8 June 1944
Tidworth Garrison, England
The call was made to "mount your vehicles" - it
was the moment we had trained for over the past months and years.
We are actually and literally going to war. Our convoy stretched
out for miles as we pulled out of the gates of the Tidworth Army
Garrison like the lemmings headed down to the sea. Our destination
was the docks at Southampton, England. The folks in the villages
and small towns turned out to wave and give us the "V"
for victory sign. Many old soldiers saluted as we passed their
row homes and the women said, "God Bless and good luck,
Yanks." Both we and they were well aware that we would never
pass this way again. It was a sobering moment in all of our lives.
We had removed our 2nd Armored Division shoulder insignia
and the unit identification on the vehicles, for secrecy, but
everyone within 100 miles knew the 2nd Armored Division was on
the move; if they couldn't see us they could sure hear us. The
D-Day landings had occurred two days prior so the destination
was no secret. The giant exodus from England was finally being
put into place. Roads in southern England were clogged with men
and war materials heading for the ships to transport the American
war machine on to the continent and into battle on the beaches
Arriving in the dock area guides were posted directing the
traffic to prearranged locations for loading "by the numbers"
with designated ships. Vehicles were backed into the cavernous
hull of the LSTs in assigned positions of disembarkation. Nothing
was being left to chance. Our communications group vehicles were
sandwiched in between the Sherman and Stuart tanks and half tracks
from the 66th Armored Regiment, 2AD.
Our Communications Section of Combat Command "A"
of the 2nd Armored Division was comprised of a seven man wire
team, a four man command radio half track and one officer in
charge, 1/Lt. Walter S. Moll. Members of the wire team were Sergeant
Earlie J. Jones, Corporal William J. Veno, Privates Douglas J.
Elfer, Fred J. Newland, Lawrence A. Hull, Don R. Marsh and Clovis
Waldroop. The radio half track was comprised of S/Sgt. Thomas
Spiers, Corporal Howard Zappendorf, driver, and radio operators
Privates Vernon Evans and William Truitt.
News photographers from major newspapers across the USA were
present to take photos of the men and ships being loaded on the
LSTs. A photographer from the Boston Globe asked my buddy Larry
Hull to take his photo on the deck; the photo then appeared in
the Boston Globe, Larry's hometown newspaper. A copy of the photo
was sent to his parents residing in Brighton and later when I
saw the copy, I asked him what in the hell he had to smile about
-- at that moment! No one from the Racine Journal Times was present
so I didn't get my picture in the newspaper or even a mention
on page 26.
When our vehicles were fully loaded aboard the LST the skies
darkened as the late afternoon rains threatened. We were confined
below decks for the remainder of the sea voyage across the English
Channel. There was no one there to see us off, wave goodbye or
say, "bon voyage." On the contrary, the Channel was
being prowled by German u-boats that had already taken its toll
in the White Sands pre-invasion exercises. Our destroyers and
sub-chaser corvettes were searching and dropping ash cans of
explosives in areas of suspect. Not a very comforting thought
to those of us locked down below inside the iron coffin. One
torpedo into that tub and we would sink to the bottom as other
unfortunates had suffered; including a 2nd Armored Division LST
attempting to land in the Sicily Invasion, in July 1943, with
loss of life. The ship's rocking motion and engines kicking in
told me that we were leaving the dock and headed out to open
sea. The final journey of a lifetime for some had begun.
Some men remained on or in their vehicles. I chose to find
a spot on the catwalk that lined the outer shell of the ship
to be alone; there I found a gray British army blanket someone
had left behind the day before. This was now time for my serious
personal and private thoughts. Ironic - a private with private
thoughts, if only the Army knew! Unknown to me at that very moment,
but one of my high school classmates, Jack Heegeman, who had
came ashore on D-Day with an Engineer unit was assigned to clearing
the obstacles on the beach head. We were informed that our initial
landing forces of V Corps under command of Major General Leonard
T. Gerow, had suffered heavy causalities in the landing area
assigned to us - Omaha Red Easy Beach.
The selected stretch of Omaha Red Easy beach was 7,000 yards
long with a crescent curved shoreline with cliffs at each end
of the sector. It had a tidal range of 18 feet expected during
the assault, with the low tide exposing firm sand for about 300
yards from high to the low watermark. The Germans had installed
mined underwater obstacles all along this tidal flat. The beach
main Exit Draw was identified as E-D1. Hopefully, our Allied
D-Day landing troops had pushed far enough inland to establish
a defensible beach head, enabling us to land without sustaining
heavy casualties from expected artillery fire. The beach head
was far from being totally secure. Rommel had a huge arsenal
of tanks at his disposal to throw at us at any time of his choosing.
Fortunately for us, Hitler prevented Rommel from unleashing his
Panzers, whose sheer numbers would have devastated and over-whelmed
us - creating another possible Dunkirk.
At a time like this it was for each person to find his own
comfort and solace. I watched as one of our troops held his rosary
in his hands, his head bowed in silent prayer. My thoughts were
of my family, in particular my Irish mother who had a difficult
life raising her seven children, at times alone; my brother Ed,
serving in the Pacific with the Navy as a Gunner's Mate 1st/Class
and my other brothers and sisters still at home.
