24 May 1944
Tidworth Barracks, England
The First Soldier Len Mainiero called off our names one by
one from his ever present clip board he habitually carried, handed
our 201 Personnel folders over to a Corporal in Charge, turned
and walked away without saying a word. It was over.
My two well-traveled duffel bags were tossed in the back of
the GI truck. I was ready for the short ride to our next destination
- the Tidworth British Barracks, home of the "Hell On Wheels"
Second Armored Division. A small circle of old friends from the
143rd Signal gathered around for one last goodbye, including
Harry Tuttle, Norm Steele, Ken Speers, Sergeant Murdo McCleod
and even my old nemesis from our Liberty ship travels, Sergeant
Herman Moeller, from Brooklyn. He couldn't resist giving me the
needle one more time and still would not admit that I had beat
him at his own game. A bit of one-up-man-ship on my part, as
I told him he'd have to find someone new to shadow. Laughingly
I gave him the finger. After handshakes all around, I hopped
in the back of the truck and snapped off a smart hand salute.
Adios, amigos. See you in the Bulge.
A new day was dawning. I am escaping from the odds-on jaws
of death in the 36th Infantry into the command of an officer
so aggressive and reckless in combat that even his own staff
feared for their safety - Brigadier General Maurice Rose, CG,
Combat Command "A."
The trucks entered Highway 303 and wound through villages
and small towns of Wincanton, Deptford and Amesbury arriving
at the British peacetime regular army cavalry barracks at Tidworth
on the Salisbury Plains. At the Main Gate, MPs checked the driver's
trip ticket and passed us on through. We pulled up in front of
the 142nd Signal Company Orderly where the Corporal with our
records went in as we jumped down from the trucks.
A call to the Wire Section and a Staff Sergeant Harry T. Hall
came by soon to escort us to the wiremen's barracks. The two-story
red brick buildings - with windows - were a welcome sight after
the six months at the Spartan-life 143rd Signal Company mushroom
ranch. The Wire Section's second floor housed double-deck bunks
with real, albeit 3-inch, GI mattresses! I hadn't seen those
since we left Camp Shanks in October.
Sergeant Hall told us to grab a bunk and settle in until he
sent for us. A Corporal eventually came by to escort us to the
Supply Room to draw two blankets for the sacks. No more roughing
it on hard wooden boards - these were real GI cots with springs!
Unfortunately, as luck would have it, we didn't get to make use
them very long. The trip to the battalion-size Mess Hall was
a far different experience from the past six months in that the
cooks had use of a bona fide kitchen instead of a makeshift field
cook stove setup. The food was GI just the same. However, we
ate out of our mess kits, as this still was the US Army. A trip
to the shower room later was a shear pleasure - endless hot water,
which we hadn't experienced since leaving the States. They had
a movie theater with nightly showings. A small well-stocked PX
was available. We were back in the real world once again with
"all the comforts of home" -- but for how long?
The CO of the 142nd Armored Signal Company was Captain Henry
J. Stuart, whom we never saw. Instead, we reported directly to
his Wire Officer, 1st Lt. Nixon McNeil, for assignments the next
day. McNeil had my record jacket in front of him as I saluted
and gave him my name. He sized me up as his decision had already
been made. He simply said, "Marsh, I'm assigning you to
Sergeant Jones' Combat Command A wire team. You are going TDY
(Temporary Duty Assignment) and will remain there until further
notice (fifteen months later!). You will be a troubleshooter
in the jeep with Corporal William Veno. Report to Technical Sergeant
Tom McFarland, the Wire Chief, when you leave here. That's all."
