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James L. LOCKHART
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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

James L. LOCKHART

Private First Class

29th Infantry Division

115th Infantry Regiment

B Company

The assault landing and amphibious training began around October 1943. Assault teams were formed from platoon squads and training tactics changed for all B Company. Each man was required to roll a waterproof field pack that would float. This was an essential skill to survive, since I had never learned to swim. My unit made assault landings at several locations on the north coast of Devon, called dry runs. I believe that the most difficult training was done at Slapton Sands near Exeter, England. The unit had twenty-six personnel that never made to the beach during dry run landings, but many others were injured during maneuvers. After one of the dry run landings, we did an exercise maneuver to secure a section of Slapton Sands beach and land under live fire drill. Some of the Field Artillery shells were dropping and exploding behind us instead of in front. Someone finally got the guns zeroed in and we made it through without injuries except for dirt and sand that covered everyone's face.

All of the men in the unit were briefed about each sector of the beach where we were to land.  The training at Slapton Sands was setup to provide knowledge about pill boxes, bunkers, land mines, concertina type wire and other medal and wooden barriers to prevent boats or landing craft from landing personnel. When it came time to land on Omaha Red area everyone had been briefed with maps, charts and sand-table models of the beaches we had to land on. During training exercises I was given information about my target before the invasion. The platoon officer and other Non-Commission Officers briefed all of the men at each exercise.  But, it was really the Squad Leader NCO that shaped up the individual man. I had the assignment of First Scout for the platoon.My job was to be the eyes and ears of the platoon. That meant I was the first one out in the front to get off the ramp of the LCI when we landed. Every man in the platoon squad had been told over and over what he had to do and why he had to do it. As First Scout, my assigned detail was to make a pathway through concertina wire by setting of a charge to blow it away or doing a body bridge so the others following me could get through the barriers the enemy had erected to prevent us from making a landing.

Late May, 1944 Company B, 1st Battalion, 115th Regiment, 29thDivision moved from Camp Bake to Camp HMS Raleigh near the Tor Point Ferry. We were restricted to the camp area and could not speak to anyone that came close to the compound fence. We were also told that we were attached to the 1st Division. As usual, I learned that I had volunteered for guard duty. My assignment was the compound fence where the English ladies were gathered to look for their G.I. friends and lovers. I had to tell them to stay away from the fence, but added it would take me about 25 minutes to walk to the end of the fence and back. The second night my friend came by looking for me and I gave her some photos to keep for me, otherwise they had to be destroyed before we departed for places unknown. One thing for sure, the local people knew more about our departure than we did.

After our final briefing about leaving England we were issued for dollars in new invasion currency. The morning of May 29, 1944 we assembled and marched to Tor Point Ferry for embarkation. We loaded on small boats that took us out to Landing Craft Infantry, near the Port of Saltash. While we were still in the Port of Saltash, I kept remembering all the wonderful English people I had known for a year. The greeted all American servicemen with open arms and treated us like we were part of their own families. I will always remember the pub called the Half Way House that was near Camp Bake and the Long Bar Pub in Plymouth where I visited. I also loved the area called Plymouth Hoe where I visited when I could get a pass for an overnight stay. My worst memory was when I injured both ankles at the same time during a night exercise on the moors. I could hardly walk at all and the treatment was a needle in each ankle to deaden the feelings. The following day I was assigned to light duty, standing on my feet. I stood from five in the morning until late at night washing pots and pans in the mess hall. After ten days of punishment I volunteered to go back to regular active duty. The regular duty schedule included marching twenty-five miles, which was no worse than kitchen detail. I believe the reason I began to hate the First Sergeant was when he accused me of a "Gold Brick" (a term used for a person that was lazy).

I was on LCI #619 when we moved into the channel from the Port of Saltash near Plymouth, England. It seemed we were forever moving. After two or three days of continuous moving a rumor started among the personnel that we were going to some other place than the French Coast, and several were getting seasick. By June 5, 1944 a really heavy storm hit the English Channel and the invasion was postponed due to the rough seas until the following day, June 6, 1944. When morning came most all of Company B was seasick for the D-Day Landing. I made a trip to the galley and had a meal of baked beans & bacon, which I enjoyed, alone.

As the LCI started in for a landing on DOG Red area, Captain Phillip Alston told the men he would land them on dry sand if it took him all day. He made one attempt to land, but had to try another area. All of B Company was lined up facing the ramps preparing to walk ashore, but just before they did they were told the landing area was a new one and they might have to fight before they got off the beaches. By this time the LCI was taking heavy machine gin fire on the left side of the ship near the ramp. Everyone near the ramp moved over to the right side of the ship. Then, as the ramp went down everyone moved off the LCI without hesitation. The Captain of LCI #619 had kept his promise and everyone made it to shore without getting their shoes wet. My unit did not spend anytime on the Normandy Beach, we kept moving off the beach to get away from machine guns firing at us. We made our way up a draw to keep from being killed where we landed. Soon as we got off the beach it was green fields with land mines everywhere.

 

Copyright: Laurent LEFEBVRE