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
 

 

Wesley Ross.
2nd Lieutnant, B Co., 146th Engineer Combat Battalion.
Officer In Charge Gap Assault Team #8

In the initial plan, the NCDUs were to destroy path through the beach obstacles while they were protected by being partially under water; but that plan was scrapped when more and more obstacles began appearing in the spring of 1944. It was then that the Gap Assault Teams were formed and were trained by the NCDUs. Because the mission had now become an army mission, the NCDUs were attached to the larger GATs.
Gap Assault Team #8 included 25 army engineers, 2 medics, and the Officer in Charge, plus NCDU #137 (Naval Combat Demolition Unit), which included Ensign Harold P Blean, 6 seamen, and 5 army engineers who had been trained by the NCDU.

Our LCT left Portland Harbor in horribly stormy weather the afternoon of 04 June in a massive collection of minesweepers, fighting ships, assault craft, and barrage balloons. After spending a miserably cold and seasick night in the English Channel as we moved slowly toward Normandy, the invasion fleet reversed course about midnight and we returned to Portland Harbor. The invasion had been postponed because of the stormy weather. We left Portland again that evening. Rough seas kept us wet and cold-as well as seasick, although the Sherman tanks did afford some protection from the waves and spray. Bill Grosvenor slept with the navy crew and gave his dry bed to me--a lifesaver, as mine was soaked! Around midnight, Sgt Grosvenor persuaded the navy cooks to provide us with a hot meal. This was really a lifesaver, and except for a D-Ration chocolate bar which was upchucked 22 hours later, it would be my only food for that entire period.

In the dark at about 0330 (0130 sun-time), and carrying all of our gear, we scrambled down the heavy rope landing nets into our wildly bobbing LCM. Salata, one of the 2nd Division volunteers, was still asleep so after rounding him up, we then left for our assembly area--several miles seaward from Omaha Beach. When there, we circled around for over an hour, waiting for the signal to head on in. Most of us were so miserably seasick by then that we almost welcomed the chance to debark on any old beach.

The 146ECB four support Gap Assault Teams crossed the channel on the Princess Maude--which I believe had formerly been a British cruise ship. Sgt Paul Gray said that the food was less than appetizing--"slop" he called it. At the appointed time, sometime after 0400, the support teams also crawled down rope ladders and jumped into their bobbing LCM. One man failed to follow directions and had his legs crushed when he crawled down too far and was caught between the bobbing landing craft and the Princess Maude. Out of action before even having been a target!

We saw a number of our bombers overhead with alternate black and white stripes on their wings and fuselage for D-Day identification. Later, as we circled around marking time, we heard but didn't see the planes through the heavy mist; and we saw no bombs saturating the beach as promised. We learned later that the bomber crews were concerned that poor visibility would further the possibility of dropping bombs among those ashore, so the bombs were dropped a short distance inland. The only bomb crater seen by me that entire day was the one that was fortuitously placed right where needed--almost dead center in the obstacle demolition area for Gap Assault Team #8--a twenty foot diameter "Super Foxhole" with its surrounding sand parapet!

Suddenly we straightened out and headed for the beach--partially hidden by the fog and mist. Just as we passed closeby west of her bow, I looked up at the name "TEXAS" on a huge battleship. Moments later she fired a broadside from her 14" guns. The flame and dark brown smoke was a quite a spectacle in itself, but the blast was almost unbelievable, and would have blown off my helmet had my chinstrap not been fastened. However, it did cure my seven-barfbag case of seasickness, demonstrating that seasickness is mostly mental! As we moved shoreward we could hear the distinctive "whhuutuu-whhuutuu-whhuutuu" of those 14" shells as they passed overhead on their way to soften up the German gun emplacements.

A few hundred yards off to our right at about 0610, LCTRs (LCTs modified to fire high explosive rockets) cut loose with a number of volleys of several hundred rounds each. The boat's long axis was aligned toward the targets and the rockets were fired when at the proper distance from shore. We watched the winkling on the hill above the beach as hundreds of rockets gave the Germans their early morning "wake up call". Many writers have stated that the majority of these rockets landed in the water. Near the middle of Omaha, where we were heading, the rockets appeared to be hitting the hill beyond the beach, and therefore were quite effective!