The full Wire Section under T/Sergeant Tom McFarland and his
assistant, S/Sergeant Harry T. Hall, had served together since
1940 in the States, North Africa and Sicily and were the leaders
of a close-knit group of older men. Breaking into that tight
circle would be difficult if not impossible. We would remain
strangers for the remainder of the war. As it turned out, except
on one or two occasions after we landed in France, I never saw
any of them again. My life would now be totally focused on my
new wire team under Sergeant Earlie J. Jones from Andalusia,
Alabama; Corporal William J. Veno from Superior, Wisconsin; Private
Douglas (Cajon Joe) Elfer from New Orleans, Louisiana; Private
Fred J. Newland from Harlan County, Kentucky; Private Clovis
Waldroop from Salinas, Oklahoma and the man who became my close
friend and fox hole buddy, Private First Class Lawrence A. Hull,
from Boston, Massachusetts. Both Hull and myself were promoted
to Privates First Class immediately after arriving in the 142nd
Signal that week. Recognition we had failed to receive from Captain
Our wire team reported directly to the CCA Communications
Officer, 1st Lt. Walter S. Moll from Indianapolis, Indiana. Before
entering the Army, Moll had been a seminary applicant for priesthood.
Upon reaching the three-year fork-in-the-road, he was faced with
making the crucial decision - in or out. He opted out of becoming
a priest for a civilian life and went to college. Moll was drafted;
applied for OCS; was commissioned at Camp Crowder, Missouri,
as a Signal Corps Lieutenant; joined the Second Armored Division
in Sicily; and served under BG Rose as his Signal Officer. Lt.
Moll would be our day-to-day OIC (Officer In Charge) for the
foreseeable future without any other contact with the Signal
Company personnel. He was the boss.
I never once heard him curse or use God's name in vain. When
truly angered, most of the time with me, he would exclaim, "Jimmy
crickets (instead of Jesus Christ), Marsh, don't argue with me!"
The man couldn't read a map to save his life - or ours, which
frequently put us all in jeopardy, which is why I would get into
heated discussions with him. But he turned out to be "one
of the good guys" who would share his liquor ration with
us, unlike the other officers.
The Second Armored Division was given the name "Hell
On Wheels" by a Lt. Haynes Dugan from the Public Information
Office, then under Major General George S. Patton, when he commanded
the division in 1940. Patton was one of several famous generals
to lead the division over time, including: MG Charles L. Scott,
MG Willis D. Crittenberger, MG Ernest N. Harman, MG High J. Kingman,
MG Hugh J. Gaffey and MG Edward H. Brooks. Brooks was our Division
Commanding General on my arrival. My favorite 2AD Division Commanding
Officer was MG Ernest "Old Gravel Voice" Harmon, whom
General Omar Bradley said; "The profane and hot-tempered
Ernest N. Harmon brought the corps the rare combination of sound
tactical judgment and boldness that together make a great commander.
More than any other division commander in North Africa, he was
constantly and brilliantly aggressive; in Europe he was to become
our most outstanding tank commander." Col. John W. Mountcastle
quotes that in the Armor Magazine, March-April 1988. Harmon was
in command when the division landed in North Africa. Colonel
Maurice Rose was his Chief of Staff - both were temporarily assigned
to the 1st Armored Division when it faltered in the North African
Campaign and required new leadership.
Payday arrived on the last day in May, and I witnessed something
that would never have occurred in the 143rd Signal Company -
open gambling at tables in the bright sunlight in the courtyard
of the Company area. The company-grade officers strode among
the tables watching the crapshooters and poker players exchanging
monies. One, a brand new Second Lieutenant Ernest Miller, had
been the former Company First Sergeant and received a direct
commission and was replaced by Sgt.Robert Koch. In the 143rd
Signal, Captain Wilson had reduced one of his NCOs for gambling
with Privates - here it was anybody's game and open to all.
In addition to wire, the CCA Communication Section had the
Command radio half-track commanded by Staff Sergeant Thomas D.
Spiers from Picayune, Mississippi; two radio operators, T/5 William
Pruitt from La Porte, Indiana and Pvt. Vern Evans from Jackson,
Mississippi, plus the driver, T/5 Harold Zappendorf from Chicago,
Illinois. I never got acquainted with the other signalmen in
the Message Center, as our paths never crossed and I didn't know
any of their names. All reported to Lt. Walter Moll.
