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29TH DIVISION - WWII STORIES

 

Joseph WALENTOWSKI

 

29th Infantry Division

116th Infantry Regiment

D Company

I entered the Army on December 8, 1942, and went by train to Fort Custer in Battle Creeks, Michigan. After physicals and inoculations, we left for basic training on December 18, 1942, and received three months training at Camp Walters in Mineral Wells, Texas. From June 2, 1943 until June 5, 1944, we trained in England in preparation for the Normandy Invasion.I left New York City, New York, May 27, 1943, on the USS Queen Mary. My sea experience was so limited that when we got on the ferry to go out to the ship, I thought it was the vessel we would be sailing across the ocean! Although we started out with good weather, the crew on the ship said that we nearly rolled over. The only thing other than the storm that was memorable about my trip over was that I was pretty much seasick if I got out of the bunk. We arrived in Scotland on June 2, 1943.

I was stationed at Ivy Bridge, England, a little town at the bottom of the moors between Plymouth and Torquay, about 12 miles from Plymouth. At this station, we received our weapon training, hand-to-hand combat, and how to use our bayonets. Most of our training was on the firing range and hiking. I think it was more for endurance than anything else. They taught us how put up our tents in a water puddle, throw down our blankets in the water, and crawl in! It's a wonder we all did not catch pneumonia. What I can remember most was HIKE, HIKE, HIKE.After we left Ivy Bridge we went to Slapton Sands, England, to begin our assault landing practice at Hampshire Beaches. We were told that these beaches looked like the beaches over at Normandy.Walfred Williams from Chicago, Stanley Koryciak from Detroit, Charles Heinlein from Maryland, and J.T. Hendrix were some of the guys that left from New York with me and we usually went on excursions together. We didn't get much time off, but when we did, we went to the town of Tourkay. It was a beautiful little place. The bad weather on the moors and the unseasoned food were my worst memories. I didn't think they knew what salt or seasoning was over there.

They didn't really tell us much of anything. They told the Sergeant and other officers, I'm sure; but not the Privates. The purpose of the 29th Division was to train for a Normandy landing. That was the reason for our beach training while we were in England. We did not know the specify impact of that invasion, butte all knew that we were training to land on the beaches of Normandy.They told us they would be battle hardened and the beaches well defended. They told us it was going to be tough. Lieutenant Verne Morse told us that when we hit the beach that only ONE out of TEN would possibly make it and to consider yourself as that ONE.We were all fenced in, and we honestly did not hear any rumors about the enemy. Our Platoon Commander, Lieutenant Morse, made sure we were prepared to face a formidable, well-trained, and fully-equipped enemy. Rumor did not play a part in our conceptions of the enemy or his defenses.

There was no particular loading involved on the transport that would take us across the Channel. All that we were responsible for loading was the heavy machine guns and mortar. We were all responsible for our own equipment. I had to carry on the tripod for the heavy machine gun, my backpack and my weapon.

On June 5, 1944, after a year of training in England, we headed toward Normandy. The trip across the Channel was rough. The water was pretty choppy, but it was only twenty mites over. If my memory serves me correctly, it was about two or three limes from the beach that we boarded our Landing Craft Assault. We soon were to discover that it had a hole in the bottom; and when we got in, we started taking in water. We all had to scramble back onto the transport to board a second LCA. When we were in the LCA, we joined the other LCAs and circled in the water until all the group that was in the wave was ready to go in. Going into the beach the guys started shaking hands with one another, saying "Goodbye". Not me, my philosophy was that, "lf you think you're going to get it, you're going to get it!" I didn't want any part of saying goodbye. We were grouped according to squads. Each squad consisted of a #1 gunner (who carried the tripod), a #2 gunner (who carried the machine gun), and three or four ammunition carriers. While in the LCA, I learned from the #2 gunner, Oris Carman, that he lost the machine gun. The first thing that happened when exiting the LCA was that I went under the water. All I remember is that someone grabbed me by the back of my collar and pushed me forward. How I got across the beach I still do not know. I know that I didn't run across the beach; I just staggered. I was soaking wet and carrying my backpack and a 50- pound tripod. I definitely remember the unique "popping" sound of bullets flying all around me.

So, I hit the beach with my tripod and asked Lieutenant Morse what I should do with it. He said, "Hold on to it; you may pick up a gun someplace!" I don't remember very much of the first day. I remember someone yelling, "29ers, let's go. Get off the beach or die here!" We got about 1,000 yards off of the beach (I have no idea how long that took) and that's when I got hit. I had leg injuries that were bandaged up on the beach and then they moved me to the hospital ship that was out in the harbor. We stayed in the harbor all night taking on injured soldiers. As the bombers would fly over and the sirens would sound, they would lock down all the different compartments on the ship. If we would have been hit, only the damaged compartments would be lost. I have to say, "It was exciting!" As I remember, the next morning the ship returned to England and I was hospitalized. They operated to remove the shrapnel; and about seven days later, I returned to my outfit in Normandy.

Copyright: Laurent LEFEBVRE