As we approached the beach, I began seeing splashes in the water from the mortar, artillery, and small arms fire, so I quickly lost interest in being an observer, and ducked down behind the steel ramp and sidewalls. This was really fingernail-biting time, as detonation of our explosives by mortar or artillery fire would have been devastating. This unfortunate scenario was visited upon two Gap Assault Teams on the 299ECB's eastern sector, when their explosives were detonated prematurely. Both NCDU officers and the majority of their NCDU members were killed. The two army teams, to which they were attached, must also have suffered similarly as 299ECB pro-rated fatalities were almost double that of the 146ECB.

As we came close in, our navy gunner began "hosing down" the beach ahead with his twin .50 caliber machine guns, mounted near the stern of our LCM. This certainly was a morale booster, because as we approached the beach we saw several dead GIs face-down, bobbing and rolling in the surf. This was unsettling--this was just a few minutes after our infantry covering force had been programmed to be the first foot-soldiers ashore. These men may have been tankers in the DD-Tanks that sank in the heavy surf. Had they been in our initial infantry cover force, their under-the-chin assault gas masks should have kept them face-up in the water--even though drowned.

There were no visible tankdozers or infantrymen near our landing area when we scurried from our LCM, five minutes late from our planned landing time of 0633--(per Ensign Blean). This five minute delay had an adverse affect on our mission, as will be seen. Our tankdozer was late, and I had thought that our infantry covering force was also late. (We had landed on Easy Green, approximately 200 yards west of our assigned spot, and the infantry may have landed properly.) The fortified house near the mouth of les Moulins Draw, was a short distance east.

Gap Assault Team #7 was 200 yards to my west, and another team an equal distance to the east (Gap Assault Team 9?). This approximated the planned spacing. All eight 146ECB primary Gap Assault Teams landed on our western beach sector, and all were reasonably near their designated sub-sector areas--even though many writers have stated that the tidal current pushed most of the boat teams to the east. This may have been true for many of the infantry landing craft; and all four of our 146ECB support Gap Assault Teams did land far to the east on the 299ECB beach sector.

With the possible exception of Lt Bill Anderson's Gap Assault Team #2, which may have landed eastward--they were late, because their LCT had been sunk--primary Gap Assault Teams #1 through #8 all beached on the western sector near their designated areas. Gap Assault Team #8 landed on Easy Green, a few hundred yards west (right) of plan. Team #7, which was also scheduled for Easy Green, landed near the Easy Green/Dog Red border, about two hundred yards west of Team #8.

Due to a strong eastward current--and possibly because they were "following the leader"--all four 146ECB support teams landed much later than scheduled on the 299ECB's eastern beach sector. Team #C--the only 146ECB Gap Assault Team without NCDUs, which was supposed to have landed to our right near the center of Dog Red--landed on Fox Red at the extreme eastern end of Omaha Beach where the obstacles ended and the bluffs began. They were off target by about 4,500 yards.
Lt Donald Latendresse, OIC of that Boat Team, was hit in his lower legs by machine gun fire soon after the ramp came down. John Heenan and Albert Tucker left their protected location in defilade below the bluff, and went back into the machine gun swept surf to drag their boat team leader to safety. For their heroics, both received the Distinguished Service Cross, and both ended up in my 3rd platoon two months later. Great guys!

As for Gap Assault Team #8, its members hurried inland 150 yards near our "foxhole", and began placing the C-2 charges. Bill Garland, Earl Holbert, Bill Townsley, several NCDU members, and I slid the rubber raft out of the LCM, containing the backup explosives and bangalore torpedoes. It took some real tugging to skid out the raft, all the while sweating it out while presenting a stationary target with our backs to the enemy. Earl then pulled the raft eastward beyond the edge of our gap and tied the long small-diameter rope to one of the wooden obstacles.