When we arrived at Tidworth, the whole division was already
into a lock-down, and no one received any passes for leave or
to go into the nearby towns. It was no secret the Second Armored
Division would be one of several divisions included in the initial
invasion forces. We were loaded and waiting for the word from
Now it was time to sit and wait. Sergeant Harry Hall assembled
the wiremen and told us time was short - hours away, we would
be on standby from here on in. We were then told to get a GI
buzz-cut white-wall haircut and write "the last letter home,"
which would be held for posting until we went out the gate heading
for the docks of Southampton. I went off to be by myself to write
the three obligatory letters. Wrote to my folks and said basically
not to worry, that I had the luck of the Irish looking out for
me and really in no danger, as I was in a "headquarters
unit." My mother wanted to believe it, but it didn't fool
my father, who had fought as a sergeant in an infantry company
in World War One.
Next I wrote to "the girl back home," asking her
to promise to wait for me, but if I didn't come back -- to find
someone else; which she did anyway -- while I was gone.
The other letter was to my favorite of my four brothers, my
older brother Bob at home. I wrote, "By the way, Bob, you
have first pickins on anything of mine if I am unlucky enough
to be planted on this side of the pond; not much, but you're
welcome to whatever it is. This is it - so long, chum - I'll
write whenever I have time and when the spirit moves me. Best
of Everything to all. Your Bro. Don"
One the morning of 1 June 1944, BG Maurice Rose, CG of CCA,
and the Advance Command Post left Tidworth and joined the 9th
Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division in the marshalling area
of Barry, Wales. The balance of the Command remained at Tidworth.
The Advance CP of CCA preceded the Combat Command to Normandy,
France, landing at St. Lurent-sur-Mer on 7 June 1944.
Parts of the general orders were "do not keep envelopes
containing our military postal address, unit references, no photos,
and above all - no diaries." The latter could have presented
a slight problem for myself, but many of us totally ignored it.
I stuffed the essential contraband in a compartment of the jeep.
We were under wraps, so all shoulder patches had to be removed
and the Division identification markings on vehicles had to be
While waiting, we were subjected to one more "shakedown"
inspection of our field packs. Anything unauthorized was tossed.
Hiding forbidden items wasn't too difficult - we simply put them
in our vehicles! The Company armorer, Cpl. Vince Smedley, had
issued me my 30 cal. carbine rifle, with extra ammunition magazines,
which required a trip to the rifle range to zero-in the weapon.
The live ammo distribution would wait until just before our convoy
went out the gate enroute to the dock area. The word came to
"Mount Up!" Our jeep and a small weapons-carrier wire
truck joined the long parade of armored vehicles headed to the
sea like lemmings.
We loaded onto our LST (Landing Ship Tank) #1009 at the Southampton
dock late in the afternoon on D Plus 2, June 8th. I felt lucky
to be assigned to the jeep with Cpl. Bill Veno, who was already
a veteran of the North Africa and Sicily Campaigns without so
much as receiving a scratch, thus far. Unfortunately, his luck
ran out a few months later as he hoped to beat the odds. Months
later, while I was driving and he was seated next to me, a shell
exploded close to us and a fragment hit him. It pierced his helmet
and forehead an inch above his right eye. Life is a matter of
inches, a few inches either way and everything changes. Who has
Veno carefully backed our jeep into the LST as directed. The
jeep was in combat-ready condition; the engine "waterproofed";
the canvas top down and strapped to the hood covering the canvas-covered
windshield on the jeep hood. We felt naked sitting among the
armored-plated tanks and half-tracks of our landing force. They
were armed with cannons, 30 and 50-caliber machine guns, compared
to my 30-caliber carbine and Veno's Thompson sub-machine gun.
