105-year-old WWII vet recalls D-Day on Higgins boat

Emmetsburg, IA

The Infantry had headed out to sea several times in a Higgins Landing Craft near the coastal town of Barnstable, England, near Plymouth. A sandy seashore beach was there, similar to what we might find on the shores of France. We had mortars aboard, shooting to land on shore in England, to practice for entry on enemy territory. Again and again we fired mortars.

We were orienting ourselves to be prepared. The date, we knew, was coming. We bivouacked among the trees of the country fields. Tents kept off the cold winter sleet and rain. April was coming.

Practice intensified. On one trip, I dropped the shells in the barrel. During one practice landing, we lost a tank. The front ramp dropped from an LCT, but the ramp did not hit shore. To work, the ramp must land on shore and the complete front end must open. The tank landed in the western England shore's deep waters.

The assembly area for troop ships for the invasion was Southampton. The Isle of Wight was in plain view. Some ships did not arrive until the time of the invasion. From the ship: a display of the coast of France, the bluff 90 miles away, where we were to land. The English side of the channel with a low sandy shore was taken by low-flying planes. This was forbidden ground. Only forbidden inspections had been made. Vierville-sur-Mer, France, at the top of a deep gully, was a target. A church in this town, at the top of the gully, well-fortified, became a prime target for artillery off shore. Omaha Beach was not yet known.

On June 5, we loaded on a troop ship headed across the channel. I met a ranger who had come from Anzio.

"You have points to go home," I said. But he said he was too valuable to go home because he'd already lived through one invasion.

In a few hours, I would be landing on shore, not up the gully, where we were supposed to, though. We missed the location by about a half-mile, and we saw this big bluff. It looked like a place to land. We were about a thousand feet out - shells came right over the roof, right toward us. I was in the rear end of the boat.

"I don't think we want to go that way," I told my officer.

"I don't think we do either," he said.

Eventually we landed. The officer followed me off the end of the ramp on the Higgins. The haven was a berm, a shoreline built of pebbles and sand, torn up for defense purposes. Crouched there, I was tapped on the left shoulder. "We've got to get the hell out of here," one officer said. I relayed that message to my officer.

The church spire had not yet been spotted. The first bulldozers had not yet landed. A day of road-building to make a supply road followed.

For more on Higgins boats, click here: http://www.legion.org/magazine/216977/hot-dogs-and-higgins-boats.

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