Running a zigzag path up to our Super Foxhole located midway between the wooden obstacles and the steel hedgehogs, I found Sgt W. Grosvenor firing his M-1 at the fortified house near the mouth of D-3 Draw to our left front, attempting to suppress the machine gun fire coming from there. After a short discussion, I grabbed his big Signal Corp wire-reel containing the primacord ring main (two strands of primacord frictiontaped at two foot intervals to a small rope), and took off in high gear.
Running in multiple short dashes and hitting the ground often, denied the enemy gunners an easy target. Bullets knocked splinters from the wooden obstacles overhead after I hit the ground--or so I heard later! I ran the ring main clockwise around the wooden obstacles and Sgt Bill Garland ran his ring main around counter-clockwise. We square-knotted the ring mains together where we met. We then joined the team, who had almost finished tying on the C-2 charges. Sgt Grosvenor apologized for not performing per plan. My response--"we got the job done--end of conversation". It was never mentioned again.

While proceeding with the placement of the charges, I just happened to be looking eastward into the pre-sunrise sky, when an artillery round hit the sand sixty feet away. It ricocheted twenty feet into the air and its pointed nose was clearly visible against the morning sky before exploding. It split along its length and sent a two foot long "V-shaped" chunk of steel flopping over and over toward the northeast! High explosive artillery rounds are designed to produce multiple high velocity fragments, so this was a faulty round--the result of slave labor sabotage?? If so, it was much appreciated!
We were under heavy small arms fire almost immediately and machine guns, mostly unseen by me, were tracking our movement. I saw three riflemen slinking to my left, in defilade behind the natural sandbank seawall above the high water line. They were heading east toward the fortified house near the mouth of les Moulins Draw, but I was too busy to monitor their progress. These men may have been from our infantry covering force--the first contingent ashore from the 116th Infantry--and if so, may have been attempting to silence the enemy machine gun fire from the fortified house.

We began suffering casualties soon after landing, mostly from small arms fire, but our medics were unbelievably efficient and began taking care of the casualties where they lay. Many of the less seriously wounded didn't even bother calling for help. Minden Ivey, a rugged little Texan, took a bullet through the wrist, resulting in a compound fracture; but he kept right on shooting, refusing medical aid in favor of the more seriously wounded--although he did accept some assistance in reloading his M-1.

Without warning and from ten yards behind, our tankdozer fired an HE round into the left jamb of the right window in the fortified house 200 yards to our left front--and me without earplugs! That silenced the machine gunners who had been giving us so much trouble. We had been engaged, and until that blast, I was unaware that Tankdozer #8 had finally landed-about 15 minutes late. It was one of eight scheduled to land at H-3 in the 146ECB sector--one for each primary Gap Assault Team; and was put ashore from LCT #2075, from which we had debarked at 0330.

Less than twenty minutes after landing, Gap Assault Team #8 had the fifty yard section of the wooden obstacles--consisting of posts and ramps--ready to blow. Sgt Garland and I then tied 45-second detonators to opposite ends of the ring main, tossed out the purple smoke cannisters as warning signals to the infantry, and moved a short distance inland. The blast made quite a bunch of kindling and poles, but several of the obstacles were not destroyed in this initial effort.
Garland and I then tied 22 second detonators to opposite ends of the remaining ring main and tried again. Two posts survived that blast, so I ran back and attached an eight second detonator to the short fragment of ring-main, pulled the igniter and splashed shoreward in water up to mid-calf. Successful blast--our 50 yard gap was now clear through the wooden obstacles. Only the steel hedgehogs remained to be blown!

I have no way of knowing, but suspect that the primacord ring main had been cut by the artillery, mortar, or small arms fire--or possibly by our tankdozer. Ensign Blean then asked what his NCDU team should do. Since the NCDUs had Hagensen packs, and no 15 pound Tetrytol satchel-charges destined for use on the heavy steel hedgehogs, I released him, and his 11-men navy/army NCDU team to take cover behind the sand bank sea wall.

A short while later, I noticed a soldier sitting upright on the sand fifty feet to the west, facing seaward at the water's edge. Small arms fire was kicking up the sand around him and I yelled for him to take cover behind one of the steel obstacles. Either he did not hear me, or was disoriented and could not react; or he may have already been wounded.
Soon after, he slumped over on the sand, and the water sloshing around him slowly turned a delicate pink. He probably was killed and may have been from our NCDU #137, as I later learned that Wayne Carroll and Jessie Cleveland--two engineers from that NCDU--were killed that morning.

