Friday, June 6, 2014

D-Day Delayed

 5 Days Before D-Day 

I left England on June 1, 1944 on the Liberty Ship...S.S. George E. Pickett.  This was the third dry run we thought, so the speech we got before boarding, by some nameless General, was taken in stride.

After being under sail for 12 hours, we started to consider the possibility of this being the 'real thing'.  The following day,  still moving around the Channel off the coast of Brest, more vessels joined our group.  We kept moving together.  A convoy without any visible Naval escort!  We all stayed on deck as much as possible because it was extremely hot below.

All the hatches were covered but we finally found that our cargo was composed of Sherman tanks, Jeeps with trailers filled with gear, DUKWs piled high with rope cargo nets, two and a half ton trucks with canvas covers tied down and thousands of 5-gallon Jerry cans filled with gasoline and guys from the 90th Infantry...who were at a loss as we were.

It turns out that the General with no name turned out to be Ike, whom I wouldn't know from a hole in the ground...and later realized it was he...when his picture was in the Stars and Stipes.

This was no “dry run”...this time, we knew it was the real thing!!!  Little did we know that we would spend 5 days aboard this vessel.

D-Day  First Light

D-Day!  First Light revealed, an LCT nestled up against the S.S. Picket on the port side, next to the No. 2 hatch.  No 2 hatch is the largest hatch on a Liberty ship and contained the heaviest  units.  The booms on No. 2 are rated for 50 tonnes, so the order was to place our tank cargo aboard the LCT along side.  The Landing Craft Tank can deliver its freight by dropping its ramp like a bow...right on the beach and tanks  are driven off, each with its own after the other.  During the loading process, we were taking fire from shore and the bridge of the  LCT was hit by an 88 shell from a German gun.  We found out later that a Naval Lt. on the bridge was decapitated.  The crew was replaced and the LCT  cast off, beach bound. 

The empty spot was taken immediately by another vessel. The action on the starboard side was used for off-loading fuel, ammo and infantry into LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel).  The S.S. Morgan went down by the stern, 200 yards off our port side.  The daylight increased and it got lighter.  My outfit went ashore via an LCVP piloted by a coxswain who was out in the open at all times.  He brought us safely to the beach without incident; then he dropped the ramp and we debarked in waist deep water.  As soon as we were ashore, he backed off the beach to get another load.  We had landed on Utah Beach.  Ten hours later, I returned to the Pickett to help finish unloading the ship and get our gear.  The Naval bombardment destroyed almost every fortification on the shore.  The Atlantic Wall where we landed, was a myth.  Fortunately, for my outfit we were put ashore 1,000 yards northwest of our initially assigned area...and it was very lightly defended.

There is a film called, “A Walk in the Sun” with Dana Andrews and John Ireland (to name a few of the stars) that comes to mind.  John Ireland, mentally writes letters to  his sister about his well-being after the invasion of an island off Italy.  All through the movie, he writes or narrates letters to her optimistically not knowing if they will ever be read.  In the movie, their mission is to take a well-fortified farm house which is serving as an observation post.  Completing their assignment, after a huge loss of life, we see John Ireland's character under a shade tree...paper and pencil in hand;  he grimly muses about the contents of the letter to his sister at the close of the film.
“Dear Sis...Today we took a farm house.  It was so easy!”

Musings, Afterthoughts and Perceptions

D-Day on the S.S George E. Pickett
This year celebrates the 70th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings!

Oh, Yes!  They knew we were coming!  The 82nd Airborne had been dropped the day before.  They fought their way back to the beach.  They did not know that the landings would be delayed because of a little bad weather.  I'll bet they were outraged beyond anything I could imagine...wondering how they were supposed to hold their objectives  without the backup they had been be “right behind them!”  They were waiting for the sound of bugles signifying that the cavalry was en route to the rescue.  To say the least, they were upset!!!  They were tired!!  They were lucky!

Let me explain where I am going with this:
People get killed in wars.
Soldiers get killed in war.
We are not trained to see the whole picture!
Our superior officers tell us that we are a small link in the whole chain...of what the fighting is all about. Don't get negative thoughts regarding your orders!  Why are we going to do this, this way when it seems so much easier, to do it another way?  It's not exactly like they issue a rain check to some outdoor activity and everyone is inconvenienced for a few days.

This activity has men's lives in the balance.  We should not have delayed the landings and sacrificed those men of the 82nd and 101st without a chance of relief as they expected.  Somehow, I suspect that the delayed landings came about because of some bad the last moments of this operation.  I suppose the early jumpers were told to hold their objective and we would get to them as soon as we can. Just as these divisions carried out their orders without question...we would have done the same and gone ashore on the 5th (of June) in the storm...because we were trained to respond to our orders without question...and because we were immortal.

Men who have never been in a combat situation may think about death,
but not about their own.You cannot realize or perceive your own death.   
That only happens to someone else. Combat changes that!    
One day you understand! A guy could get killed out there! 

I asked myself, “What in the world am I doing here on the beach on D-Day?

When you've seen enough bodies of friends or enemies, you stop running for cover when there is a shelling from 88's .  You get scared of getting out of your foxhole if one of your skittish neighbours is quick on the trigger.  You start thinking a little differently.  Your existence depends on how good the guy next to you in the field is. He and the others who are still alive, start thinking pretty much the same way.  Don't worry about yourself so much...just watch out for your fellowmen...because they are the only thing that is keeping you alive!

Here we are...70 years after the event...
and I defy you to tell me how many casualties
the pre D-Day invaders suffered.
I'm sure that this figure is best kept with
the overall population of American and Allied losses!

Merle Baird-Kerr...compassionately scripted May 17, 2014
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  1. WOW ! Great stuff !
    Makes me think like I was really there.
    Thank you.I

  2. Makes a difference...when you read what you have originally written and now by another person's "pen". So pleased you are read this in a renewed format. Thank You, Sol.

  3. SHERRIE Writes..."Good Journalistic work...proud of you!"

  4. Thank you, Sherrie...the topic was powerful.

  5. MEG Writes: "Very thought provoking!!!!!!!!!!"

  6. Thank you Meg for taking great interest. Reading an actual "first-hand-account does bring history alive!