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War is just when it is necessary; arms are permissible when there is no hope except in arms.

-- Machiavelli

World War II I was a member of the 29th Infantry Division, in M Company, 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry Regiment. I was inducted into the Army June 16, 1943, at Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., and was discharged on Oct. 23, 1945, at Camp Atterbury, Ind. I was second gunner on the .30-caliber water-cooled Browning machine gun through most of combat when I moved up to squad leader.

I was sent to Fort McClellan, Ala., for 17 weeks of heavy weapons basic training. What an experience this was! I was all of 18 years old at the time and had never been away from home over a week at a time before, and the training was very rigorous.

Discipline was very strict. I went from about 190 pounds to about 150. I was glad when basic was over. We trained on the .30-caliber water cooled Browning machine gun and the 81mm mortar for the most part, plus qualifying on small arms, such as the rifle, pistol, grenades and so forth. I was sent to Fort Meade, Md., by way of Jackson. I was given a furlough and got to be at home for about a week.

I knew about where we were going, but of course wasn't supposed to tell anyone. After arriving at Fort Meade, we stayed there for about two weeks, where we were outfitted for overseas. The food there was wonderful, and plenty of it. Nothing like Fort McClellan.

We then went to Camp Shanks, N.Y. We were promised passes for New York City for that night; but later that afternoon we were notified that we were on the alert to be shipped overseas. So the passes were canceled. A few men went AWOL, or Over the Hill, as we called it, and went to see the big city anyway. Obviously they missed the ship, because we were loaded on the ship earlier that day, before dark, and pulled out during the night. The ship turned out to be the huge ocean liner, the Queen Elizabeth. Other ships crossed in convoys, but Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary were much faster ships and they also zig-zagged every five to 10 minutes. They said that the submarines could not line their sights on them in that length of time. So it sailed alone.

We landed in Grenock, Scotland, about five or six days later. From there we were sent to the Litchfield, England, replacement center, where we received very rough treatment. Some men went AWOL and were put in a stockade when they returned. They wore a big P on their backs and were escorted to meals by guards with rifles. These were not prisoners of war, but men of the U.S. Army just like the rest of us. Food was very sorry also. Later I read where the colonel, the commander of this camp, was dishonorably discharge for the kind of treatment that the men received.

There were about half a dozen who took basic training with me, who were sent to Plymouth, England, where the 3rd Battalion of the 116th Infantry of the 29th Division was stationed. This was in December 1943. I was very pleased with M Company, and I liked the men very much.

We had good leaders and good cooks who fed us good as long as we could get American rations. Some times we had to get by on English rations and ate lots of goat and English brown bread and tea. I was with M Company from then until after the war was over.

Now about D-Day itself.

In the last days of May, 1944, our company left Plymouth, "Crown Hill Barracks," and went to a very large tent city where we were in squad tents. I don't recall us doing much but cleaning our weapons. I think we were given shots and maybe the clothes we were to wear for the invasion, which were called impregnated OD's. They were treated to resist mustard or chemical gas. This camp was close to a large British bomber air field.

While there I heard the German planes come over at night and we could hear their bombs when they hit and see the huge spotlights criss-crossing the sky, searching them out. When they found them they would turn their anti-aircraft fire on them and sometimes you could see the flames as the German planes were hit. From there we went to a small isolated camp where we stayed in quonset huts as well as I recall. This was our last camp in England.

It was heavily guarded and no one was allowed to come in or go out. They showed us the section of beach where we were to land, which had been laid out on a sand table to resemble that section of the coast called Omaha Beach. We were shown the sector where we were to land and told what to expect „ that the bombers would go in before us and pulverize this beach, and that there were very few German troops there, which all turned out to be false. We were in this camp about a week.

We were issued a special combat jacket with several large pockets. Every man was issued two or three quarter-pound blocks of TNT and as I remember, four or five grenades and rations for a couple of days. That's what the extra jacket was for and also socks, underwear and the like.