Heading for the seawall Tom Wilkins yelled for Jessie Cleveland to take cover from the heavy enemy fire. Jessie airily replied "I'll still be going when you're dead and gone"! Soon after Tom was shot through the hip while attempting to rescue a wounded infantryman--for which he was awarded the Silver Star; and Jessie was decapitated by a direct hit from a mortar round. His body was picked up the next day.

By the time Garland and I moved shoreward to the hedgehogs, our demolition team had positioned the tetrytol satchel-charges and tied them to the ring main, and we were ready to watch them disappear as if being swept away by an oversized broom! Just as Garland and I were attaching the 45 second detonators, an infantry LCVP landed 150 yards seaward near the east border of our gap. They were probably from the infantry force scheduled to arrive at 0700. Initially I had thought them to be our late-arriving 0630 infantry cover, but probably was in error--the time was about 0700.

From a past experience at the ATC, I knew how deadly explosive-driven steel fragments could be; and in the 45 seconds until detonation, those men would have been nestled in and around the hedgehogs about to be blown. So even though I agonized about a delay, I could not bring myself to shred our own infantry. The steel fragments would surely have killed or wounded a number of them--so the demolition was delayed, and eventually postponed when the incoming tide inundated the hedgehogs before our infantry had cleared that area. They were destroyed by the healthy members of Gap Team #8 without incident when the tide receded shortly after noon.

As the water was lapping at our feet, we began gathering our wounded and transferring them past the three foot deep runnel to an area in defilade below the natural sand sea wall. As I was preparing to follow, I noticed Sergeant Roy Arnn (in charge of a mine detector crew) lying on the sand a short distance to the west. He had severe wounds from an artillery round which had landed so closeby that his uniform was gray from the explosive residue. A chunk of meat had been gouged from the rear of his right thigh; and another artillery fragment had torn open and broken his right shoulder and clavicle, causing a bubbling puncture wound.

He was also bleeding heavily from his forehead where the edge of his helmet had been driven down by the blast. Arnn's right arm and leg were useless, so he held on as we began hunching forward like wiggle worms on the sand. As we neared the runnel a machine gun burst splattered sand in our faces, so we slithered behind a nearby hedgehog--with the Tetrytol still attached. The machine gunner found other targets of opportunity and we were then able to slip unnoticed into the runnel--now about four feet deep and 30 feet wide--and cross with our noses just above the water.

Arnn was carried up the bank and given further attention by our medics. Just prior to being wounded, he had been shooting at the Germans in the fortified house. A bullet struck nearby kicking sand in his face, so he flattened down on the sand just as the artillery shell arrived. Had there been no small-arms near miss, he likely would have been mortally wounded by the large artillery fragment that ripped into his back.

After receiving medical attention, Roy watched from thirty feet away, as one of our tanks moved over a dead soldier lying on the sand. Although dead, Roy still worried that the soldier would be squashed--but the tanker managed to straddled him. A Signal Corps photo shows the runnel beyond the corpse, with the straddling tank tracks. I had earlier helped Roy across that runnel, and when the photo was taken he was in defilade at the eastern border of Team #8's gap. The photo shows the hedgehogs in the runnel and several wooden posts and ramps just east of our assigned gap.

At mid-morning Roy was carried to a collection station at les Moulins Draw and then transferred to the water's edge by stretcher on his way to the LST hospital ship. On that trip, another artillery shell struck closeby, bouncing him out of the stretcher and onto the ground. A fragment sliced his finger, but did no serious damage. Another close call!
He spent three months in an army hospital in England, and another three months in a convalescent center. In December when the Bulge got underway, any bodies that were still warm were sent in to replace our heavy losses. Although he still did not have complete use of his right arm and had trouble walking, he was sent as a replacement to a front line artillery outfit. When the administrative officer saw Arnn, and another soldier who was using a cane, he vented his verbal disgust with the system and sent both of them back to a replacement center near Paris.
Roy was then assigned to a post office unit in Marseille where daily exercise partially rebuilt the strength in his arm. He returned to the USA with the 146ECB in August 1945 when he discovered that they were in Marseille, on their way home. His commanding officer managed to get hurry-up orders to send him along with his old outfit--What a nice guy! (Arnn's golf game has since brought his arm almost back to normal--with just a few deep scars to indicate a long ago activity known to only a few!)

