "deadweight", but I kept my toggle rope, gasmask, everything.

We got soaked to our necks, and by afternoon the sun was out and it was hot. The one blessing was that this water was freshwater. We would not bathe for weeks, and saltwater would have been a torment on our skin and in our clothes. After 3 hours in the flooded lowland we reached dry ground. Here we encountered our first hedgerows, an obstacle for which training in England had not prepared us and which the brass had not taken into account in drawing up timetables for objectives. Our first objective was the village of St.-Martin-de-Varreville with its church steeple. As soon as we saw civilians in any village in Normandy we asked them in French, "Where are the krauts (Où sont les boches)?" If they said "No Germans here," we asked "Do you have any eggs (Avez-vous des oeufs)?" Compared with the powdered eggs in our rations, fresh eggs were a delicacy. Gliders flew in that afternoon and drew German fire. Some gliders cracked up in the little checkerboard fields surrounded by hedgerows and spiked with stakes. We spent the late afternoon of D-Day digging foxholes along hedgerows outside a hamlet named Beuzeville au Plain five miles from Utah. We heard small arms fire that night, saw some tracers. But we lay low, did not smoke, barely talked, hoped not to draw sniper fire. It sounds odd, yet nobody in my squad fired his weapon on D-Day or saw a German soldier, though snipers took potshots at us.

June 7 changed all that. My regiment advanced two miles northwest toward the town of Azeville driving the Germans back until we were stopped by artillery and machine gun fire from the fortification at the east end of town. On June 8 my regiment attacked a strongpoint at Émondeville. Strongpoints were fortified positions protected by mortars, machine guns, and riflemen, without the casemated gun emplacements of fortresses such as Azeville and Crisbecq. That day my regiment lost 300 men, almost a tenth of its strength. This was a forewarning of the heavy casualties my division would take in the war. No other American division in Europe suffered as many. On June 9 my regiment captured a German strongpoint at Joganville. On June 10 we almost reached the highway east of Montebourg going toward Quinéville near the coast. We were nearly a mile farther north than the regiments east and west of us. On the morning of June 11, my regiment reached its objective, the heights of Les Fieffes Dancel northeast of Montebourg, but was then ordered to withdraw because we were in danger of being cut off. That same day my regimental commander, Colonel Russell "Red" Reeder, lost a foot near Montebourg. He was a favorite both with fellow officers and enlisted men, a great athlete, a cheerful soul all his life, and later the author of many books. We captured Montebourg on June 19 and Cherbourg a week later. I saw Mongolian prisoners of war with heads like basketballs.

The assistant commander of my division was Teddy Roosevelt Jr., son of "the Rough Rider" president and a cousin of FDR. Teddy died a month after Red Reeder was wounded and was beloved by us enlisted men for his habit of turning the tables on the Army. He would sometimes take officers to task in our hearing, and at other times would ask us enlisted men for our opinions. Teddy was no snob in spite of his illustrious background. What a welcome relief from all the martinets and spit-and-polish phonies in the Army! Our corps commander once chewed Teddy out for not wearing his helmet. But as soon as the CC departed Teddy cheerfully resumed disobeying his order. Unlike generals who never heard a shot fired in anger, Teddy led his troops into battle rather than following them. He was the first man ashore at Utah Beach just as his dad had been the first man up San Juan Hill. Patton was "grounded" in England for the better part of the Normandy campaign. He must have envied Teddy that summer for his bravery under fire and his soldier's death.

Jim McKee     (January 12, 2003)