We were also issued a pack board and the best I can remember three boxes of machine gun ammunition for the gun, which was put on this board, which had straps so we could wear it on our back like a pack. At that time I was a private and next to the last man in the squad, who was designated as a sniper. I was issued an O3 rifle, which was bolt action. The other men had semi-automatic carbine rifles, except the two machine gunners, who carried a ሥ Colt automatic pistol, and the squad leader had an Mǃ rifle. We all had extra ammunition for these. The packboard also had a Mae West life jacket already activated and strapped around the outside edge.

This was so they would float and be washed ashore by the waves in case something happened to us. We also had one high up on our waist. To activate it and blow it up, you just pressed it close to the buckle and it activated a CDŽ cartridge on the inside and blew it up like a balloon. All of this must have weighed about 75 pounds. We were loaded like pack mules with all this equipment on. When we had been issued all the equipment and had our packboard and other equipment ready we were moved by truck to our embarkation point, which was either Weymouth or Southampton or maybe Plymouth. My memory's a little fuzzy on this point. I think we were loaded on our ship on June 4, as the invasion was to have been June 5, but was postponed until the 6th because of bad weather.

Our ship was APA Charles Carroll, PA28 (pictured at right). It was a real nice ship. We had made several practice landings on Slapton Sands beach in England from this ship. The crew were all very nice to us and the food was like manna from heaven „ to us. White bread, turkey, ham and such. It seems like they were fattening us up for the kill. That's a joke, of course.

We were aroused very early the morning of June 6, and all went up on deck to our assigned part of it, along with our equipment. Our guns, rifles and all were covered with plastic wrappers to protect them from the salt water. I think we did this in the little camp we were in before getting on the ship.

Our intelligence was wrong about there being very few and scattered German troops on the beach. The 352nd German division was defending Omaha Beach along with other scattered German outfits. The 352nd was a combat-hardened outfit that had been moved from the Eastern front to defend this part of the beach.

When we came up on deck it was very dark and things were very quiet. We were given breakfast by the crew sometime during all of this. After a while it all broke loose. Rocket ships were launching rockets towards the beach, battleships were firing their salvos. Many 20mm were firing. It looked like a huge fireworks show. You could see the string of lights from the tracer bullets from ሪ-caliber and 20mm shells and such being fired from destroyers and other ships.

Then came the orders to report to our respective debarkation stations. I guess this was really the first realization of what we were getting into. Just being 19 years old and not being scared, but this was soon to change.

We were loaded into our LCVP, the small landing craft that accommodated about a section of men, about 25 or so. We soon realized that the weather in the English Channel hadn't changed much from the day before. We hit the beach in waves of landing craft. So we had to circle in the water until all our wave was unloaded and ready to head for the beach. It didn't take long, with the salt spray coming over the sides of the craft, to start getting seasick. After a while the wave was formed and we started for the beach. The wind and waves got rougher and rougher it seemed. I got very sick. There was a hole in the deck made for this very thing about eight 8 or 10 inches in circumference. I think I had to use it about four times and so did many of the other men.

The LCVP was getting very hard for the sailors in back to run and control. The wind and waves were blowing it off course. We began to hear an occasional bullet or piece of shrapnel hitting the sides. Consequently, we weren't landed in the sector of beach that we were supposed to be. When we finally did reach the beach and the ramp was let down, we were up against another LCVP which I suppose had hit some kind of underwater obstacle, because it was cocked up on one side and we were bumping it.

The water started rushing in. The sailors were yelling at us to hurry up and get out. As I reached for my packboard a wave knocked it out of my hand and washed it back of me. I was weak from throwing up so much and I saw I couldn't get it, so I quickly jumped off the ramp into about 4 feet of water. My helmet fell into the water, but I made a quick grab and got it before it sank. The plastic wrap of my rifle came off during this and I had sand in my rifle barrel and breach. Machine gun bullets were hitting the obstacles all around us. Some of us tried to take cover behind some of the obstacles, but saw that was no good. Most of us headed for the beach as fast as we could, bullets whining all around us and hitting the water.

