01 - Landing in Normandy
Coming soon, a full book by George Weir, a WW2 veteran.
U.S. Infantry, Rangers and Paratroopers established a beachhead in Normandy on D-Day (June 6, 1944). The Third Armored Division (The "Spearhead" Division) was the first tank division to land on the beachhead. My LCT sailed as part of a large convoy of LCTs and LCIs that landed at different beach locations. My unit landed on a beach code named Omaha. At the same time, the British were landing troops on other beaches to the west.
When the 3rd landed, The "front" was about 7 or 8 miles inland, near St Jean de Daye. It had been stable since D-Day. The Division took residency in the French hedgerows, nose-to-nose with the Germans, and remained there for many weeks until July 26, 1944's fantastic St. Lo breakout.
Preparing to Embark
In mid-June, 1944, we broke camp at Codford St. Mary and I joined a convoy that ended in a field near the Port of Weymouth, England where I waited to be called to drive my truck onto an LST/T (Landing Ship, Tank/Truck). It was a long wait, but what I remember most was that big, hot and dusty field was where I was parked.
There was a lot of activity in the port. As I waited, I watched an LCI (Landing Craft Infantry), returning from a trip to Normandy. When it docked, I saw my first German soldiers. They were POWs (Prisoners of War) jumping onto the dock from the ship. During the next six months of combat I would see, converse with, and transport prisoners on their first ride en route from the front to POW camps in the USA. Their war was over. We had a POW camp near Easton, Mass. It's now a Business Center.
When it was finally our turn to load, the LST dropped a ramp into the sand and we backed our vehicles up the ramp into the ship. I was alone, without a spare driver. My truck was loaded with 250 jerry cans of gasoline, to be ready as soon as the tanks needed it. It turned out my first gas delivery didn't come until after the July 26th St. Lko breakout. After loading. my truck was located where the top faced the sky.
We left Weymouth Port after dark. By the time we launched, our division's tanks had already landed on Normandy's beach. As our ship crossed the English Channel during the night, the sky was clear, the channel was calm, and the weather was warm.
As we crossed the channel, I climbed to the top of my canvas-covered truck. The canvas was held in place buy a series of ribs, and I laid between two ribs. As I lay there, I watched quite a few Buzz Bombs (pilotless drones) flying towards England with jet flames shooting from their tails.
It was full daylight when we hit the beach in Normandy. They lowered the ramp and I disembarked, drove through a little water and onto the firm sand of Omaha Beach. We were not shelled at the time, but I did see a German reconnaissance plane that flew above the beach and away.
We were part of the First army and the first tank division of a total of about 15 tank divisions that eventually landed in Europe over the next 11 months. Patton's Third army and his tank divisions landed later.
I followed the truck ahead of me in our convoy as we drove across the beach and up a long hill. When I topped the hill, I saw a sight I will never forget! It was my first military cemetery, with dozens of white crosses, in perfect order. The Graves Registration unit had been busy since D-day. They had gathered the bodies of the GIs killed in the first few days of combat and buried them there.
The Grave Registration crews had to recover GI bodies and dog tags then dig the graves, bury the guys and plant the crosses. They had GMC trucks that they used to gather both American and German dead. After each battle they would show up and callously ask, "Any Stiffs?"
As I drove through the Normandy farm country, through St Jean De Daye and on a few more miles to the front, I saw dead, bloated cows. They emanated a sweet odor.
At one point, we were sidetracked to a side road that joined a major roadway. I didn't know why, but assumed it was just a typical army procedure:
"Hurry up and Wait!"
I later learned the Germans were still using the major road and we were waiting to see if any German vehicles would pass by.
All of a sudden, WHAM!
One of our Tank Destroyer's with a short barreled howitzer fired a round into a German Troop truck that was passing, loaded with German troops. When we entered the major roadway on the way to our hedge row, it was covered with with dismembered body parts, the result of the destroyed German truck. When I pulled onto the road, I saw a mess of arms and legs lying all over the road.
Later, when I reached our location in the hedgerows. I saw piles of dead GIs, some 5 feet or more high, covered with canvas, with only their combat boots showing.
I looked at my boots!
Eleanor Roosevelt said it all in three words: "WAR IS HELL!"
It was just after dusk when we parked around the edge of our assigned hedgerow. As we were getting our vehicles set, I noticed the same kind of activity on the other side of the hedgerow. I assumed the activity was more sections of my Third Armored Division. I leaned on the 4-foot high hedgerow and hollered to the other side, "What outfit?"
I was surprised when I heard a voice from the dusk-darkened field holler back, "26th Infantry." That reminded me of a letter I'd received from my sister, Kathleen, in which she'd asked if I knew that Howard Vaille, a friend for High School was overseas with the 26th Infantry, so I hollered back, "Do you know "Red Vaille?"
A GI appeared on the other side of the hedgerow and said, "I'm Red Vaille!"
I didn't see Red again until we were both back home in Weymouth.