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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

George H. BURR

 

29th Infantry Division

116th Infantry Regiment

M Company

My trip to England from the states was very "eventful" and the exact date can be looked up - because of the event!  I was on the Queen Mary that had been converted to a troop carrier. There were about 11-12,000 troops on board. We did not travel in a convoy, as we would have been a sitting duck.  The Queen was so fast that the ships could not keep up with her. She changed course every 3-5 minutes - I could see the change by watching the horizon and the waves. It took 5 days to cross. Outside of Glasgow, Scotland, British minesweepers that criss-crossed in front of the Queen met us. One minesweeper came too close and the Queen cut the Curacao in half.  It sunk immediately. I was told that 290 sailors perished. On board, I was below deck and all I felt was a slight shudder.  We could not stop but ships following in our path did try to look for survivors. On the return to the US the Queen went to Boston, I believe, for repairs.

My unit was stationed in Tidworth. Life was nice in Tidworth and people were friendly. A town close by was Andoverwhere we went on occasion for a beer and fish and chips. Then we marched on to Plymouth. We had all kinds of training with heavy and light machine guns. The heavy machine gun was used in heavy weapons. We also had heavy mortar. The light ones were in the rifle company with the light machine guns. The final training was the invasion trials. We practiced landings in a place called Slapton Sands. We went out in big boats and practiced going down the cargo nets into the landing craft that would carry us to the shore. One man in the unit got seasick each time, and they did not let him go out with us on the real landing.

I visited my grandfather's family on March 31 and April 1, 1943 (checked in my diary) in Manchester during a weekend pass. I went to London many times and saw many shows. I remember seeing "Coney Island" with Betty Grable and Jon Payne about four times!  Everyone was pretty nice to us.My worst memory, in England, is of a disaster with the fourth division. They lost a lot of men in a practice drill called operation Tiger. (This did not come out until after the war, and a British admiral committed suicide over it). While practicing at Slapton Sands, a German boat got through and sunk two of the landing crafts. Many men died (over 400 infantrymen) by drowning - they were wearing their flotation vest too low (cowboy style) and they flipped when they were in the water. You could see the bodies bobbing in the channel the next morning. Our Sergeant told us to wear them high, not low - I will always remember that!

We waited in staging areas and continued to train in England on a place with lots of wet ground. (This was where an English prison was which I think was called Dartmouth prison.)

The night before the landing we all met with our priest, or chaplain, and said prayers and received communion. On the way to the beach, men were mostly quiet – keeping thoughts to themselves. I prayed and thought about my home and my family. I asked God to keep watch over me.

As we landed on Omaha Beach, I was in line to be the third man off of the boat. My Technical Sergeant, Melvin Taylor, told us all "there are only two kinds of men on the beach, dead men and men who want to die. So, get off the beach as soon as possible". I ran as fast as I could up the hill to where we would meet. My friend, Chick Evans, was right with me, when a rifle bullet from a German sharpshooter hit him. (They were trying to pick off men who carried heavy weapons.) He passed away there. We advanced as far as we could. Lieutenant Thomas was leading us. We regrouped. I was carrying a range finder at the time.

On our first night we dug in at the top of the hill. We all were in foxholes (we had each dug our own). The machine gunners put the machine guns in place. We were around the whole hedgerow when we dug in. I sleep as much as I could. Officers got rid of their bars and distinguishing marks because the Germans were looking for officers and automatic weapons – machine guns and BAR (rifle). If you had a BAR – you were a marked man!

We were on a hillside and watched the boats coming in. They kept bringing in more soldiers. Some of the men were searching for booby traps and mines. Each day we went in as far as we could, dug in and spent the night in a hole again. We put guys around the edge of where we were in case someone tried to attack. Getting to St. Lô was tough. We lost our major, Major Howie, there the day before we reached there. Hard fighting. When I got hit, we were trying to get as much ground as possible each day.

I was hit 11 days later by either an 88 shell or a mortar just outside of St. Lô. Our Major Howie was killed there and they carried his body into the town because the night before he said that he wanted to get to St. Lô.After I was hit, they put two of us on the front of a jeep, then we went a little farther and they put us into an ambulance with two other soldiers that I did not know. I was brought to a hospital on the beach, where they amputated some of my left hand. Then they sent me to a hospital for other surgeries. I met a Sergeant Moore in the hospital - he was in the mortar platoon of our company. Eventually I made it back to England on a hospital ship - I think it was the Blanche F. Sigmund hospital ship.They asked me where I wanted to go in the states. I said the closest hospital to home inC onnecticut. They sent me to Framingham, Massachusetts to Cushing General. I was discharged on December 24, 1944.

 

Copyright: Laurent Lefebvre