It is now plain that my decision to delay the demolition of the hedgehogs was a mistake. Sgt Bill Garland and I had already attached the 45 second detonators to opposite ends of the ring main, and we should have proceeded per plan. I could have reinforced the demolition warning to the infantry by tossing out an additional cannister of purple smoke, and/or sent a runner down to guide them further east on their way up to the sea wall.
Flying steel may still have killed some of these men, but this might have reduced the overall death toll by allowing a succession of landing craft to quickly disgorge their men through our blown gap. My decision at the time seemed to make sense--now it does not--I should have been better attuned to our mission. Until my retirement from Picker International in 1986, I had given this little thought. Now after reflecting on the events of that long ago day, it is apparent that in this one area I goofed. Per Ensign Blean, we landed five minutes late--we needed those minutes!

Lt Colonel John T O'Neill's SETF command boat must have landed near the border of Easy Green and Easy Red--the dividing line between the eastern and western beach sectors--but I did not notice him. Those in his boat from the 146ECB included Cpt Stephen Pipka, Bn S-2; Cpt Richard Stratton, Bn Medical Officer; Lt Nathan Huff, reconn officer; Cpt James Doyle, ADE (Assistant Div Engineer); Larry Lademan, weasel driver; Norman Nettles and Julius Mate, radio operators; and Raul Mendez. Not knowing who he was, and in all innocence, Lademan asked Colonel O'Neill what his job entailed. In the understatement of the day, O'Neill replied "I'm just an observer"!

Lt Colonel Isley, 146ECB commander of the demolition teams on the western sector of Omaha, landed on Dog Red; and Lt Colonel Jewett 299ECB commander on the eastern sector probably landed on Easy Red. Both leaders were commanded by Lt Colonel O'Neill. On the side of the 146ECB weasel, which carried the command radio and driver Morris Fugitt and radio operators Henri Rioux and James France--other than tanks the first vehicle ashore on Omaha Beach--was the stencilled sobriquet "A BARGE WITH A CHARGE".

Lademan had difficulty in getting his weasel started. Only after the others had departed was he finally able to drive it off. When he stopped and attempted to move aside a dead body that was floating in his path, Captain Doyle yelled "run over him and get the hell out of here before you get us both killed"!
Meanwhile, Boat Team #8 members had congregated near Tankdozer #8, just above the high water line near the natural sand sea wall. It must have gone back on to the beach and been disabled. Colonel John T O'Neill's After Action Report stated that only one M-4 tankdozer, out of the sixteen, survived D-Day. The DD-Tanks on the eastern sector of Omaha were launched at sea, and so sank like rocks when their puny canvas sidewalls buckled in the heavy surf. The LCTs on the western sector dropped their DD-Tanks directly on the sand, after the naval officer realized that the surf was too rough to launch them at sea.

After a quick check on my men, I hurried eastward along the beach to find Lt Colonel Isley for further orders. Why I went east is a mystery to me, as I was on the eastern border of the 146ECB sector; so I may have been more than slightly excited. This was not too bright a move--out in the open with small arms, mortar, and artillery fire incoming. I had gone about 75 yards, and as I stopped and twisted to my right to check again on my crew, a mortar round hit the shingle eight feet to my front. Had I not stopped, the mortar crew would have dropped that round on my helmet!

There were small fragments in my right great toe, foot, instep, calf, both knees; and a slug of fragments in left mid-thigh. Being sideways to the blast reduced my exposure area, and surely saved me from being further spiculed. Despite what I had heard, the thigh wound was quite painful-possibly because the fragments were red hot, and were traveling at fairly low velocities. Conversely, I was unaware of the fragments in my feet and lower legs until that night on the hospital ship.
Once an experienced mortar crew registers on a target, they normally fire several more rounds in rapid succession. Knowing that, I quickly hopped inland above the shingle, just as two more rounds dropped into the area just vacated. Although I was not so inclined at the time, I now have to admire the proficiency of that German mortar crew on a moving target--me! (UPON REVISITING OMAHA IN 1987--I DISCOVERED THEIR SECRET. A WEATHERPROOF MAP IN A MORTAR PIT MIDWAY UP THE HILLSIDE TOWARD THE CEMETERY ABOVE D-3 DRAW, SHOWED OUR BEACH TERRAIN AND LANDMARKS IN EXQUISITE DETAIL.)