Thoughts turned to my father and his military experiences,
who at the age of 41 in World War One, with a wife and three
children, volunteered for the Illinois National Guard to serve
once again as an Infantry Sergeant. This time with Company "I"
of the 132nd Infantry Regiment, 66th Brigade of the 33rd Infantry
Division in the Meuse -Argonne, Somme offensive in 1918 in France;
having served a previous hitch at the turn of the century in
the Philippines in 1899, during the Insurrection, with F Company
12th US Infantry. The Old Sarge must have loved the smell of
I wrapped the Brit's abandoned blanket around me and reflected
on my life up to that point of what had transpired in my 21 years
on this earth. As for tomorrow, the fear of the unknown remained
in the subconscious; the future being impossible to predict,
so I didn't dwell on it. Trusting in Fate, my Destiny on earth
was already predetermined. Instead, I counted my blessings and
I grew up in poverty in The Great Depression in a small Midwest
industrial hick town, but managed to graduate from high school
while most of my friends dropped out for a variety of reasons.
While in high school, I had met my first and only true love.
Her name was Phyllis - she became my high school sweetheart for
all three years.
I closed my eyes and recalled how she would ride her bicycle
to our house, whistle loudly and then coyly duck behind the huge
oak tree out front to wait for me. My father would call me and
say, "Donnie, your little Italian girl friend is here."
I could still picture her laughing and hiding behind the old
oak. Those were the best of times and those were the worst of
Phyl and I were inseparable all during those teen years. Summer
nights we would walk along the sand at the Racine North Beach
on the Lake Michigan shore line. In the winter we would ice skate
on the frozen zoo pond. She was in both my French classes for
two years. Probably the reason I took those elective classes!
She was very popular with a winning smile and a great sense of
humor. She was awarded her "letter" in volleyball despite
being not quite 5 feet tall.
Then she graduated in 1940 and moved out of state; with that
my whole world changed. We lost contact, but I never stopped
thinking about her. Others would come along, but none ever replaced
her. Though I often wondered what became of her I was not aware
that she was employed at the Oakland Army Base Hospital in California
as I was thinking of her. Here again, Destiny would come into
play in our two lives.
A sudden jolt shook me from my reverie. The bow of the ship
was on the beach. In the crossing we lost one LST that hit a
floating mine and sunk with loss of life. Our LST obviously maneuvered
through the minefields, following the shore beacons from the
Beach Master's signal lamps which guided the ship on to the shoreline.
There wasn't any sandy beach visible where we beached, but it
didn't matter. We were beached! Of course we were still confined
below decks and had no knowledge of the shoreline nor the history
making massive flotilla of naval warships surrounding the landing
The night time hours dragged by, while we continued to be
locked below decks. Now it was waiting until the tide receded
and we would off load at the first light of day break. German
aircraft were heard droning overhead and dropping lethal bomb
loads. The near misses would rock the ship and we knew they were
not finished bombing for the night, as others followed with their
bomb runs. The ships anti-aircraft guns hammered throughout the
night with the empty brass shell casings from the Bofors' guns
landing "plink-plink" on the steel decking of our LST.
That is when the adrenaline began flowing! Orders were to remain
in place and grumbles could be heard among the men, but strangely
there was a lack of conversation. What could be said that made
sense anyway? We knew we were sitting ducks without any recourse.
Daylight broke and the bow doors opened and the ramp lowered.
Veno got behind the wheel of the jeep with its top down, with
windshield covered and lashed to the hood. I took my seat next
to him. The vehicles belching fumes started rolling down the
ramp on to the beach. Our turn came at the top of the ramp and
as I looked out over the front of our jeep, all I could see was
water in front of us! We were 30 yards from dry land!
We had been assigned to transport a temporary back seat passenger,
a non-member of our wire team, a switchboard operator, who was
a young Jewish private from New York. He was so damn nervous
that he kept turning around on the small back jump seat and each
time he turned, the barrel of his carbine struck Veno in the
back of his helmet. Veno at this point a bit edgy himself, although
a veteran of North Africa and Sicily, said, "The next God
damn time you hit me with your fucking carbine I am going to
take it away and ram it up your ass." The frightened New
York guy sat motionless the rest of the way, except I saw that
he had already pissed his pants and his crotch bore the tell-tale
wet stain. Often wondered what scared him, Veno or the sight
of all that water? Or both?
Veno eased the jeep down the ramp and into the water. It had
to be three or more feet in depth. I believe we managed to get
five feet from the edge of the LST bow ramp when the engine sputtered
and died. The coil shorted out and refused to start as Veno ground
the starter. The water-proofing did not hold and there we sat.
But, not for long. The Beach Master had a huge caterpillar tractor
on standby for just such a malfunction. The Cat operator snagged
a chain on to the front bumper and towed us on to the shore.
We lifted the hood, removed the water proof material, dried the
coil and took off to chase the tail end of the vehicles leaving
Our destination was the wooded area near Mosles where we rendezvoused
with the command and prepared to meet the boss - Brigadier General
Maurice Rose, Combat Command "A" Commanding Officer;
who had been ashore since early morning on June 7th, conferring
with the Corps commander's staffs. By midnight, June 9th, 86
officers and 1,581 men and their vehicles had reached the initial
assembly area. We were about to join the 101st Airborne Division
at Carentan -- in the exclusive Brotherhood of War.
Publication or reproduction, in part or whole,
is prohibited without written permission from the author, Don
R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property of The Marsh Family