|29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES|
Richard J. FORD
29th Infantry Division
115th Infantry Regiment
We loaded on an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry) which held one Company of Infantry (180 men and 6 Officers). The men were not laughing. They had laughed and used to say we were in England to take the place of the "home guard". They now knew the jig was up. They had been briefed on what our job would be. We were just thankful that we were not the first wave. This fell to the 116th Regt. which ended up being decimated on the beach.
We loaded up in broad day light at "The Hoe" in Plymouth on a nice sunny day. As you loaded on your craft you called out your name, rank, and serial number. There was a fellow recording this information. In 1975, I worked with a fellow who was an Officer in charge of the recording mentioned above. He vividly remembered that process of loading the troops and noting the number and type of craft they were put on. When I told him the type of craft I loaded on he said, "You must have hit that beach early."
We had one man who stabbed himself in the foot with his bayonet during the crossing. There was no going back. The Navy would not keep him on board and take him back after unloading us. He landed with a bandaged foot.
During the crossing we heard speeches by President Roosevelt and Gen Eisenhower. It was in this speech that Eisenhower coined the phrase " a great crusade" and said God was with us.
We started out the night of June 4th, the landing was to be on the 5th. As we sailed out the weather got stormy and the seas rougher and rougher. Finally we put into Weymouth Harbor, and the men thought it had been called off. We sailed again during the night. The crossing was not too bad, but the seas were still quite rough. Luckily most of the men were fishermen from the Eastern Shore of Maryland. We were to land at the Le Moulin draw. Primarily our job was to move through the 116th Regt. who would have assaulted and cleared the beach. We would advance and secure the towns of St. Laurent and Vierville and move on to a line which would run from Trevieres through LaCambe. This was not to be too difficult a job "as there were only labor troops in the area." Famous last words. They weren't throwing shovels at us when we landed. Intelligence said the nearest German fighting troops were at St.Lo about 60 miles back from the landing area. This proved to be wrong as later we found out that the German 352nd Division had moved up from St. Lo to practice counter invasion tactics. They knew we were coming but not exactly when. I think they were a little surprised. In hind sight, if we had landed at night, we might not have had as many casualties. They would have had a harder time seeing us, but that would also apply to us seeing them.
On our way toward the landing beach we passed across the bow of the American Cruiser Augusta. It looked huge from our perspective which was close to the water. The Augusta ended up later on as our artillery support since the 110th Field Artillery, which was our Regimental artillery support, had lost their guns in the channel. The Battleship Texas was a little further beyond the Augusta and was firing its big guns.There were big halos of flame around the muzzle of their guns when they fired. It made you feel good to see this as it was kind of reassuring. "How could they take this pounding by the Navy." Sad part was they did and were waiting for us. I felt sorry for some fellows in the crossing. They were riding on huge flat barges loaded with fuel and ammunition. These barges rode only a foot or two out of the water. As we went quite closely by one of them, I waved and wished them good luck. The weather was cold, gray and forbidding. The water was rough and cold.
As we approached our designated landing sector, we knew the jig was up as there was so much noise, smoke and firing of big guns. It was difficult to see the beach through all the smoke and haze. We didn't land at our selected area but about 1500 yards to the North or left. We were to land on Dog Red at the Le Moulin draw. Instead we landed in the 1st Div sector on one of the Green beach sites. This resulted in my Platoon being mixed in with the 18th Regt of the 1st Division. At this spot the fire was not too intense but there was enough artillery and mortar fire to make you move. The LCI had a disembarking ramp on each side of its bow. There was no loitering. I led my Platoon off the right side without too much difficulty. The water was cold and rough and in my case chest deep. I was about 6 ft. tall. Many days later, found out that the Navy changed our original landing site because the original landing site was covered with corpses, under heavy fire and littered with disabled equipment and the Naval Officer in charge "didn't want to waste the men". A Naval Officer told me this about a week after the landings. He said our craft had been hit and sunk and did I know how many men were lost. I replied that I wasn't aware of this and that I must have been off the craft and also my men when it was hit. My Platoon was the first off the craft. I surmised the craft was hit and sunk after we had departed it as the Company was pretty much intact.
Forty years later, I learned that things were so bad on Omaha that they were thinking of abandoning it and not waste anymore resources there and move the rest of the landing units to Utah Beach. Southwick House, near Portsmouth, England, was the headquarters of Operation Overlord . On one of the walls they have the whole operation painted on the wall, showing the dispositions of all units in the operation.