I had been scared spitless while in the LCM, but once we landed I was too busy to bother being terrified. Now finding I was not indestructible, I again became concerned about my welfare. I began digging a foxhole in the sand with my hands, and then with my helmet--after slicing my hands on buried barbed wire--thus gaining protection from the fierce enemy fire. Max Norris found me sometime later, and we enlarged the foxhole to a two man job. He then poured sulfanilamide powder into the thigh wound hole, bandaged it, and gave me a morphine injection.

Upon reflection, I would now suggest withholding morphine except as a humanitarian move for those who are seriously wounded and may go into shock; or for those not expected to survive. Physically fit soldiers can handle pain and won't request, or need, morphine. Lala may have been given a second morphine injection by one of our medics after being improperly tagged after the first injection. If this is so, it may help to explain his lethargy and subsequent death. Although he was seriously wounded, he was third on my list of concerns.

Max then brought me up to date on our casualties. We were unaware of any fatalities although about 60% of our army team had been wounded--most not seriously. Sgt Arnn, Sgt Grosvenor, and Lala were my major concerns.
In 1994 I learned that two of our C-Company soldiers attached to NCDU #137 had been killed on the beach. In 2005--my first contact since D-Day-Ensign Harold P Blean said that no navy members of NCDU #137 were KIA.

Lt Joe Gregory was the only 146ECB officer killed on Omaha that morning. "Naked Warriors", chronicles Joe's efforts before he was killed by an artillery round, after his gap had been blown. Ensign L S Karnowski, leader of NCDU Team #45--attached to Gregory's Gap Assault Team #10-apparently furnished the D-Day notes, from which several chapters of "Naked Warriors" were written. It details efforts of both the navy and army personnel in the NCDU Teams on Omaha--even though it almost entirely ignores the larger army engineer Gap Assault Teams to which these NCDU teams were attached. However, Ensign Karnowski did state "Lt Colonel John T O'Neill became Commanding Officer of the V-Corps Special Engineer Task Force, to which the navy demolition units were later attached".

Still, for the casual reader, "Naked Warriors" appears to imply that the army-augmented NCDU teams, operating independently, did the entire demolition job under direct navy command. The author may have been unaware of the existence of the recently formed army Gap Assault Teams. Having five army engineers attached to each NCDU, and then having these expanded navy/army NCDU teams attached to the newly-trained engineer Gap Assault Teams was an unusual arrangement. The NCDU teams did a great job, but still they were attached to, and under the command of that army Gap Assault Team's OIC! NCDU #137, attached to Boat Team #8, consisted of six navy seamen and Ensign Blean; plus five army engineers from C-Co 146ECB. The above was an average of the navy/army personnel in the other NCDUs.

Further confusion may have been caused by Lt Commander Joseph H Gibbons, the Commanding Officer of the NCDUs in "Force O"--(Omaha Beach). In his 18 June letter to the Commander of "Force O", he furthered the impression that the NCDUs were in charge of the demolition mission on Omaha, when he stated: "The NCDU's in the Neptune operation were assigned the mission of clearing enemy placed obstacles on the OMAHA Beaches" ...&..."Sixteen LCMs containing sixteen (16) NCD assault units were to land at H + 3 and blow fifty (50) yard gaps as follows: " The mission had been as he stated until two weeks previously, but had since seen major changes--of which he apparently was unaware! The wording of the NCDU's Presidential Unit Citation furthers that misconception, as does the Normandy Memoirs of Ltjg Walter Cooper--NCDU Commander on the eastern half of Omaha!