I saw many men fall. It was supposedly low tide and was a good ways to the beach. Many of the obstacles were still on top of the ground. Somehow I made it to the cover of the shingle embankment, a bank a few hundred yards from where our boat landed. It was about 4 feet high and offered a little cover and concealment. Many men never made it out of the water. Some of the craft were hit by artillery from the large concrete pillboxes near the top of the bluff. Many men were killed on Omaha Beach or in the water before reaching it. Our platoon leader, Lt. Balenger, was wounded. Our captain was wounded, and many more of the men.

Most men stayed behind the small embankment until some officer would come along and urge them to follow him. The engineers had managed to clear a path about four feet wide up the bluff and that's where the group I was with inched our way up the bluff. This was a minefield.

We were drawing fire from a house about a half mile to our left, the only house I saw. It must have been a good German sniper since we had a gun set up right at the top of the bluff and every time someone tried to get behind it he seemed to get them, in the arm or the leg. He got me in my right leg and a couple of guys in the arm and he also killed one man.

I could hear movements at the top of the bluff, but we could not yet see them. I'm sure it was Germans in one of their many trenches. I threw all of my grenades in the direction of the movement I heard. My rifle would only fire one round at a time. It would not pull another out of the clip.

One man in the bunch at the top near the gun was dead. I saw one of our men and he said our platoon sergeant, Sgt. Rowell (a mighty fine man), said if we got hit to try to make our way down to the shingle embankment, about 75 or 100 yards from the beach. They had dug out a place large enough to set up an aid station. So I headed back to the aid station, and halfway down I heard someone shout, "Help me." It was one of the men from one of the engineer battalions attached to us.

He had a pretty good sized hole in his leg. I took his belt and the pliers from the kit on the belt and fashioned a tourniquet. I tightened it with the pliers and finally got the blood stopped. I gave him a shot of morphine. We all had one in our first aid kit, or our rifle or pistol belt. I sprinkled the sulfanilamide powder in the wound and bandaged his wound with the bandage in the kit. Luckily there was a small shell hole or mortar hole very close to us. I dragged him into it and told him I would send a medic. I also told him to loosen the tourniquet and let it bleed just a little, about every 20 minutes and then tighten it up.

I found the aid station where they bandaged me up and I had to put a tourniquet on another man who had been shot in the foot. Since my wound was not bleeding now I helped as much as I could. I loosened the tourniquet every 15 or 20 minutes, let it bleed a little as we had been told to do, and then tightened it back.

I lay in that hole, behind that bank, until dark. We could look up in the air and see all sorts of debris flying from landing craft and small LCIs, Landing Craft Infantry, all day. The Germans had zeroed their artillery back on the water's edge by then. I poked my head out once and saw a shell hit right in the middle of a group of men coming off an LCI. I felt lucky to have come in on one of the first waves.

I lay there until dark when things seemed to die down a bit. Every now and then an LCVP would make it in, picking up wounded men. I got on one finally and they pulled out into the water and went from ship to ship, looking for the right one they were supposed to put us on. Pieces of shrapnel were hitting the sides. They finally found the right one and I was put on it.

They took my rifle and helmet. The medics on beach had already removed my shoe and leggings. This LST had been rigged with litter holders along the inside walls. It seemed we were there most all night until it was loaded. Then they pulled out for England. You could still hear pieces of shrapnel hitting the sides, but they were not strong enough to penetrate the walls.

Note: by John D. Hinton


Comments

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Re: D-Day, 29th Infantry Division
by Anonymous
on Jun 05, 2002

I'm very familiar with Fort Olgethorpe. My parents grew up in that area. My dad even remembers when there were only horses there for the Army! Neat reading of someone who knew about the place.


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