The bow ramp was raised and cranked closed as the LST backed
away from the dock. We were confined below decks and ordered
to remain there until ordered otherwise. I found a loose abandoned
GI blanket and stretched out on a catwalk in the hold. Now it
was left to the individual and his own thoughts and religious
beliefs. At this moment in time, I could not resist recalling
the words used by our President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in
one of his fireside radio speeches to the country when he spoke
"No American boy shall set foot on foreign soil." That
lying son-of-a-bitch! The trip across the Channel was bumpy in
the choppy seas.
Apparently it was dark as the ship's Captain ran the bow on
the bottom at the designated spot, St. Laurent-sur-Mer, on Omaha
Red Easy Beach. We would have to sit and wait out the night for
the receding tide before we would get the signal to open the
bow doors and off load. Suddenly, without any warning, the deck
anti-aircraft guns, comprised of quad .50s and 20mm Bofors, started
firing incessantly. The steady drone of heavy engines told us
Kraut bombers were making bomb runs and attacking. The empty
shell casings and constant plink of shell fragments hitting the
deck continued off and on all night until morning. Some serious
stuff was taking place topside - which we knew for certain -
which heightened the tension and anxiety.
At the first light of dawn, things began popping. We had orders
to mount up and start engines. Slowly the bow doors began opening,
followed by the ramp being lowered simultaneously. Following
belching fumes and squealing track bogie wheels ahead of us,
we slowly moved to the head of the line at the ramp on the bow.
When we did, I received an eye opening shock as I looked down
the ramp and saw nothing but water and no pebble-filled beach!
It looked like we still had another fifty yards of water to reach
the shoreline. Veno eased the jeep down into the water at the
signal "Go." We managed to travel 5 yards, with the
water reaching the engine block, when the motor sputtered and
died. We were blocking the route to shore. Veno ground the starter
to no avail. The distributor waterproofing failed and shorted
out the ignition. Within minutes a Beach Master's stand-by huge
caterpillar dozer hooked a chain to the front bumper and dragged
Everywhere the beach scene was a beehive of activity - with
wrecked tanks, LCIs (Landing Craft Infantry) boats overturned,
and mangled vehicles of all sorts. In addition, barbed-wire obstacles
with I-beam steel, anti-tank barricades were scattered all over
the beach. Useless, tube life-preserver belts by thousands with
other flotsam floated in and out with the tide, touching the
shoreline and littering the beach. The Graves Registration teams
were already busy laying out rows of neatly tagged dead GIs,
waiting for disposition. Kraut prisoners of war were under guard
in MP barbed wire enclosures. It was a very sobering scene to
see. Crates of ammo of all types, reels of telephone wire, stacks
of jerry cans of gasoline and boxes of rations were being stock
piled by the beach crews. We quickly cleaned and dried the coil.
We restarted the jeep engine to join our column, moving up the
draw through Exit Number One with our adrenalin was racing through
The convoy drove to a wooded assembly area in the vicinity
of Mosles, France. Guides assigned us areas to "de-waterproof"
our vehicles and erect camouflage nets. A perimeter defense was
established, as arriving unit commanders were coordinating with
the Advance Staff to await further orders from Division. Although
the beachhead had been littered with the debris of war, the top
side of the bank overlooking the shoreline appeared to have sustained
much less carnage than I would have imagined in those circumstances.
The area had been a target of aerial bombing and off-shore naval
ships' pounding by their 16-inch shells from the battleships
and the rest of the armada heavy guns.
Gaping holes from bombing were everywhere, along with recently
dug and empty foxholes. A British Spitfire fighter plane had
landed with wheels up and suffered only minor damage to the under
carriage, probably a dead-stick landing that the pilot walked
away from, apparently without injury. Ironically, nearby in a
foxhole was a dead GI from the 2nd Infantry Division, still cradling
his M1 Garand rifle. The Graves Registration men had been hard
at work locating and tagging the dead GIs, but had not yet totally
swept this area. As if I need convincing, the grim sight left
no doubt this war was real.
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