Sometime after 0800, a landing craft unloaded a group of 1st Division men near les Moulins Draw in the 29th Division sector approximately 400 yards west of the 1st Division border. Once in defilade, they took a short time to organize, and then began infiltrating up the hill. I'm not sure if they were the catalyst, but soon thereafter more and more infantrymen began to appear on the hill west of les Moulins draw, and were working their way inland.

Until late afternoon, before being moved to an aid station, I was a scared but wide-eyed spectator with a front row seat, as the battle unfolded. I heard an occasional fighter plane overhead, but did not see them--only the variable whine of their engines as they maneuvered above the mist. By 0900 the enemy fire had quieted somewhat--probably because the smoke from the brush fires, started by rockets on the hillside above, had reduced their visibility. This must have led some of our commanders to believe that this was now a safe beach--bad conclusion!

About 0945 an LCT landed 200 yards west of my position, and medics with red cross armbands clearly showing, came ashore looking for all the world as if they were on their way to a Sunday School picnic! They were bunched together and talking, and seemed in no hurry to get off of the beach. The Germans had the area well zeroed, and several large caliber mortar or artillery rounds landed in rapid succession in their midst. Some, who did not get back on their feet, were probably killed.

A while later I noticed a beached LCT, a short distance west, sending up a large column of black smoke. Soon after, an explosion below deck lofted a 2 1/2 ton truck twenty feet into the air, before it crashed almost upright back on the deck. Better than a movie--no large fireball that is the norm for lousy war movies, but is an asinine caricature of reality'. This may have been the craft that had brought in the medics.
The destroyers and other ships continued to furnish fire support against the pillboxes and other designated targets. I could not assess the effectiveness of their gunfire, but I'm sure that the Germans in those target locations were impressed! Since the navy gunners were firing over our heads, we were glad that they had good zeros.

In late morning Colonel Isley found my foxhole as he was checking on his boat teams. Earlier as he was reconnoitering the beach with Joe Manning on his left and Sgt Robert Campbell to his right, an artillery shell landed in their midst and Sgt Campbell was killed instantly. Joe Manning was unhurt, but an artillery shell-fragment ripped through the top of Colonel Isley's helmet, peeling back the steel as if it were a soup can. A large section was ripped out of the top of his helmet liner, and the wool stocking cap beneath was frayed. However, except for a massive headache, he was unhurt. Good reason not to stand too tall!

In the late afternoon I was assisted the short distance to the aid station in defilade on the west side of les Moulins Draw (D-3). At dusk a small boat rigged to carry stretchers laid across the gunwales, ferried the wounded out to the LST hospital ship anchored near Colleville Draw--a mile to the east. The channel was still rough so I was miserably seasick again and upchucked the chocolate D-Bar--my only nourishment since midnight.

I was then transferred by a derrick and sling on a wild ride up to the ship's deck, and was soon settled in a comfortable bunk. A nurse pulled off the thigh bandage and a thin bloody fluid messed up the clean white sheets. I then discovered the small mortar fragments in my feet and legs--probably unnoticed until then due to the anaesthetizing effect of the cold water. The navy doctors and nurses were superb, and although we made snide remarks about their soft life on board ship with good food and comfortable beds--we appreciated them beyond mere words!

Captain John K. Howard and Sergeant Roy Arnn were nearby. I was happy to see Arnn, as I had been concerned that he might have been our first fatality. Captain Howard, the B-Company commander, had taken a bullet through his shoulder and he walked over and filled me in on the operation as he knew it. At that time, it was feared that a determined German counterattack might shove our forces back into the channel. That this was a distinct possibility is denoted by General Eisenhower's letter to that effect--to have been published in case the landings failed.

That this did not happen was due to some very brave infantrymen who overcame monstrous odds in attacking up the hill with little more than their M-1 rifles, grenades, and a large supply of guts; to our outstanding naval gunfire support that decimated the defenders at the strongpoints; and to our superb fighter pilots who gave us such great overhead cover.

Wesley Ross     (April 18, 2006)

Note : This account is an extract of the book "146 Engineer Combat Battalion--Essayons" written by Wesley Ross. The book covers the actions of the battalion from the Assault Training Center in North Devon, England, through France, Belgium, Germany and Czechoslovakia.