By Don R. Marsh
June 8, 1944.
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
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
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
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
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 –
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
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
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 reminisced.
I grew up in poverty in The
Great Depression in a small
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 times.
Phyl and I were inseparable
all during those teen years. Summer nights we would walk along the sand at the
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
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 areas.
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
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 the LST.
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.
or reproduction, in part or whole, is prohibited without written
from the author, Don R. Marsh. All rights remain the sole property
The Marsh Family Trust.